Thursday, September 1, 2011

DVD Review: Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold **
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock.

Morgan Spurlock is a funny guy, but I’m not sure he’s as funny as he thinks he is. His first documentary, Super Size Me, worked because Spurlock was a nobody, an unknown comic presence who decides to do something incredibly stupid – eat nothing but McDonalds for a month – and was surprised by just how god awful it was for him. That movie was clever, in part because I don’t think Spurlock was trying so hard. In his two features since, the almost insufferable Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? and the now the slightly better Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock is trying too hard to be clever and funny – and the result just isn’t very good.

The idea behind the movie is that Spurlock will fund an entire documentary on nothing but product placement money. The movie will be about him trying to finance the movie. So we see him on the phone with many big companies, trying to convince them to come on board as a sponsor, and telling them what they will receive by doing so. For $1 million you can even get your name above the title of the film, which is how the movie became to be known as Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

The point of the movie, if there is one, is to make product placement invisible for the audience. To show them just how much they are being targeted by huge corporations who want to slip advertising into everything they watch. Practically every blockbuster has some sort of tie in products, from fast food chains to cars to toys and everything else you can imagine. And then, of course, there are those product placements in the movies themselves, which can be as subtle as someone drinking from a coke can, or being thuddingly obvious, as people mentioning the product by name over and over again (and Spurlock has examples of both in the film).

The biggest problem with Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is that Spurlock isn’t actually telling you anything you don’t already know. You’d have to be pretty dense not to see product placement in the movies and TV these days, which makes one of his talking heads interview subjects suggestion that you be informed when you are being advertised to in the body of a movie redundant. We know already. Wayne’s World brilliantly skewered this way back in 1993, and David Mamet’s State and Main did an even better job more than a decade ago, when the director of the film within a film had to find a way to get the name of a website into a period movie (and succeeds). Spurlock’s interviews with political and intellectual and business figures like Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader and Donald Trump are not all that enlightening, because we know what they’re going to say before they say it. His interviews with filmmakers like Peter Berg and Brent Ratner, who both admit there is product placement in the movies but don’t see how it effects the film itself, are equally dull (after all, does it really matter if we see Will Smith drink a coke in a movie?) His interview with Quentin Tarantino is a little more enlightening, if only because Tarantino admits he was turned down by Denny’s not once but twice, when he wanted to set scenes from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction in one of their locations.

Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is at its best when Spurlock is talking to the companies interested in investing themselves, and when doing his “ads” that he puts right into the body of his movie. Spurlock shows a knack for these ads, which makes you think he’d be a great pitch man if he decides to go that way. Spurlock is very good at being both overt and subtle in his product placements.

The film its at its worst when Spurlock wonders aloud on screen (as he does quite a bit in the film’s second half), if he is selling out by making this movie. If he didn’t want to run the risk of looking like a sellout, he shouldn’t have made a movie about him raising money for a movie from ad revenue alone. It comes with the territory.

Ever since Super Size Me came out in 2004, Spurlock has been compared to Michael Moore. The reason is clear – both of them take on big corporations in their documentaries in an amusing way, putting themselves front and center in their films, so the film is about them as much as anything. The difference between Moore and Spurlock – what makes Moore a wonderful filmmaker and Spurlock an average one – is that there seems to be real anger and passion behind all of Moore’s films. For better or for worse, Moore believes in what he is telling you, and he works hard to convince you he’s right. Spurlock lacks that same passion. He still seems like a goofy kid with a movie camera making movies for a laugh. Those can be successful, but much of the time they aren’t – as Spurlock’s last two films prove.

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