Sundance 2011 Review: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD
Editor's Note: this review was originally published on February 8, 2011 as a Sundance Film Festival review.
Morgan Spurlock continues his streak of documentaries that prove to be more entertaining than insightful and in the process makes his most focused and informative film to date. After the likes of SUPER SIZE ME, WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?, and FREAKONOMICS, it's good to see Spurlock drop most of the pretense of importance and just run free with his high-concept documentary filmmaking. Sure, his new film, which explores the world of product placement, exposes some of the silliness and red tape involved in in-movie marketing, but it does so in a consistently fun way.
THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD starts with a core idea - create a documentary about product placement funded entirely by product placement - and runs with it. He begins not knowing where it's going to end, but things kick into gear as he begins to sign companies to smaller contracts. These lower-dollar figure deals means Spurlock will use their products exclusively through the film or create new advertisements for such products (yes, the film has commercials). It's not until Pom Wonderful steps in to secure the rights to the over-the-title marquee that Spurlock's film takes real shape.
Through the course of the film, each meeting is open to Spurlock's cameras. Whether he is being turned down (which happens quite often) or is negotiating the particulars of final cut on the film, the audience certainly feels as if it has been given full access. This is the greatest asset to the film. One can easily imagine a discussion of how many billboards displaying an ad for a particular product should be seen in a car chase in a Hollywood blockbuster. These contract negotiations really do come down to seconds of screen time - even in the discussion of financing the documentary that highlights the very talks going on.
It is hard to determine at times, though, whether this experiment is tarnished or not. Spurlock is a brand name himself (as cleverly and humorously explored in one part of the film) in the world of documentary filmmaking which is shown to work against him at times but which have most certainly worked for him in securing some of the deals seen. However, one must imagine it to be the same as the difference between Michael Bay walking into Gillette and asking for corporate sponsorship versus your typical independent filmmaker. Some bit of comparison as such would have better served the film.
THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD is a win-win-win situation. Spurlock wins - his movie is funded, completed, and now has a distribution deal. The companies with product placement in the film win- audiences will be exposed to them for 90 minutes in a purely entertaining context and some of them will even be mentioned in reviews of the film (several readers of this review will probably Google "Pom Wonderful"). The audience also wins - the film is a joy to watch from start to finish and it manages to get the input of greatly varied individuals, from Brooklyn based band Matt & Kim to Ralph Nader. Spurlock has pulled off his most assured bit of docutainment, a movie that exposes and relies on the same thing, a phenomenon obvious and interesting to every movie going soul out there.