Morgan Spurlock's The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: Film Review
Sundance Film Festival, Documentary Premieres (Sony Pictures Classics)
Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock
PARK CITY — (Documentary Premieres) Following the world premiere of Morgan Spurlock’s hilarious and sly new documentary at Sundance, he announced a title change. It’s now "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."
This is, of course, part of an actual deal he made with POM to become his title sponsor in exchange for helping to finance his film and part of the film’s sneaky investigation into the nefarious world of sponsorship, product placement, marketing and advertising in movies and television.
The film is going to clean up at the box office so the many sponsors he kids will end up with high-fives all around.
Spurlock once again stars on camera as the fatally afflicted addict from Super Size Me, although this time instead of Big Macs he wants to make a “doc-buster” movie so badly he’ll pursue financing from any brand willing to give him a buck. Thus, he journeys into the heart of darkness that is branding, cross-promotion, advertising and, above all, product placement. READ: Q&A with Morgan Spurlock
His cameras follow him into pitch meetings, brainstorming sessions and confabs with attorneys and fellow filmmakers who break down the various contractual agreements into English. He thereby ushers the viewer into a movie world where if Casablanca were made today the plane behind Ingrid Bergman would be JetBlue (one of his sponsors), Bogie would be outfitted with CARRERA Sunglasses (another one) and he would walk away with Claude Rains in Merrell Shoes (you betcha it’s a sponsor).
None of this will shock anyone who watches movies or TV these days. In fact, the film’s greatest shock comes in a brief excursion to Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city that has banned all outdoor advertising. Spurlock wanders through a city landscape that feels strangely denuded. This stuns you into realizing just how much advertising is a part of daily life. In Sao Paulo, you can actually see the city.
Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message” but here the message is the movie. Spurlock actually raises the film’s $1.5 million budget as he makes his movie. First he rounds up sponsors. When Ban Deodorant comes aboard at $50,000, you can feel Spurlock’s excitement after all the rejections. He gets a lengthy hearing from POM’s co-owner Lynda Resnick and her executive team, and even discusses commercials he might make for the company. He eventually makes one.
He makes others as well even as he learns how to develop his own “brand personality” and garners tips from Hollywood filmmakers from Brett Ratner to John Wells.
The executives, PR consultants, lawyers and media professors all seem to be in on the joke about the movie — they could hardly ignore the camera in their offices — but they spill the beans anyway. There is a sense, although few in the industry say it, that product placement has gotten seriously out of hand. Ralph Nader suggests the only way to avoid advertising is to go to sleep. Then Spurlock entices him into an involved discussion about Merrell Shoes. Yes, he does.
No one can quite find the line between a movie’s hero legitimately driving a luxury car and film and the embedding of products into story development and character behavior. Spurlock certainly grabs all the laughs this goldmine of comedy proffers even as he swills POM juice, conducts interviews at Sheetz Convenience Stores and shops for the musicians to promote themselves by writing the Greatest Movie theme song.
He then imagines his film is ready to open with sponsorships splashed all over the movie’s trailers, co-promotions and poster art. “He’s not sellout, he’s buying in!” declare the posters. He appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live in a suit plastered with corporate logos, the same suit he wore following the film’s Sundance premiere.
So don’t tell Spurlock he can’t have his cake and eat it too. In Greatest Movie, he gleefully accepts his sponsorships on camera just to show you how wrong this all is. And the sponsors dig it too: They’re getting exactly what they want.
Oh, and one more thing. After the film was shot, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against POM Wonderful for making false and unsubstantiated claims for its product in advertising. You can bet Morgan Spurlock appreciates the irony in that.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Documentary Premieres (Sony Pictures Classics)
Warrior Poets in association with Snoot Entertainment
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Screenwriter: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock
Producers: Jeremy Chilnick, Abbie Hurewitz, Morgan Spurlock, Keith Calder, Jessica Wu
Director of photography: Daniel Marracino
Music: Jon Spurney
Editor: Thomas M. Vogt, Marian Cho
No rating, 88 minutes
Sundance: On the Scene