Movie Review Monday: POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Mike Finkelstein woke up inspired one day, and ventured out to write the Greatest Movie Review Ever Written. Flipping through the newspaper for show times, he found the perfect choice.  Here is his review…the Greatest Review Ever Written…of “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”.

PLOT: Morgan Spurlock (director of SUPER SIZE ME and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?) exposes the inner workings of product placement in the mass-media, all through a documentary funded solely by said product placement with corporate partners.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: We are all familiar with the idea of product placement.  You have your favorite television shows and movies and music videos that will showcase a product they want to sell you, and they get paid thousands or millions of dollars to do it.  It may have nothing to do with the movie, or it may have everything to do with it.  It may be as small as a character drinking a particular soda with the label turned toward the camera, or as big as the damn plot in HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE.  Product placement makes us laugh, think, want, shrug salivate, crave and yearn.  But with all those feelings, have we ever realized how much work, thought, and money go into this business?

This is what Morgan Spurlock is for.

Here’s the idea: Spurlock wants to raise $1.5 Million for his movie.  How will he get it?  Through selling ad space.  Corporations like Ban, Pom Wonderful, JetBlue and Sheetz want to get their name out there and have people see and want to use their brand.  How will they do it?  By paying Spurlock money to get into his movie.  It is the ultimate help-me-help-you bit that’s been going around Hollywood for decades.  Expect, as Spurlock shows through tests and many meetings with experts, there is a strict science to the entire business.  You have to know how to promote.  You have to be funny and smart.  You could be completely subtle or completely over-the-top, but whatever you do, you have to be memorable.  And you have to sign a hell of a lot of contracts.

It’s amazing how much of a hold companies wanted to have on their image.  Some companies, like Sheetz, were very hesitant to be involved, especially with Spurlock’s reputation.  Other food brands, like Amy’s Kitchen and POM Wonderful, made sure that their brand be the only source of food/drink used in the movie (It didn’t hold just to food…Hyatt would be the only hotel used, JetBlue the only airline, etc).  That’s completely understandable…it’s like the branding version of “Risk”.  However, that wasn’t the end of it…among many other demands, one potential sponsor even insisted on having say over the final cut.  And that’s where the question of artistic integrity comes into play.

When one wants to make a film, but needs to do product placement for funding, how far does one let his ideals and image slide?  Spurlock goes to a few directors and explores this question, giving us three completely separate opinions from three big name Hollywood directors: Peter Berg, Brett Ratner, and Quentin Tarantino (who has a really funny story about always wanting to get a Denny’s into one of his movies).  We also get interviews with Ralph Nader (he and Spurlock play so well off each other, like old friends), and experts in the field who have had directors change entire scenes because a company didn’t like how their product was being portrayed.  While there is always a fine line, that’s the amount of power and leverage that you have to deal with when making a Blockbuster: scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.  Is it worth it?

Unlike a Michael Moore, Spurlock stays pretty neutral on this entire topic and just takes us on a ride of discovery…and a very entertaining one at that.  We see the advertising Meccas that are New York and Los Angeles, and on the other side of the spectrum, given a taste of a world without advertisement in Sao Paulo, Brazil: a city in which all outside advertisement is banned.  Both are beautiful to behold, but in two completely separate ways.  It’s up to the viewer to decide which one they appreciate more.  Or maybe the point is that they don’t have to decide at all…

To his credit, Spurlock never made anyone look bad.  His job was not to bash his funders, but to promote them and their product.  (That’s what he was technically being hired to do when they handed over the check!) If certain executives made themselves look bad on their own, that’s a different story.  There were so many companies that did not give the film a chance because of Spurlock’s reputation (leading to over 600 cold calls, mind you).  There was even one meeting where we see the nicely dressed exec say he wants to be involved, shake Spurlock’s hand, and then ask for the camera to be shut and completely take back everything he just said.  That executive made a bad choice, and anyone who was actually involved made a good one.  Seeing the nervous, yet willing executives in the board room for brands like POM Wonderful, Sheetz and Ban made me like them more, just because they were free people who were willing to give it a shot.  (Oh, and for the record, POM Wonderful made a great choice being the title sponsor, because now all I want to do is try a POM drink.  However I still wished they would have loosened up just a tad and let Spurlock do his proposed idea…it would have been absolutely hysterical!)

Overall, I really enjoyed THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD.  For an hour and a half documentary, the film was fast paced and fun, and more like playing a game than anything else.  Every time there was a little advertisement, I giggled, because I felt like I was in on the joke, and I was learning at the same time.  I would have liked to see more about the smaller donations…how much money got you what, why only that little, etc, and more about the 600 calls, but that was only a little speed bump on an overall interesting and eye-opening documentary.

GRADE: A-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) 30 SECOND COMMERCIALS: When these were first mentioned near the beginning of the film, I thought they’d stand out like a sore thumb.  Luckily, every time one of the three 30 Second Commercials came on, they made me smile because of how smoothly the transition was.  Now if only BAN was able to let loose a bit, I’d be buying their deodorant in a second!

2) RALPH NADAR: The man may be 77 years old, but he still knows how to go with a joke.  He and Spurlock played so well off of each other when it came to a pair of shoes…you’ll see what I mean.

3) PEOPLE’S REAL REACTIONS: It’s amazing how companies could be so afraid of how they are perceived.  They are so careful not to offend anybody and protect their image, that sometimes it holds them back from having that riskier persona that would push them into another category of awesome, especially for a younger crowd (eg. POM Wonderful).  And with that…

4) SHUT OFF THE CAMERA: I love how one executive had the nerve to say on camera that he’d be involved, and then asked for the camera to be shut, only to say he didn’t want anything to do with the movie.  Nicely done, fellow.  Again, people…

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SMALLER COMPANIES?: POM Wonderful spent $1 Million on it’s product placement.  JetBlue, Sheetz, Ban and Amy’s Kitchen were seen often, among others.  But what about the smaller companies that were seen for maybe a few minutes or one mention?  How much did that cost them for the movie?

2) 600 COLD CALLS: I would have liked to see this more in detail.  How much time did it take them to make the cold calls?  How many people were making them?  Would it take one call weeks to be passed up the ladder to the right person, or were they usually transferred fairly quickly, and either way, did the name “Morgan Spurlock” have anything to do with it? And speaking of Morgan Spurlock, why is it that none of the connections worked, and cold calling did?  Just a little more clarification would be perfect.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) OK Go wrote the theme song, called “The Greatest Song I Ever Heard”

2) For 60 days beginning April 27, 2011, the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania (home of Sheetz, the gas station and one of the movie’s major sponsors) officially changed its name to POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Pennsylvania to help Spurlock promote the film.

3) Just for you:

I swear, right after watching this, I went into my kitchen and had a bowl of Cheerios

A smart way of product placement…at least it gets how ridiculously obvious it is

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