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POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Blu-ray Review

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold movie poster POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Theatrical Release: April 22, 2011 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Director/Star: Morgan Spurlock / Writers: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock

Notable Featured Subjects: J.J. Abrams, Peter Bemis, Peter Berg, Big Boi, Noam Chomsky, Paul Coletta, Janet Del Pinal, Karen Frank, Sut Jhally, Britt Johnson, Matt Johnson, Beth Jones, Gilberto Kassab, P.J. Katien, Jimmy Kimmel, Richard Kirshenbaum, Damian Kulash, Rick Kurnit, Michael Levine, Susan Linn, Norm Marshall, Mark Crispin Miller, Regina Monteiro, Ralph Nader, Tim Nordwind, Brett Ratner, Abigail Rendin, Lynda Resnick, Dianne Sanzari, Kim Schifino, Tony Seiniger, Joe Sheetz, Louie Sheetz, Stan Sheetz, Ben Silverman, Brian Steinberg, Quentin Tarantino, Donald Trump, Matt Tupper, David Wales, Joshua Wanatic (Morgan's Stunt Son), Robert Weissman, John Wells, Lindsay Zaltman

Tagline: He's not selling out, he's buying in.

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With the Academy Award-nominated Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock established himself as a documentarian who could simultaneously educate and entertain. Like a non-polarizing Michael Moore, Spurlock made a film that could do more than enrage and reinforce.
And while everyone sort of already knew that fast food is bad for you, that knowledge became all the more meaningful by Spurlock throwing himself into a month-long all-McDonald's diet with catchy music and a sense of humor.

Spurlock has yet to repeat the impact of his 2004 debut, but he can't be accused of not trying. The FX series "30 Days" had Spurlock applying the time commitment of his movie to experiencing various other social issues (living on minimum wage, being a prison inmate, etc.). It ran for three seasons. His second film, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, made few waves in 2008, though recent events may cast it in a new light. Spurlock was one of six documentary directors who collaborated on 2010's Freakonomics: The Movie. He's also turned his attentions to The Simpsons, Comic-Con, and the Toronto International Film Festival. And now, there is POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock's third and latest solo feature.

Though many of his cold calls to major corporations get rejected or unanswered, Morgan Spurlock does receive an encouraging response from horse/human shampoo company Mane 'n Tail. A particularly egregious piece of Subway product placement on NBC's "Chuck" illustrates the practice's role in contemporary television.

As the title suggests, Spurlock here turns his attentions to advertising, specifically movie advertising and product placement. In an effort to make "the Iron Man of documentaries", i.e. a "docbuster", Spurlock extends offers to dozens of multi-million dollar corporations, hoping they will lend funding to a movie that promotes them while exploring the proliferation of ads and its effects. It's a clever idea and one executed with all the charm and wit that the handlebar-mustachioed director has brought to his past works.

Fortunately generating some conflict for the film, Spurlock's plan is met with resistance, as most of the huge companies who regularly dabble in movie marketing want nothing to do with him, perhaps understandably after the negative publicity (however easily surmounted) his breakout film gave Mickey D's. With guidance and help from some influential ad agency executives, Spurlock secures some meetings with recognizable companies. Naturally, these meetings are captured, as much to amuse as to enlighten, as the filmmaker proudly unveils one ludicrous but sincere idea after another as to how to make partnership mutually beneficial. Among those who bite are JetBlue airline, Hyatt Hotels, Sheetz gas stations, and, of course, pomegranate juice manufacturer POM Wonderful, who pays up to $1 million for perpetual title sponsorship.

These interactions are fun both for Spurlock and for viewers. Embracing promotional opportunities with his tongue firmly in cheek, the director is acquitted of selling out, a phrase he asks people on the street to define. Even with those like Moore and Spurlock doing their part to make the genre more entertaining, the word "fun" eludes most of the documentaries that have been recognized over the years, a fact that adds some novelty to this.

Morgan Spurlock pitches movie sponsorship to Ban, as a photo behind him reveals the kind of advertising he is willing to do. Morgan Spurlock indulges in the luxury of Hyatt Hotels in the funniest of three professionally shot advertisements woven throughout the film.

