Morgan Spurlock makes "The Iron Man of documentaries"

From Morgan Spurlock, the inquisitive director of the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, comes a film about, and made possible by, product placement.POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold exposes and illuminates the extensive advertising and branding industry, even as Spurlock makes use of said industry in the making of the film.

Product placement, for those who aren't as familiar with it, is a form of advertising in which companies pay to have their product featured in a film or television show, on a building, carried by a certain celebrity, etc. The company gets exposure and the filmmakers get more money to fund their project. Companies spend billions of dollars a year on advertising and marketing, and this practice of inserting products into highly visible mediums and associating them with influential celebrities is a major part of it.

We watch as Spurlock goes from company to company, brand to brand, seeking partnerships to fund his movie — not an easy feat for a maker of small documentaries. Not only does Spurlock have to sell his film to these potential partners, he must essentially sell himself. Early in the film Spurlock gos to a consultant to establish his brand profile, taking his identity and values and then identifying the brands that are compatible with it. (Apple and Target lead the list.) While Spurlock's pitches are humorous, and most of his prospects seem curiously amused, most remain hesitant to enter into such a transparent deal, especially with someone who has a reputation for being "controversial."

Regardless, Spurlock does gain the support of several brands — primarily the title partner, POM Wonderful, a company that sells 100-percent pure pomegranate juice in snowman-shaped bottles. Once he gets his sponsors, Spurlock has to come to terms with all the contractual stipulations the corporations make before they'll part with their money. It becomes a constant struggle for Spurlock to juggle his his autonomy as a filmmaker with the needs of his corporate partners.

While most adults recognize that we are constantly being advertised to, it's interesting to delve more deeply into the process. Spurlock interviews people with a variety of viewpoints, including regular citizens, lawyers, advertisers, and filmmakers, and although it's clear that Spurlock sees danger in pervasive advertising, the viewer is left to decide for themselves what they think about the whole process.

Though educational, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold isn't all information. It wouldn't be a Morgan Spurlock documentary without a big dose of humor in the mix. The way he incorporates his partner's products into the film is entirely transparent (at one point he takes the shoe — made by corporate partner Merrill — off his foot during an interview and pitches it to Ralph Nader) yet always presented in a humorous light. (Stick around for the Mane & Tail ad at the end.)

Additionally, there are three complete commercials inserted into the film where Spurlock promotes his sponsors products. I was jarred when the commercials interrupted the film; it was surprising, because I was watching a movie, and yet it was also familiar because I'm so used to seeing commercials on television. For a moment I thought, "Okay, commercial time," and then I blinked and thought, "Wait, that's not right." I'm sure that's what Spurlock intended, and it proves that a good way to expose something as entrenched in our society as advertising is to make it seem suddenly uncomfortable and strange.

Overall, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is both entertaining and informational. Plus, like Super Size Me, it discusses an important topic that is excessively influential in our society yet most people think little about. We can't go anywhere anymore without seeing an advertisement or two (or two thousand). They may seem so ubiquitous that they've lost their influence, but that's not so — especially when it comes to how ads influence the thinking of children and adolescents. So I give Spurlock credit for yet again exposing a major issue in a smart, fun way.


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