Morgan Spurlock, best known for 2004’s controversial Super Size Me, is back with another documentary that rests heavily on one concept: the processes and wrangling behind movie product placement. Spurlock chooses to highlight these processes by funding his movie purely through sponsorships. And so the documentary follows him as he tries to gain these sponsors, with the circular aim of making the audience aware of, and complicit with, the advertising all the way through.
If anything though, these early attempts to gain sponsorships are where Spurlock stumbles because a little too much time is spent in business meetings that are neither funny nor enlightening. Consequently, a lot of time is wasted that could’ve been spent on focusing down to his conclusion that, in the end, lacks the punch of some of his previous work.
But there’s still plenty to like and some of the things he reveals are eye-opening. Anyone not familiar with American television will be astounded at the placement within popular shows and the extent to which TV spots mislead. Equally compelling is Spurlock’s visit to Sao Paulo, where the local authorities have banned any advertising in public places because they see it as “visual pollution”.
This is all aided by Spurlock’s engaging presence; he’s always restless with energy and in pursuit of a laugh as well as your interest. He’s also wisely opted for the interview route and so The Greatest Movie Ever Sold features, albeit briefly, interviews with directorial royalty such as J. J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. More interesting, however, are the conversations with those inside the industry. The demonstrations of neuromarketing for trailers, a process whereby the advertisers link people up to MRI machines to better understand what makes them tick, is a fascinating pointer to where the world is heading.
Spurlock does well here to inspire thought about the threat advertising can have on the narrative of cinema, but you can’t help but think that his initial lack of focus resigns The Greatest Movie Ever Sold to a much less devastating impact than he would’ve originally hoped for.