As long as a creative work costs more money to make than the artist can afford on his or her own, there will always be advertising within art. It’s hard not to notice the ubiquitous use of Sony Vaio laptops in any Sony film or Macbooks in any other film. It’s also painfully obvious when the labels on branded drinks face the camera perfectly no matter what angle the shot is taken from. Morgan Spurlock – the somewhat controversial filmmaker behind Super Size Me – draws back the transparent curtain to reveal the sausage-making that goes into how products are advertised in entertainment. While a good portion of the film presents information that seems self-evident there are also eye-opening facts that every consumer of entertainment needs to see.
POM Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is kind of like a meta-documentary. In it, Morgan Spurlock tries to create the equivalent of a blockbuster title in the documentary world or – as he calls it – a “doc-buster”. He believes that the key to giving a movie a larger presence and elevating it to blockbuster status is through co-promotion with other companies. So he sets out to try and finance his documentary entirely with sponsor money, taking the audience along for the ride as he approaches different brands and pitches them his idea. Along the way he also reveals how advertisers can influence the creative output and how audience manipulation is broken down to a science.
On one hand, this film is absolutely fascinating, especially for any aspiring filmmaker who’s considering approaching people for financing. It’s interesting to watch Spurlock pitch his film and see him work rooms…and get rejected over and over again. He takes his rejections on the chin, celebrates his successes genuinely and is overall a sympathetic subject for the film. He also lands several interviews with prominent names in the entertainment industry like Brett Ratner and Quentin Tarantino who help to not only shed light on the relationship between advertising and entertainment, but also balance out the point of view. As Ratner asks: If a character is going to drive a car, why not make it a branded car?
On the other hand, a good portion of the film is spent watching back-and-forths between Spurlock and company executives in boardrooms. While these scenes are entertaining and mostly comical in their own right they also don’t come off as natural. Spurlock is his amiable self, but the executives all feel stiff as if they don’t want to be caught saying something idiotic on camera and the disparity in behavior makes any negative opinions on the sponsors a little unfair.
The bread and butter of film are all of the revealing moments that showcase how advertisers market to consumers. It’s here that Spurlock’s premise is strongest and he highlights telling moments in entertainment where characters talk about drinking too much Dr. Pepper or attempt to manipulate each other with Subway sandwiches. The line between advertising and art is truly blurred in these scenes. Audiences will no doubt also be surprised to watch how scientifically movie trailers are constructed as Spurlock is subjected to an MRI and his brain is scanned for reactions to specific images. Advertisers use this information to create the most appealing trailers, which is probably why so many moviegoers feel that previews give too much away.
For the most part, POM Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is not a mean spirited film and doesn’t necessarily try to demonize any entity. Morgan Spurlock also goes about his journey with aplomb and a good sense of humor. Audiences will enjoy the irony of watching Spurlock worry about making a film that has already been made. As Jimmy Kimmel points out, “This is the Inception of documentaries.” Furthermore, the film is genuinely funny and it’s interesting to watch Spurlock resist and struggle with sponsor influence on his vision and ultimately succumb to it as the corporate machine swings into motion. This film probably won’t change any business practices in the way that Spurlock’s previous work has, but it will certainly have audiences paying more attention to the things they’re already watching.