Now available on DVD, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is written and directed by and stars Morgan Spurlock. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you didn’t see “Super Size Me,” (2004) Spurlock’s best-known work and the only documentary my film class ever watched without yawning. There, he underlines the perils of the fast-food industry by eating nothing but McDonald’s wares for a month, with the predictable results. Here, he takes on the world of advertising, proposing to do so by creating a movie about product placement, marketing, and advertising funded entirely by, uh, product placement, marketing, and advertising. The full title of the film is “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”
To get the name above the title, the folks at POM have to shell out some major bucks for this minor movie. They are joined by eleven other companies, among them Hyatt hotels, Jet Blue, and Mini Cooper, all of which get ads inserted in the movie for their investment. Some of these ads are tongue-in-cheek, but they make Spurlock’s point: there is no escaping advertising in today’s movies, whether it is subtle or blatant. Though Spurlock’s use of the advertising modes is often ironic, the commercial icons are still presented—and represented—to our consciousness, the message massaging us willy-nilly.
Presenting himself as somewhat naďve, the clearly media- savvy Spurlock enlists a number of experts on ad generation and placement: advertising execs, creative types, screenwriters, directors, and, of course, lawyers. My favorite is Ralph Nader, who, when asked where you can go to escape advertising, replies, “To sleep.” The wise men also acquaint him with some insider terminology like “brand integration,” “brand collateral,” and “neuro-marketing,” upon which Spurlock casts a comically ironic eye, while using himself as illustration and guinea pig for their techniques.
Like most good documentaries, this one wants to raise some serious issues, specifically the problem of “selling out” to the people who sponsor your product with theirs.
Initially, all of the companies want final approval of the film; happily, Spurlock resists their
demands, leaving him free to make them somewhat the butt of the jokes, despite the lavish product placement they enjoy throughout the film. (He drinks only POM, drives only Mini Coopers, stays exclusively in Hyatts, etc.) If his movie doesn’t resolve the ethical and moral dilemmas it raises, well, they may just be insoluble.
This has to be a blue moon month, as I have just reviewed my second documentary in as many weeks. “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is rated “PG-13” for some language and mild sexual suggestivity. Subteens will not be endangered; they may even be enlightened about the pervasive presence of “commercials,” whether labeled as such or not. Adults—particularly film fans-- will not be especially surprised, but will likely be intrigued by the process the film shows.