The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011 movie) review…

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011 movie) review after the break…

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011 movie) review…

There was a time in cinematic history when documentaries were drab and lifeless affairs. Documentaries were art house and festival films, unable to crack into the multiplexes that were rapidly replacing the the one- and two-screen movie theaters of yore. The best that a movie goer could hope for in their movie theater was a historic drama. Otherwise, most would simply have to suffice with their local Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) or an UHF channel willing to air just about anything from 1 AM to 4 AM.

The rise of the Video Cassette Recorder (commonly known as “The VCR”) and video rental stores gave documentaries a little bit more exposure. Gone was the ridiculously difficult hurdle of convincing theater owners that a two-hour movie about The War of 1812 would draw as much business as the latest science fiction or action offerings. Cable television, with premium channels like Home Box Office and Cinemax, also began to provide more avenues for those wanting to view cinematic documentaries.

Yet cable television and video rental stores weren’t the same as actually walking into a movie theater and watching a documentary. Documentaries weren’t just relegated to the back of the cinematic bus… Often times, they found themselves walking along the side of the media superhighway, lucky to hitch a ride by a passing video rental van or premium cable car.

Then, the documentary “Roger & Me” premiered in 1989. Documentaries were both saved and doomed at the exact same moment. Saved, for they were finally invited back into theaters again and *gasp* make actual money. Doomed, for this new age of documentaries were not the documentaries of yesteryear but were more like the “opinionated news” that proliferate on basic cable television.

Michael Moore, the director of “Roger & Me,” has since become a polarizing figure in contemporary politics. He is, for lack of a better analogy, the “Esperanto” of documentary directors – Ask anyone about movie documentaries and they’ll name him and, most likely, only him. Are there other documentary directors? Of course. Ken Burns is renowned for his documentaries on PBS but he’s not a movie documentary director.

As Michael Moore continued to be a polarizing figure, a new director emerged from the shadows: Morgan Spurlock. Unlike Moore, Spurlock’s documentaries weren’t about politics but about consumerism. “Supersize Me,” Spurlock’s breakthrough documentary, featured him attempting to eat only food from a McDonald’s fast food restaurant for one month and to categorize the health effects. If Moore was the King of Contemporary Movie Documentaries, Morgan Spurlock has quickly emerged in recent years as the Prince.

“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is a 2011 documentary by Morgan Spurlock investigating the proliferation of brand-merchandising in television shows and movies. Whenever James Bond flashes a Rolex watch, whenever the cast of “Friends” are eating at McDonalds, whenever the Transformer character Bumblebee turns into a Ford automobile… Those companies likely paid for that privilege. It is the new form of advertising, the type that one can’t fast-forward through. The gimmick for the documentary is simple – Morgan is attempting to bankroll the entire documentary through product placement… Even the title is up for grabs (and it does but I won’t reveal it). Along the way, Morgan also investigates how every day life is becoming more commercialized – School buses with advertisements in them, for instance.

There is, of course, an underlying amount of sly humor throughout the production. Once a company selling a health drink buys the title rights to the movie, that drink becomes more visible throughout the entire movie in places where a drink would likely appear. Interviews begin to be conducted more exclusively at a chain of gas stations once they sponsor the movie as well. Morgan also creates some in-movie commercials for some of the sponsors as conditions for their financing.

Wedged into all the advertisements are momentary interviews with a variety of directors, activists and ordinary citizens all speaking about the over-commercialization of everyday life. Ralph Nader becomes fascinated with a particular brand of footwear that Morgan is wearing. Directors assert that they haven’t been the victims of “Display It More Prominently Or Else!” studio meddling in their movies. Everyday citizens attempt to define what too much commercialization even is in their perspective.

“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” despite it’s subject material, though, is surprisingly anti-climactic in it’s delivery. While the subject material itself is fascinating, the presentation and the “gimmick” of the movie simply falls flat. There is never any suspense as to whether a sponsor pulls their sponsorship because of a sentence here or there. There is never a bidding war over the title or the soft drink or the footwear. It’s simply Morgan Spurlock running about, receiving sponsors for his movie and… That’s it. Why not a documentary about the making of a fictional movie entirely based upon sponsor proceeds? How about that script changing with each new sponsor, with each new type of demand? Where every sponsor has final say over how their product is displayed? Wouldn’t that have been a more powerful example of how corporate money influences art?

It’s not that the documentary itself is bad but it’s just… Bland. Perhaps the most exciting segment of the entire movie is a brief stop in Brazil, where a city has banned all forms of outdoor advertising. It was a fascinating segment and the type of segment one would expect from a documentary. Yet part of the problem of “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is that the phenomenon known as product placement has long been known by the public. It’s sort of like making a documentary about how the “Walk / Don’t Walk” buttons aren’t attached to anything or that food products keep getting smaller but their prices keep increasing. Yes, it’s annoying… Yes, we don’t like it… But it’s not revolutionary. It’s not eye-opening. We don’t see a radical change in Morgan Spurlock from the start of the movie to it’s very end. There’s no scene with Morgan Spurlock fighting to keep a segment of his movie in but the sponsor refuses.

A lot of people agree that commercialization of the arts is a bad thing, even if there is diverse opinion on what the bad thing actually is. The problem with “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is that it doesn’t sell the viewer of the damage that commercialization causes in the artistic process; Morgan never appears frustrated and, often times, is giggly amused by the obstacles placed in his path. There’s never a moment where the difficulties of making sure that an interview is conducted at a particular brand of gas station overextends the production. In short, Morgan never appears to care that his sponsors are influencing his movie.

“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” isn’t a horrible movie, it just doesn’t realize that it’s not as revolutionary or as hard-hitting as it thinks that it is.


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