The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is the greatest movie lie ever told.
Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock starts this movie out telling us it will be about product placement in films and that to make this movie, it would all be funded by various companies he shows in the film. Okay, cool concept. I’m on board.
Well, the second part of that statement was true. The problem was that I was interested in the first part, too.
Spurlock shows us a few examples of films using advertising tie-ins. There was also a clip of a TV show that has a character come in and offer somebody a Dr. Pepper that was hysterically bizarre.
There were a few fun facts he threw at us (the movie Iron Man had 14 brand partnerships), but not enough.
He never told us about how TV shows need to do things to combat people with DVRs that fast forward the commercials.
He didn’t talk about the history of product placement, which I knew nothing about. I would’ve loved to have known when this all got started. We all started noticing it in the ‘80s, but surely it had been around before that.
When I got home I did my own research courtesy of Google.
I found that in 1873, Jules Verne had transport and shipping companies lobbying to be mentioned in his stories.
In 1919, in a Fatty Arbuckle comedy called The Garage, they had a Red Crown Gasoline product placement.
In 1925, The Lost World had a Corona Typewriter, although nobody was sure if Corona paid for that or not. It was rumored that they had a deal with First National Pictures.
When the product in the movie is needed for a scene in the film, those things go unnoticed.
In It’s a Wonderful Life, if a kid wants to be an explorer and they show National Geographic on the table – is that really product placement?
A lot of people thought a Groucho Marx movie used product placement when a character fell into a river and yelled for a lifesaver. He threw the candy Life Savers. I just think that was a joke that worked, not a deal worked out with a candy company.
Product placement apparently goes back to silent films, and was even used in early radio shows.
There are even cases of celebrities and athletes that have had run-ins because of products they didn’t want to endorse.
The most valuable baseball card is the famous Honus Wagner, which is so rare because it wasn’t bubble gum, but a tobacco card. He wasn’t a smoker and insisted they pull his cards.
We learn nothing about these stories in this movie. It’s all about Spurlock and his quest to get sponsors – while pitching to them the movie I would’ve liked to have seen.
Now, that being said – he’s at least entertaining and funny in those pitches.
So when I sat down to interview Spurlock, and he handed me a POM Wonderful (one of the films sponsors), I grilled into him.
I angrily asked how he could make a movie about this topic and not cover anything about the history or product placement.
He smiled and said “Well…we did have some of that, which you can see on the DVD. It just didn’t make it into the film.”
He went on to tell me the Jules Verne story, which I had already found out on my own. He also gave a whole series of excuses as to why he made the movie he did. It’s a film that isn’t about product placement. It’s about Morgan Spurlock having fun adventures in the boardrooms of big and small companies.
We get to laugh as he discovered there’s a product called Mane and Tail, or a chain of gas stations called Sheetz (he stopped laughing when they ponied up $100,000 to be in the movie).
We’re amazed that he actually gets POM to give him a million bucks to have their name on the title of the film.
It’s even interesting when he pitches two very funny commercials at them, and they don’t want to do either. Instead, they opt for a spot that doesn’t have an ounce of humor, but merely attacks the competition.
I thought it was a weird dynamic that the theatre I was in all laughed along to the commercials Spurlock made. We’re sitting there watching a 30 second commercial, in the middle of a film, and we’re enjoying it. I have friends that scream if a commercial comes on the screen 15 minutes before our movie starts. They don’t want commercials anywhere near the movie we paid to see.
I told Spurlock I enjoyed the directors he got to comment – J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. He told me he had a few that were edited out, like Adam McKay (who does a lot of Will Ferrell comedies).
He scored a homerun getting Ralph Nader — not only because of how Nader gets when it comes to products — but for the various funny things Nader said.
When it came to music, I thought it was cool watching Spurlock successful talk OK Go into doing a theme song, appropriately titled The Greatest Song Ever Heard (and it was a catchy song, too).
I didn’t need to hear Hall of the Mountain King, which might rival Flight of the Valkyries as one of the most often used classical pieces in film.
I also didn’t see the point of his visit to San Palo. It almost seemed like he wanted an excuse for a vacation.
Showing how the city got rid of billboards and signs because they didn’t like how it looked, didn’t add much to a movie about product placement in film.
It’s kind of like how Super Size Me (one of his other entertaining documentaries) went off in directions that didn’t always have to do with the original theme.
I couldn’t resist slipping in one question about that movie. I asked Spurlock why he felt that it was bad that McDonald’s markets Happy Meals to children, when a parent can still decide what their kid eats. I said, “Now we have that ridiculous law in San Francisco where Happy Meals have to have something nutritious or they can’t be sold.”
Spurlock snapped, “I’m not for laws that ban them. I don’t think that’s the answer. I do think when a restaurant chain feeds more people than some small countries, yes…they should take some responsibility in what it is they serve.”
There was another section of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold that involved Spurlock buying an ad for his film on a high school fence that sells advertising to raise money. It also had nothing to do with the premise of product placement, but by that point, I had already come to the realization that we’re just watching a movie about Spurlock doing what he wanted. That could mean cold-calling companies for money, talking to celebrities, designing Big Gulp cups like the comic book movies do, or talking big name artists into creating a movie poster.
Spurlock really didn’t care about the subject matter, just the fun of his adventure. Luckily for the filmgoer, that was entertaining enough to enjoy watching that adventure.
I’m giving it a C+.