Morgan Spurlock's films are less documentaries than filmed gimmicks--clever ideas mounted breezily, but not to be confused with analysis or insight. The results thus far have been mixed: Super Size Me was such an ingeniously gonzo premise that the film's preachiness and occasional cruelty were mostly overlooked, but the relentlessly self-infatuated and overinflated (though, admittedly, slightly entertaining) Where in the World is Osama bin Laden was panned or ignored by critics and audiences alike, and his segment in the documentary omnibus Freakonomics made Spurlock seem even more of a lightweight when grouped with real documentarians.
His latest film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (excuse me: POM Wonderful presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) takes a hands-on look at product placement and advertising in movies by documenting Spurlock's attempts to finance the film using the very methods it is examining and exposing. He admits right off the bat that a low-budget documentary doesn't necessarily promise the same kind of exposure as a summer blockbuster (when asked how many people it will reach, Spurlock cheerily replies, "Dozens!"), so he looks at both ends of the equation, the chicken and the egg: how product placement puts money into a film, and how tie-ins function as advertising afterwards.
There are buzzwords galore: Brand personality, neuro-marketing, brand collateral. He does pitch meetings, talks to PR people (including one "Michael Levein", who's like a Bob Oedenkirk character--"Sell, sell, sell! You're in America!"), wheels and deals. His early efforts don't go well; most of the big corporations turn him down (Volkswagen is particularly insistent), and he ends up pitching to companies like Mane n' Tail, a shampoo for both humans and horses. But he finally lines up official sponsors like jetBlue, Hyatt, and Mini-Cooper (gassing his car up, he tells the camera, "Glad I'm not driving some piece-of-shit Volkswagen"), all the while checking in with sociologists, experts, and commentators like Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader--who displays a sense of humor we haven't seen in years--and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams, Peter Berg, and Brett Ratner (Berg is the most admirably candid; Ratner, no surprise, makes you want to punch him).
Spurlock's detractors--and they are legion--will find plenty to complain about here: the filmmaker again puts himself front and center throughout the film (whatever their secondary subject might be, his films' primary subject is always himself), and he can tend to get irritatingly cutesy with his editing and graphics. But some of his choices work; even this skeptical viewer had to admit that the illustration of "clutter on the screen" is awfully funny. And his points, though often obvious, are well-conveyed; he takes a trip to Sao Paulo, which recently passed a bill to eliminate all outdoor advertising (which they classify as "visual pollution"), and the sight of a major city bereft of messaging drives home how much of it surrounds us--and how little we even notice it anymore.
Documentaries have a tendency towards the hit-and-miss, technically speaking, on Blu-ray, but The Greatest Movie Ever Sold's MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is a solid representation of the films' clean HD video photography. Though there is the usual softness and heavy grain in low-light situations, it is a nicely dimensional, good-looking 1.85:1 image, with natural skin tones and bright color temperatures.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is mostly concentrated in the center channel--again, par for the course with the documentary format. The dialogue is clean as a whistle, though, and the surrounds, while only really used for the music cues, fill that need well.
English, English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are also available.
Sony's Blu-ray of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold has a fairly robust selection of supplementary materials, some of them exclusive to Blu-ray. First up is an Audio Commentary with director Morgan Spurlock, producer Jeremy Chilnick, cinematographer Daniel Marracino, and editor Thomas M. Vogt. It's a good, chatty track, loaded with technical information and humor; Spurlock is a good talker, and well-suited to the format.
"At the Sundance Film Festival" (14:39) follows Spurlock and Chilnick to the 2011 Sundance fest for the film's premiere screenings; there are interviews, clips from the film, and bits of Spurlock's intros and Q&As. "Workin' Nine to Five (AM): POM Behind the Scenes" (3:42) takes a glimpse at the shooting of the POM commercial embedded in the film--and at commercial production in general, which gets further examination in "Shooting For Perfection: Hyatt & JetBlue Behind-The-Scenes" (4:52). The Commercials (3:51 total) are all included, including an alternate POM Wonderful spot.
The seven Deleted Scenes (48:56 total) are mostly dispensable, though the interviews with Dan Rather (on "who owns the news") and pollster Frank Luntz (on how to sell a movie) are worth checking out. The original Theatrical Trailer (2:26) is also included on the BD-Live compatible disc.
By its very design, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold doesn't have much of an ending; if the final analysis is whether this kind of thing actually works, Spulock couldn't know how well it worked in this particular case until the film was released (disappointingly, none of the supplementary materials answer those questions). But the film is well-paced and frequently funny, and some of the information within (like the focused marketing in school classroom broadcasts) is startling. It's not a great documentary, no. But it entertains and it plays, and that appears to be Spurlock's primary concern.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.