Best viewed on a brand new Sony Bravia HD TV, Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011) is a noble, yet lightweight attempt to provide the audience with an insight into the murky world of advertising and product placement.
Since the introduction of the Internet and TV recording devices such as the exceptional Sky Digibox, there has been a steady decline in viewing figures for traditional television commercials which has led to advertisers placing more value on product placement and something called co-promotion.
Product placement has been around since the early days of Hollywood and basically it means that a brand will give you a bundle of cash if you feature their product in a flattering light. A filmmaker wouldn’t have to abandon his principles as such just make sure that Gary Cooper was smoking a delicious Lucky Strike in a scene rather than a Chesterfield. Co-Promotion on the other hand is far more dastardly and involves brands having control over the way their product is portrayed and in some cases, control over the script and final edit.
Obviously this is a pretty controversial subject and worthy of investigation but Spurlock never digs deep enough and interviews with directors such as Peter Berg and Quentin Tarantino are brief and not particularly revealing. Most of the documentary run time is taken up by yawn inducing scenes of Spurlock sat around a table trying to coax a variety of chinless advertising executives into sponsoring his movie but there are some interesting moments. His trip to Sao Paulo which in 2007 passed a so called ‘Clean City’ law which banned all forms of outdoor advertising was an eye opener and perhaps he should have sought out a few more examples of brand defiance.
The problem with Spurlock is that his ideas are far better than his delivery and rather than being driven by outrage he is driven by curiosity and a desire to please and entertain. Sometimes this works and his directorial debut Super Size Me (2004) was both amusing and informative, but The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is low on laughs and low on insight and although his intentions are admirable. Spurlock has delivered the documentary equivalent of a cheap watch rather than a diamond Rolex.