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Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Directing: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

You have to give Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) points for originality and innovative thinking. In a movie about product placement, entirely funded by product placement, who wins -- the advertisers, or the viewers? The is one of those rare cases -- perhaps the only case -- where, with a built-in audience already skeptical of overt marketing, the answer is both.

Indeed, as most brands involved likely expected, plenty of viewers will likely have greater respect for their products just because they were willing to be involved in the film. I'm not above admitting that happened, to a degree, with me. The questions for the brands, perhaps, is whether there will be any return on their investment. But we can leave that up to the data spreadsheets they generate for themselves, as that's not really what Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is about.

Spurlock says from the very beginning, and multiple times, that "It's all about transparency." Most specifically, this is a movie about making a movie about product placement. There really is no other plot; how he goes about the process is what we see. And he starts from scratch, knowing nothing aside from a few key Hollywood contacts who can give him ideas for which agencies to start with, and they can then tell him what clients to go after and how. By the end he's come full circle, and has to come up with creative marketing plans for the movie itself. There's even a segment of Spurlock, wearing his NASCAR-esque suit plastered with company logos, doing a guest spot with Jimmy Kimmel -- who actually says the movie "opens this Friday." How recently could he possibly have filmed that segment and still gotten it into the final cut of the film? Maybe it was actually recorded more than just a few days prior. Maybe its existence is a semi-subversive example of "faction," which he learns about earlier in the film.

Surplock walks a fine line here, and he does it exceptionally well. Once he finally starts getting brands to sponsor the film, he makes promises to say only positive things about the product, and he delivers on the promise. Granted, he's clearly satirizing the process even as he's engaging in it, but the brand companies don't seem to mind so long as he's not directly disparaging them (although he does bow to Pom Wonderful's request that he directly disparage one of their competitors). But even as he's shilling all these products, either through product placement (whipping out one of his Merrill Shoes during an interview with Ralph Nader was an especially ingenious touch) or through increasingly entertaining 30-second commercials he makes and inserts into the film (the Hyatt commercial is a real winner), he also delivers on the transparency of the process. And in so doing, he reveals a lot of the bullshit involved in the process.

Pom Wonderful is perhaps the best example, largely because they commit to a million dollars to be the above-the-title sponsor -- but, Spurlock soon realizes, only if a multitude of conditions are met. One of them is that he has to "generate 600 million media impressions," whatever that means. One wonders if Pom Wonderful realized how transparent Spurlock intended to be -- he discusses the particulars of his contracts on film -- because once this twist is revealed, Pom Wonderful shifts, slightly at least, from surprisingly respectable to just a little bit sleazy.

Spurlock spends a comparatively small amount of time interviewing people about product placement and advertising in general, both average joes on the street and several pretty famous directors, most of whom are happy to get funding for their movies through product placement. Even Quentin Tarantino alludes to having wanted to do product placement, only to have companies not want anything to do with his films (turns out Denny's doesn't want to perpetuate an image of the kind of joint where Tarantino-esque shady characters hang out -- they're kind of too late there).

The overall focus of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold could have been a little more polished. He asks several questions at the beginning, including the degree to which advertising (and specifically product placement) really influences people, and it leaves the impression these are questions he's setting out to answer. But then he never even mentions them again, and the rest of the movie is just his quest for products. From that perspective, with so many missed opportunities for interesting statistical data (the kind of stuff he presented with lots of clever graphics in Super Size Me), this movie is curiously lacking in insight.

But getting past that, Spurlock delivers a documentary that is, especially by documentary standards, sensationally entertaining. The process itself is indeed fascinating, and in the end the movie serves as a kind of litmus test for the brands involved. It's a very meta examination of creative advertising, where I as a consumer am left to judge not just the movie itself, but the products it discusses -- and I can draw my own conclusions. Pom Wonderful? Maybe a little uptight. Hyatt Hotels? Surprisingly great sense of humor. Sheetz convenience stores? Outside-the-box thinkers.

To be fair, many of these impressions are largely the result of how the film is edited. No matter how "transparent" Spurlock is trying to be, there's no avoiding at least a little bit of bias. But even Pom Wonderful should be commended even for taking the risk on this movie, as clearly every single brand involved was walking on uncharted territory and going out on a limb as far as their business was concerned. And Spurlock goes to impressive lengths to be objective, and often in tongue-in-cheek ways: JetBlue's contract stipulates that he conduct one of his interviews in a new JetBlue airport hangar, so that's where he interviews someone with a cynical attitude toward advertisers.

Pom Wonderful's The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is nothing if not clever, and Morgan Spurlock is the perfect guy to pull off something like this. To say this movie is unlike any other movie would be an understatement, even though it's about what virtually every other movie does. It does seem to miss some pretty significant opportunities for greater insight, but it's so much fun to watch, that hardly even matters.

Morgan Spurlock pitches 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold' in . . . 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'.

Overall: B+
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