A film review by Craig J. Koban June 28, 2011
THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD
2011, PG-13, 90 mins.
2011, PG-13, 90 mins.
A documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock
Here we go again.
Now, before I
begin digging into Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, officially titled POM WONDERFUL
PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, I need to state a few things:
I don’t hate Spurlock, contrary to what you may have inferred
from my reviews of his previous documentaries.
I actually think that he’s got an everyman charm, a spirited,
happy-go-lucky temperament, and generally has a likeable on-screen
presence as a jokester.
He’s a hard man to hate.
Yet, for as
magnanimous as he appears to be on screen, his documentaries have been
Thought-provoking and stimulating documentaries should present a
subject that you think you are familiar with and make you fundamentally
They should enlighten audience members, not pummeling them with
information they already have processed.
That’s precisely what Spurlock has done with his
incredulously Oscar nominated SUPER SIZE ME
and WHERE IN THE
WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?, which is what creates a distance
between me and their material: Instead of being a daring and intrepid
crusader that digs deeply into the heart of his themes, Spurlock is more
akin to being a playful exhibitionist engaging in self-promoting stunts.
SUPER SIZE ME, you
may recall, was more of a self-indulgent and gimmicky stunt than a
Instead of seriously probing the real underling issues of obesity
in North America, Spurlock ate McDonalds food for 30 straight days to prove –
holy mackerel! – that eating shitty food makes you unhealthy.
Then came another exhibitionist stunt – albeit more of a
globetrotting one – where he went on a travelogue odyssey through the
streets of Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to find,
yup, Bin laden.
Stop the presses!
All of this long prologue
serves a purpose, though: Spurlock is up to his same old tricks with THE
GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, which is meant to be, I think, a stunning and
revelatory expose on movie product placement and the tenuous and stressful
relationship between advertisers and the movies.
Much like his last two films, THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD provides
very little in terms of actual, contemplative insights into its themes.
If you already did not know that advertisers ravenously go out of
their way to shamelessly plug their respective products in films like, for
example, IRON MAN to make a buck, then get out from under the rock you
currently reside under.
I did, however, learn a few things from the documentary: Director
Brett Ratner would probably sell his soul to put a can of Coke in any of
his movies and that the only reason that Quintin Tarantino did not have
Denny’s in RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP
FICTION as scripted was because the franchise refused him.
I will say this: Spurlock at least has a kernel of an intriguing idea. Instead of just being another talking heads-styled doc with interviewees, stock footage, and commentary, he has a fiendish idea – he will make a documentary about advertising in the movies that is funded completely by advertising dollars. In essence, the film becomes less about the nature and reality of product placement in film and more about Spurlock’s determined attempts to seek out sponsorship to accumulate the required $1.5 million he needs to get his film made. What he learns – that should be of absolutely no shock whatsoever to anyone, including himself – is that corporate sponsors – to quote director Peter Berg in the film – “don’t give a fuck about art” and instead will go to any lengths to place their "brand" into films.
And the “Captain Obvious” Lifetime Achievement Award
The essential arc of the film
is Spurlock pleading with as many
companies as possible to get funding for his film.
He essentially, even though he does not freely admit it, is selling
out his film.
His odyssey includes detours with Hyatt, Mini Cooper, OK Go, Old
Navy, Jet Blue, POM Wonderful, and, most hilariously, a company that
offers a shampoo that includes on its label instructions for human and
Most of the higher ups he visits are, of course, highly dubious of
Spurlock’s aims (some of them rightfully ask whether he wants to
positively use their products or frame them in a negative and scathing
He also speaks with agents, lawyers, product reps, directors,
musicians, and product placement specialists (the most eerie is one that
utilizes neuroscience to see how the brain responds to movie trailers).
He finally hits pay dirt with POM, who agrees to be a major
sponsor, but only under the provision that Spurlock is only seen drinking
POM juice though the whole film.
The more I sat through THE
GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD the more it became glaringly apparent that
Spurlock is primarily interested in self-promotion more than anything else
by engaging in yet another guerrilla documentary stunt.
Yes, he is funny at times and an engaging presence, but he
overwhelms any sense of invigorating dissection of the key issues here.
THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD is only interested in entertaining,
to that it achieves its aims, but as a result it showcases Spurlock
settling for so little in actually examining the incestuous relationship
between the movies and advertisers.
There are other nagging
conundrums that, quite frankly, made my head incessantly spin all
throughout the film: What does Spurlock’s stunt (to call it anything
else would be misleading) say about him and the art of making movies?
Is he a sell out?
Is he just "buying in" the way countless other directors have for
Is Spurlock tarnishing the very essence of documentary filmmaking
by, for lack of a better phrase, whoring himself out to advertising money?
Is getting advertising money a win-win for the corporations and the
There rarely appears to be a moment when even Spurlock can answers
any of these questions.
He barely even scratches the surface of such queries.
The film does contain both
amusing and modestly interesting material.
A couple of hilarious gems show him interviewing Noam Chomsky while
going out of his way to gulp down on a POM-made refreshment.
There are also a couple of shots where POM beverages are shown
during which all other bottled and canned beverages in a convenience store
fridge are digitally blurred out.
There is a sidesplitting commercial within the film for Mane ‘n
Tail (the aforementioned shampoo for humans and, ahem, horses) and a sly
moment between Spurlock and consumer advocate Ralph Nader during which, at its
conclusion, Spurlock offers him a free pair of Merrell shoes.
In the end, though, THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD is precisely cut from the same cloth as SUPER SIZE ME and WHERE IN THE WORLD IN OSAMA BIN LADEN?: they are all much ado about nothing documentaries. I came out feeling, more than ever, that Spurlock is essentially a performance artist first and a shrewd, opinionated, crusading, and sincere documentary filmmaker a distant second. The film proves that Spurlock is essentially biting the hand that feeds him by paradoxically attacking forces that are making his doc a reality. I guess I am getting tired of Spurlock taking 90-plus minutes to emphasize the obvious to viewers? What’s next: him engaging in a two-week crystal meth bender to prove that drugs are bad? Could very well be.
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I just sell out?