Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Premise: A documentary about product placement in television and motion pictures.
What Works: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is an entertaining but enlightening look at the way in which commerce interacts with and sometimes shapes art and specifically cinema. The documentary is directed and stars Morgan Spurlock. Like he did in Super Size Me, Spurlock is able to make himself a likeable figure to place at the center of his film, playing both canary and coalminer; he delivers the exposition and conducts interviews with filmmakers, public relations experts, and advertising executives but he also makes this documentary an experiment in product placement. Throughout the picture, Spurlock meets with representatives from various brands and pitches product placement in this documentary. When he is successful the film is shaped in a new direction. For example, the beverage company Pom Wonderful becomes the above-the-title sponsor of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and from that point on only Pom Wonderful products appear as beverages, with the film interrupted at various points for close ups of Pom products and a commercial for Pom Wonderful inserted into the film. Although a lot of this is amusing it also simulates and makes apparent the ways in which placement manifests itself on television and in cinema. However, what Spurlock does in the second half of his picture takes the subject to a more interesting place. Only the most naïve viewer would be surprised by product placement but Spurlock isn’t so cynical that he condemns it outright. Instead, the picture asks the viewer to consider how advertising may allow corporations to develop inroads into our lives and impact our perceptions about ourselves and the world and ultimately shape our choices. As brands agree to place themselves in the film, the viewer sees how corporations determine how they are presented to the public and the ways in which they appear in the media. In another of the narrative strands of the picture, Spurlock interviews staff from a school that has sold advertising space in school buses and on athletic facilities in order to raise funds. On the one hand, the film acknowledges the market working with the school in a mutually beneficial fashion. On the other hand, the film questions what consequences such advertising may have on the school or what kinds of advertisements are appropriate for an educational institution. As the film smartly shows, filmmakers may have the content of their work shaped directly or indirectly by influence of advertisers so it is natural to ask how advertising might compromise public services or institutions. What The Greatest Movie Ever Sold does, in sum, is to display the ethically ambiguous intersection of commerce and advertising with other facets of society, make us acknowledge it, and ask us if the price is worth it.
What Doesn’t: Morgan Spurlock is part of a batch of filmmakers who have arisen in the past decade making entertaining and personality driven op-ed documentaries. A viewer’s appreciation for this film may be enhanced or limited on how they feel about Spurlock as public figure; if they find his antics obnoxious that will be an obvious stumbling block to enjoying the film. As it is, Spurlock does present himself well.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, commercials, and interviews.
Bottom Line: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold takes on a potentially dull issue and makes it entertaining and engaging. This is a film with broader implications and it is an important addition to a broader discussion about the way advertising and commerce shapes up both personally and culturally.
Episode: #370 (January 1, 2012)