GARFIELD: LOVESTRUCK PRAYING MANTIS IS HOOKED ON A FILA

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What is the allure of those nature shows? Does man gape at roiling masses of insect larvae, or at bears eating their young, to satisfy some innate curiosity about the world around him? To validate his superiority in the animal kingdom? To get a feel for the Congress?

It is a great mystery, yet undeniably we are drawn to natural history often so grisly and gory and sexually explicit that it's a wonder Rupert hasn't paid $1.58 billion for an exclusive on it. Tonight on Fox: Jake and Amanda find a new use for latte on "Melrose Place," a false fire alarm opens up the sprinkler heads on "Models, Inc." and, on "The Call of the W.I.L.D.," hermaphroditic hyenas get it on!

Whatever mechanism is responsible, there is certainly no turning from the screen when a new 30-second spot from FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, shows up on TV. The spot is called "Mantis," and it opens with plaintive woodwinds playing the opening bars of Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn."

The video is striking from the first frame: a portrait, in extreme close-up and prototypically low depth of field, of a praying mantis poised on a tree leaf. The camera slowly pushes forward and right to focus on the mantis' head, its antennae twitching ever so slightly. Then, a cut to another praying mantis.

The love interest.

She is green. She is an insect. And she wants it. The shot cuts back and forth as the male and female mantises go through the motions of bug foreplay. He seems to be using his front legs to beckon, she to shyly cover her face. But the real grabber is the voice-over.

"The most interesting moment in the course of the praying mantis mating ritual ..."

Why, it's him! George Page! From "Nature" on PBS.

"... occurs at the point in the proceedings when she, the female mantis, surprises the male, and bites his head off." Whereupon the voracious female makes her move and we see her partner rear back in bug terror.

"WHAHHHHH!" hollers another voice, presumably the male mantis, sounding like a scat vocalist. "DUTTIN DUTTIN DUTTIN DUT!" And the terrified insect, who is wearing four Fila "Mantis" basketball shoes, scrambles up the leaf stem at top speed.

"Unless, of course," continues Page, "he's quick enough to get away. [Zooming close-up of the Fila sneakers.] The `Mantis,' by Fila."

It's absolutely bizarre, and absolutely hilarious. And totally cool.

Fila USA, in a tussle with Converse and perhaps L.A. Gear for a distant third spot in the sneaker wars, cannot hope to outmuscle Nike or Reebok in media weight or distribution. But it can make its advertising-or, at least, some of its advertising-weird and wonderful.

The shoe and apparel company made a good bet in signing Grant Hill as its marquee endorser, but this image contest isn't all dueling hoops stars. It's also a struggle to establish a vivid sense of corporate attitude that cannot be mistaken for any other manufacturer's.

What better weapon than a commercial that is more riveting and funny than any program it might interrupt? A pretty amazing achievement, considering the ad begins more graphic and revolting than most programming, as well.

Not counting, of course, C-Span.

Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy E-Mail at EFPB35A.

Client: Fila USA. Agency: FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York.

Ad Review Rating: *** 1/2

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