Mark Reviews Movies

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Morgan Spurlock

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual material)

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 4/22/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 21, 2011

Morgan Spurlock performs an experiment in movie production and marketing with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. As a concept, it's fascinating. How far can Spurlock go in creating a movie that is entirely funded and about product placement? Even before he starts approaching different companies looking for money in exchange for giving their products roles as diverse as a top-billed star to walk-by cameos, the director expresses reasonable doubts. Will anyone go along with the stunt? Is there even a point beyond its existence as one?

If we take the scientific process metaphor further, the problem with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is that it lacks a hypothesis. The closest Spurlock comes to presenting one is in bringing up discussions he's had with fellow filmmakers about the subject. His big-budget-minded colleagues argue that inserting brands into their work is essential to getting them off the ground, and his independent filmmaker friends argue that if they had similar access to such a financial opportunity, their movies would fare better at the box office.

This, of course, means that Spurlock's experiment is still—even with the movie itself complete—underway, leading him to make appearances on late-night talk shows (seen late in the movie itself) wearing a suit embroidered with the logos of the various companies that gave him money to feature their products. This is a test that is sure to have studios and box office gurus and filmmakers with dollar signs on the mind scanning whatever the results may be to check this movie's success or failure as a money-making machine. That, of course, leaves those who do not care about such things—and even have a difficult time trying to do so—in the dark.

As a gag, it's safe, because no one who isn't in on the joke is on the screen. Spurlock begins his pursuit with cold calls to major corporations. The movie, he supposes, needs things like an official drink, an official car, an official airline, etc., etc. Most of these phone calls, at first, lead nowhere. Whatever discussion Spurlock may have had with the legal departments of companies that decided their sponsorship was not in its best interest are omitted. This leaves a fairly sizeable gap in the process. Why the hesitation to acknowledge a practice we see every day, almost everywhere (A visit to the city of São Paulo, Brazil, which outlawed outdoor advertising in 2007, is like a trip to a forgotten world)?

"Brand" is a word thrown out a lot at meeting after meeting Spurlock attends in board rooms full of chairs, long tables, and smiling executives whose facial expressions range from blank stares to hollow smiles of understanding (They wait until the cameras are off to say no). Their concerns are how it will affect the company's "brand recognition" and "brand personality." This is, after all, the man who ate big-name fast food for a whole month to show the detrimental health effects of a high-calorie, high-fat, and high-preservative diet, so it's really no wonder so many companies don't allow him more courtesy than a succinct denial.

What we do see are a gaggle of advertising-minded people, who run businesses that reduce a product and the company that makes and distributes it into a set of words. Spurlock undergoes the process, bringing in photos of his family and art that he appreciates to show what kind of person he is. The advisor reduces his entire life to two words: mindful and playful. With this dehumanizing ammunition in hand, he starts to find companies somewhat eager to attach themselves to the project, with, of course, a few stipulations.

Spurlock finally obtains its major sponsor, allowing for the title to appear a full thirty minutes into the movie, and since it's a juice, from there on out, everywhere he goes he's carrying a bottle of it around and every other drink the camera spots is blurred out. He must also insert commercials into the movie at sporadic intervals, and he even successful sells Ralph Nader on a pair of shoes. The interviews, like that one, are oddities, since Spurlock must somehow balance the skeptical talk from consumer advocates with his own semi-ironic selling out.

The movie as a whole has this unusual sense of detachment, as Spurlock is left in a quandary of being unable to take a stance, meaning that he, perhaps unintentionally, takes the position of those footing the bill. As a social experiment for the effects of marketing, the results of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold might hold some weight; as an entity unto itself, it's in limbo.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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