A branded exposé of movie branding

A cutout of director Morgan Spurlock in a Sheetz gas station. Sheetz, based in Altoona, is one of the 20 sponsors of his documentary.
A cutout of director Morgan Spurlock in a Sheetz gas station. Sheetz, based in Altoona, is one of the 20 sponsors of his documentary.
Posted: April 22, 2011

A version of this review appeared April 14, when "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" played at Philadelphia CineFest

Morgan Spurlock gets to have his cake and eat it, too.

And then sell it - shamelessly.

In POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the documentarian who turned himself into a physical wreck in his debut film, the nothing-but-McDonald's-for-a-month Super Size Me, explores the billion-dollar world of product placement. You know, James Bond downing a Heineken, Tony Stark driving an Audi, every movie star in the world Googling on their Apples.

In a move that's at once meta and masterful, Spurlock goes about exposing the branding industry by getting brand names to fund his movie. Hence the title: Spurlock's biggest backer is POM, the pomegranate beverage in the fancy twin-globe bottles. We watch as he pitches the juicery's plucky chief executive officer Lynda Resnick and her execs, who extol the Viagra-like virtues of their wonder drink on camera. Who's to argue?

By the time he's made his rounds of the corporate boardrooms, Spurlock can be seen wearing Merrell shoes, driving a Mini Cooper, checking in at Hyatt hotels, singing the praises of Ban deodorant . . . in all, his savvy screen treatise is sponsored by more than 20 companies, from Amy's Pizzas to Sheetz gas stations. (The guys from Sheetz, headquartered in Altoona, come off as anything but bumpkins - they're a lot savvier than some of the bigger-brand bigwigs Spurlock approached.)

Along the way, we get to see Spurlock make his pitch to a few of the more than 600 companies he either cold-called or confabbed with, uncovering the marketing machinations and media mind-sets that drive Hollywood and the advertising industry, and affect all of us, whether we like it or not.

And there's a side trip to São Paulo, Brazil, where the mayor instituted a ban on all outdoor advertising. Imagine a city devoid of billboards and placards, not a bus or cab wrapped in slogans, icons, or images of Hollywood stars. It's like a visit to another planet.

Big-time directors J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg, and Brett Ratner reflect on their professional and artistic relationships with brands and branding. (Ratner, the director of X Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour movies, wears his cynicism on his sleeve.) And Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader chime in with philosophical and consumer advocacy views. Speaking of Nader, be sure to stay for the end credits.

Is Spurlock selling out by pulling off this stunt? Is he biting the hand that feeds him? Is he working both sides against the middle?

And does he think JetBlue is the best airline in the world?

You bet.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

 

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