POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Directed by Morgan Spurlock. (2011, PG-13, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 22, 2011
The line between filmmaker and stuntman has never been murkier for Morgan Spurlock, the documentarian who famously took on McDonald’s and the issue of public health in Super Size Me. In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock investigates the economics of product placement in film and television by – surprise – turning his entire movie and his public persona into products that can be purchased by advertisers looking to cross-promote their wares with his. (Cross-promotion, we’re told, is the Holy Grail of advertising.) Even the naming rights to his film were for sale, and Spurlock actually managed to finance the entire $1.5 million for his documentary in this manner. Multimillion-dollar Hollywood movies partially subsidize their budgets through product placement, an activity that has now become a matter of course. If this process helps Hollywood fund blockbusters, Spurlock in turn wants to make a docbuster. Always the master showman, Spurlock entertainingly plunges us into this largely unseen and little-explored world with his transparent look at the steps he goes through to finance The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. However, unlike the biblical epic spoofed by this title, no tablets or commandments are handed down, nor does any sea part to reveal a safe harbor. Spurlock has nothing terribly original to report, although witnessing his pitch meetings, cold calls, and conversations with experts such as Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader and filmmakers such as Brett Ratner, Quentin Tarantino, and Peter Berg is educational if not terribly illuminating. Product placement, when operating at its best, is unnoticeable, and Spurlock seems to equate that with insidious intent. In this light, all product placement nefariously insinuates itself into our heads, and at best, is a modern fact of life about which we should all be more aware. Kudos to that latter thought, even though I feel it also vastly underestimates the public’s general knowledge and perception of product placement in the movies we watch – especially since so much product placement is handled so clunkily that viewers would have to be perfectly oblivious to overlook it. The irony of Spurlock’s film is that it becomes the very thing that it seeks to expose, and even though Spurlock is the first to admit it, the confession doesn’t automatically give his movie a free pass in the ethics department. Another thing I take issue with is his dutiful repetition of POM Wonderful’s many extravagant health claims when shortly after the completion of this film, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration served notice to the pomegranate-juice company that its claims are in violation of federal labeling codes. What, if any, responsibility should Spurlock bear for being a conveyor of their false advertising? Still, the topic of product placement should be essential knowledge to all of us as media consumers so, despite its flaws, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is worth imbibing, if for no reason other than the bellyache it generates.