Morgan Spurlock made a big splash with his 2004 debut documentary, “Super Size Me,” where he subsisted for one month on a diet of McDonald’s food, three meals a say, to show its effect on the human body. This time around, he goes to Hollywood to make a doc about product placement in films and, in the process, seeks corporate sponsors to place their own products to pay for “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”
This is the most sure-handed of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary efforts to date. “Super Size Me” was a big commercial hit but the filmmaker fared less well with his follow up films, “Where In the World Is Osama Bin Laden? (2008)” and “Freakanomics (2010).” “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” represents a quantum leap for the filmmaker as he weaves a clever satire about product placement in the movie industry with the ironic twist of using that same placement to pay the bills to make his movie.
This clever placement, though, could have backfired and it is Spurlock’s energy and tenacity that make “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” his best work yet. His hunt for sponsors is rolled in with his making the film and he, with co-writer Jeremy Chilnick, expertly weaves it all together. The story of branding in America is shown from its early days of advertising when the television and its marketing possibilities were first tapped, followed by how product placement developed through the years since. Corporate product placement in American films is now a staple in financing movies in Hollywood.
Spurlock makes hundreds of phone calls and personal pitches to a myriad of corporations, some famous, some relatively unknown – have you ever heard of Mane and Tail Shampoo? He wheels and deals to get corporate cooperation to participate in “TGMES.” At the same time, he pitches his idea to some of these companies to pay him – the one that shells out $1-million gets that corporation’s name prominently listed over the title – to have their product placed. This weaving of concepts, called factions (combo of fact and fiction), is seamlessly handled throughout this ingenious documentary.
Humor abounds in “TGMES” as Spurlock beats the pavement for placement participation in the film. POM and Mini Cooper are just two of the companies approached to supply funds to make the movie, and, from the title, you know which one gave a million bucks for the privilege. The director tells us how the movie “Iron Man” held the record for the most products placed – 14. He set out to break this record and found 15 companies to willing to give him $20000, $50000 or $100000 to get their products place. It will not give anything away to say he got the 15 sponsors and set a new record.
“POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is a true original, in both concept and execution. Morgan Spurlock wraps his hands around his idea and, with energy, pulls it off. This is a satire and documentary rolled into one and it walks the line between them well. I give it a B+.
Documentarian Morgan Spurlock made a name for himself with his health-endangering first film, "Super Size Me," but his theatrical followup, "Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?," was a shapeless mess. His contribution to the disappointing essay omnibus "Freakonimcs" was the most entertaining, albeit lightweight, segment "A Roshanda by Any Other Name." All of his work indicates that Spurlock aims to make us laugh above all and comedy is the best element of his latest, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."
Spurlock had a good idea here - to make a documentary about product placement in movies while shooting his own efforts to fund said documentary using product placement. While he pitches his idea to big time Hollywood marketing firms, one exec questions whether anyone would want to see this movie - it's a valid question, but the irony is that the film is often laugh-out-loud funny and easily could get an audience. The real problem is that as a documentary, the concept is played more for fun than information - because "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is a nonfiction film, we never do learn how product placement works in regular feature films, despite Spurlock's interviews with the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Brett Ratner. Instead we're handed a more general piece on marketing.
He starts off on agenda, noting how the influence of TIVO and the Internet have impacted traditional TV spots, forcing companies to be more creative in how they shill their products. But then Spurlock goes to a company to figure out what his brand is, so he can sell himself to and pick compatible prospective partners (this is the first documentary to have its own slurpee cup). He visits a lawyer to learn just what he can and cannot say about them (Spurlock later drives his ad-emblazoned Mini Cooper into PA gas station chain Sheetz and notes that he is so glad he's 'not driving a piece of $hi% Volkswagon,' the film's funniest line at the expense of a company who turned him down.
POM, the high end pomegranate juice company, is the one to spring for the million dollar fee to get their name above the title (samples are being handed out at special screenings of the film) as well as constant placement throughout Spurlock's film. What's really interesting, though, is that the documentarian never mentions the company's battles with the FTC, who fined them for advertising that their product helped reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and impotence. Cannily, though, Spurlock pitches commercials to them playing up the impotence angle to a degree that surpasses what any TV channel outside the Comedy Channel might show, and gets the point across nonetheless.
Spurlock gets a big kick out of finding Mane and Tail shampoo at his local drug store and although the company ends up not buying in, he stages his own commercial for the product and it's fun, as is his work for his Hyatt sponsor, commercials worked into the fabric of his film. One of his more interesting jaunts is to Sao Paulo, a city that outlawed outside advertising, but again, what does this have to do with product placement in the movies? Even when Spurlock shows examples of the most egregious product placements, his clips are from TV's reboot of '90210.'
"POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is a good bit of fun that obviously took a lot of work, but one wishes its creator had stuck more to his original agenda. Still, one has to laugh when Spurlock rolls out having duped consumer advocate Ralph Nader himself into hawking a pair of Merrell Shoes.
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