There is a famously short YouTube video where David Lynch is asked for his opinion on product placement. His response? “Bullshit, that’s how I feel. Total fucking bullshit.” Morgan Spurlock and his handlebar moustache return to explore how the entertainment industry and brands co-promote their products together and the advantages and difficulties therein. Spurlock gained tremendous notoriety for his top-down approach in revealing the exploitative practices of one of the world’s largest quick service restaurants, McDonalds. For his 2011 film, he is taking the spectator on a tour of how a film receives financial support from multi-national retail brands.
This intellectual and self-reflexive documentary reveals the exact quest that Spurlock takes in order to make and fund the film. The spectator is given a front seat to the process, from learning how advertisers approach sponsors, the legal issues involved, and how deep product placement is implemented in our communities. What is fantastic about the film, is that discussing the film is mostly spoiler-free, since the pay-off is the achievement in seeing the film come to fruition. Thus, by merely watching the film, you are already aware that Spurlock has succeeded in his quest.
Product placement has existed in cinema since the very early days. One particular example is Cecil B. Demille’s Why Change Your Wife? which included close-ups of products for females. But Spurlock never discusses product placement prior to late-1980s, where it became egregiously out of hand. Instead, Spurlock focuses on how it exists today. From the neurological experiments to show how product placement and retail commercials affect our brains, right down to where and how entertainment inserts these product placement spots invisibly into content. Spurlock is commenting on the practice by explaining and exploiting it, it is a smart and intuitive way to do so. Spurlock shows how difficult it is to obtain permission, consider the legal consequences, meet any and all obligations, all the while producing an informative documentary. Spurlock certainly missed an opportunity to show how old and expansive the practice is, but for the moment, he nailed it when it comes to how the practice exists as it is today.
The video content is adequate to superb as the majority of the film was produced in high definition. Some of the spots that Spurlock was obligated to shoot for (Pom-Wonderful, JetBlue, and Hyatt, etc) were shot with different cameras, and the tone of the video changes significantly. Not to say that the tone reduces the film’s quality, but it is certainly noticeable. Early in the film, the camera operators were “finding” the story in the film as Spurlock had to sell the film, which was filming right then and there, which produced jerky camerawork, difficult for any video camera to capture smoothly. Since the majority of the film is filmed at the moment, the camera operators have to fiddle with some of the iris settings which can be seen in a few areas. Merely a consequence of being a camera operator on the battlefield.
As a documentary that focuses on Spurlock’s voice-of-god narration and audio captured on location, majority of the audio is dialogue based, thus the center speaker on surround sound set-ups is crucial. Most of the diegetic sound effects are present to support the graphic effects, and are implemented in the 5.1 soundtrack adequately. One qualm I have with many action films is the need to compress the audio levels to create an illusion of a louder sound, often times creating a mastered track that is far too hot. For an informative documentary, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold never exploits your speakers and the music is properly mastered for a smooth audible experience.
Considering that the film is already rather expansive, self-reflexive, and has a behind-the-scenes mentality, the extra material is rather flat, even if there is a more than adequate amount. All of the spots that Spurlock was obligated to produce are included as well as some behind-the-scenes of said commercials. Although I did not have a chance to enjoy the commentaries, I would believe that it offers the most significance to the film’s experience.
Spurlock may have outdone himself with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold by creating a highly self-reflexive and intellectual account of using product placement to comment on the industry-wide practice. The film is smartly-conceived and exceptionally assembled to create an achievement in the documentary form. The overall replay value will increase overtime when it receives more attention in scholarly criticism, or when it is dissected in film and journalism courses due to the ethics in both the product placement practice and Spurlock’s own methodology (as he has received criticism for Super Size Me).