By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Hey, you take your distinctions where you can get them and create your brand in any way you can. Which is exactly what documentarian Morgan Spurlock has done.
The official full title of this documentary, it should here be stated, is POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
After all, why shouldn’t a nonfiction movie about branding, co-promotion, and product placement brand itself by placing a product reference in its title?
PWP: TGMES is an exploration of the troubling world of sponsorship and cross-promotional marketing, and stealth and subliminal advertising in movies and television.
Director Morgan Spurlock (Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?, Freakonomics), who also served as a producer and co-wrote the script with Jeremy Chilnick, gained plenty of deserved attention and first became a brand name himself with his muckraking fear-of-fast-food documentary, Super Size Me, in 2004. You might think of his latest as Super Sponsor Me.
Again, he keeps the pacing brisk and stays on-screen most of the time, making his pleas to potential backers and investors thinly disguised as pitches, trying to gain financing and sponsorship for his latest film, hoping for another super-sized “doc-buster.”
And again he has given us a humorous and illuminating documentary with something to say about the sneaky and subtle ways that corporations get their products and companies noticed by us while we’re merely being entertained, supposedly doing something other than noticing them and listening to their self-serving messages. And he at least superficially investigates the psychological fallout of this process.
He also interviews such notables as Ralph Nader, Donald Trump, Noam Chomsky, and such film directors as Quentin Tarantino, Brett Ratner, Peter Berg, and J.J. Abrams, and gives us considerable access behind the scenes and behind closed doors, helping us to realize to just what extent product placement has permeated our culture and the ways in which we either fail to notice or acknowledge it or merely take its pervasiveness for granted.
Of course, the supreme irony emerging from this everybody-wins project is that Spurlock must exploit the same phenomenon and employ the same methods to get his film to the marketplace that his script derides. Which does not exactly subvert, tarnish, or undermine his ultimate message, but it at the very least softens the film’s sharper edges and registers well off the acceptable-level-of-self-promotion meter.
By film’s end, we wish Spurlock’s thesis had been a bit less repetitious and a bit more impactful. But we thank him for a stimulating eye-opener nonetheless.
So we’ll sponsor 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for a playfully muckraking branding documentary. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold isn’t the greatest story ever told. But it is a stimulating, sly, and funny peek behind the curtain of modern marketing.