Max Headroom (character)
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|Max Headroom character|
|First appearance||Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future (1985)|
|Last appearance||Pixels (2015)|
|Created by||George Stone|
|Portrayed by||Matt Frewer|
|Voiced by||Matt Frewer|
Max Headroom is a fictional artificial intelligence (AI) character, known for his wit and stuttering, distorted, electronically sampled voice. He was introduced in early 1984. The character was created by George Stone, Annabel Jankel, and Rocky Morton. Max was portrayed by Matt Frewer as "The World's first computer-generated TV host", although the computer-generated appearance was achieved with prosthetic make-up and hand-drawn backgrounds. Preparing the look for filming involved a four-and-a-half-hour session in make-up, which Frewer described as "gruelling" and "not fun", likening it to "being on the inside of a giant tennis ball."
The character's personality was partly intended as a satire of insincere and egotistical television personalities. Creator Rocky Morton described Max as the "very sterile, arrogant, Western personification of the middle-class, male TV host", but also as "media-wise and gleefully disrespectful", which appealed to young viewers.
Matt Frewer was chosen for his ability to improvise, and—according to producer Peter Wagg—his "ideally exportable" mid-Atlantic accent. The actor decided to model Max's personality after what he saw as the smarmy, self-important goofiness of The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Ted Baxter. In a 1986 interview, Frewer said: "I particularly wanted to get that phony bonhomie of Baxter ... Max always assumes a decade long friendship on the first meeting. At first sight he'll ask about that blackhead on your nose."
The background story provided for the Max Headroom character in his original appearance comes from a dystopian near-future dominated by television and large corporations. The AI of Max Headroom was shown to have been created from the memories of crusading journalist Edison Carter. The character's name came from the last thing Carter saw during a vehicular accident that put him into a coma: a traffic warning sign marked "MAX. HEADROOM: 2.3 M" (an overhead clearance of 2.3 metres) suspended across a car park entrance.
The classic look for the character is a shiny dark suit, which is actually a fibreglass mould, often paired with Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. Only his head and shoulders were depicted, usually against a "computer-generated" backdrop of a slowly rotating wire-frame cube interior, which was also initially generated by analogue means. In this case, this was traditional cel animation, though later actual computer graphics were employed for the backdrop. His chaotic speech patterns are based upon his voice pitching up or down seemingly at random, or occasionally becoming stuck in a stuttering loop. These modulations, achieved with a harmonizer, also appear in live performances.
Notwithstanding the publicity for the character, the real image of Max was not computer-generated. Computing technology in the mid-1980s was not sufficiently advanced yet for a full-motion, voice-synchronized human head to be practical for a television series. Max's image was actually that of actor Matt Frewer in latex and foam prosthetic make-up with a fiberglass suit created by Peter Litten and John Humphreys of Coast to Coast Productions in the UK. This was then superimposed over a moving geometric background. Even the background was not created using computer graphics at first; it was a piece of hand-drawn cel animation produced by Rod Lord, who created similar "computer-generated" images for the TV series Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Later, in the United States version, the backgrounds were generated by a Commodore Amiga computer.
The Max Headroom Show series
After the film's success, the character was spun off into a veejay in the British music video program, The Max Headroom Show, whose first episodes unusually featured no introductory title sequence or end credits. The spin-off show was an immediate cult hit, doubling Channel 4's viewing figures for its slot.
A second season, which broadened the original concept to include celebrity interviews and a studio audience, was produced in late 1985, and a third and final season ran in 1986. The second and third seasons were shown first on the US cable channel Cinemax, and on Channel Four an average of six months later.
A Christmas special was produced at the end of the second season and seen by UK audiences just before the regular run of the season, and just after the US season concluded.
Cinemax produced a fourth season of the talk show on its own, The Original Talking Max Headroom Show, which ran for six episodes in 1987. These episodes were never shown in the UK.
Max Headroom series
The final spin-off from the original film was the dramatic television series, Max Headroom, which was broadcast in the United States, running for two short seasons (mid-1987 and late 1987), with two more episodes shown later in 1988.
Shout! Factory released Max Headroom: The Complete Series on DVD in the United States and Canada on August 10, 2010.
In other media
Max became a celebrity in every medium outside his own television series, making cameo and sampled appearances or being parodied in other TV series, books, music, movies, and advertisement campaigns. He was the spokesman for New Coke (after the return of Coca-Cola Classic), delivering the slogan "Catch the wave!" (in his staccato, stuttering playback as "C-c-catch the wave!"). His own movie titled Max Headroom for President was discussed and canceled.
In 1986, Quicksilva released a Max Headroom video game, which was sold in the UK for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. The game's plot separated the two characters and had Edison Carter avoiding criminals armed with guns, while rescuing Max from the Network 23 office block.
In the 2011 science-fiction novel, Ready Player One, the main character uses an upgraded version of the Max Headroom AI as his home automation software.
The 2015 movie release Pixels (2015 film), cameos Max Headroom voiced again by original voice actor, Matt Frewer. In the climax of the movie, Max Headroom appears as the alien messenger inviting the arcaders to a real life, sudden death showdown game of Donkey Kong in space for the final fate of the earth.
Signal intrusion event
On November 22, 1987, two Chicago television stations had their broadcast signals hijacked by an unknown person wearing a Max Headroom mask and sunglasses. The first incident took place for 25 seconds during the sportscast on the 9:00 PM news on WGN-TV Channel 9 and two hours later around 11:00 PM on PBS affiliate WTTW Channel 11 for about 90 seconds during a broadcast of the Doctor Who serial Horror of Fang Rock. The hacker rambled on making reference to Headroom's endorsement of Coke, the series Clutch Cargo, and WGN anchor Chuck Swirsky, then pretended to defecate as a "masterpiece for all the greatest world newspaper nerds", a reference to WGN's call letters ("World's Greatest Newspaper"). A homemade Max Headroom background rocked back and forth as he rambled, and the video ended with a pair of exposed buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter before normal programming resumed. The culprits were never caught or identified.
- YouTube video at the ICA with Stone, Morton and Jankel
- "Max Headroom's Matt Frewer Interview", G4tv.com, retrieved March 3, 2010
- Mark Sweney (November 29, 2007). "Channel 4 resurrects Max Headroom to promote digital channels | Media". theguardian.com. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
- "Explore the Awards | BAFTA Awards". Bafta.org. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
- "Muse Unveil New Song 'Dig Down', Video Starring Lauren Wasser". Retrieved May 21, 2017.
- "Double Experience Resurrect 1980's Max Headroom in Music Video "AI Freaks Me Out"".
- "Max Headroom On Way To B-b-big Screen - Chicago Tribune". Articles.chicagotribune.com. December 10, 1987. Retrieved November 29, 2013.