And yet, Spurlock's innate comicness doesn't get him to forfeit substance. He invests in his subject wholeheartedly, consulting figures as respected in different circles as linguist Noam Chomsky, consumer advocate and repeat presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and Donald Trump. He finds clips of some of the more shameless displays of "brand integration" on TV shows like "Chuck" and "90210."
He talks with Hollywood filmmakers (Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg, and Brett Ratner, who memorably utters, "Artistic integrity? Whatever...") about their experiences with product placement. He speaks with experts in the field, like industry legend Norm Marshall, who proudly recalls flexing his muscle to nix a 1980s comedy's planned Alka-Seltzer gag.

All of this is interwoven with forthright wink-nod advertising that Spurlock is contractually obligated to provide, with three sincere, fully-realized 30-second spots featuring throughout, interviews strategically occurring at Sheetz gas pumps, and all non-POM drinks having their cans and bottles blurred. Both extremely diverting and often sly, the plugs and objective criticism somehow never feel at odds. One of the more interesting stretches takes Spurlock down to São Paulo, Brazil, where legislation was passed to outlaw billboards and outdoor marketing of any kind. The big city buildings look sadly yet refreshingly barren in stark contrast to Times Square, where Spurlock conducts a number of pedestrian interviews.

With advertising on buses and buildings outlawed, São Paulo, Brazil looks rather barren... as opposed to Times Square, where Spurlock conducts good man on street interviews surrounded by summer 2010 advertising.

Unlike Moore, whose one-sidedness gets him written off by a good percentage of the population, Spurlock isn't out to persuade you. He doesn't have a hypothesis or a conclusion. While a conscientious individual like him seems inherently disdainful of commercial onslaught, he also comes across rather sympathetic to a poor Florida school district that is desperate for budget help but limited in the advertisement they can purchase.

In terms of the box office goals it aimed for, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold clearly fell short, domestically netting less than half of the 250-theater distribution and less than one-tenth of the $10 M worldwide gross that POM Wonderful required to pay their full million. To have performed comparably in respect to its reported budget, Iron Man would have had to gross less than $50 M in the US and Canada (a market in which it in fact made $318 M). Of course, while the featured companies probably aren't delighted with the results, no one can take Spurlock's commercial hopes seriously. Documentaries are traditionally not a calling for the rich, but for the thoughtful, who hunger for a better understanding of the world in which they live. Those who share that hunger will find a better understanding here with Spurlock, along with 87 of the funniest minutes of film this year.

As an added bonus, this will one day stand as a document of all the major movies released summer 2010, whose giant billboards and TV ads make appearances here. I suspect twenty-five years from now, we might be as nostalgic about the likes of Inception and Toy Story 3, as those with memories of 1985 are about Back to the Future and The Goonies.

The terms laid out by POM specify that the movie must sell 500,000 copies on home video. You can do your part on Tuesday, when Sony releases The Greatest Movie Ever Sold on DVD and Blu-ray.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Neither needing nor delivering the visual variety that many documentaries provide, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold looks excellent on Blu-ray. Spurlock isn't wet behind the ears as he was on Super Size Me, and meetings and interviews are captured with state-of-the-art hi-def cameras. Much of it is shot handheld, giving the film visual energy to match its tone and subject. I noticed some grain in one brief sequence and the commercials and movie clips don't have quite the same clarity and detail as Spurlock's original material, but the 1.85:1 presentation is entirely satisfying.

As is the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, which comes to life on some licensed music, particularly the closing theme song written by OK Go, which earns them a Greatest Band Ever credit. Dialogue is usually crisp and clear, while by default clean player generated subtitles interpret anything that could have possibly prompted audience uncertainty.

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock answers audio questions at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where his jacket advertises the film's promotional partners. The handlebar-mustachioed Morgan Spurlock crosses out the shots completed for his challenging overnight POM Wonderful commercial.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras kick off with an audio commentary by Spurlock, producer/co-writer Jeremy Chilnick, cinematographer Daniel Marracino, and editor Thomas M. Vogt. The movie lends itself to a commentary and this does not disappoint,
with Spurlock leading a spirited discussion about their experiences. There are a lot of good behind-the-scenes stories, not fit for including in the film, but plenty interesting to hear. Among things discussed are opportunities that fell through and incidents cut from the film. It's a worthwhile listen.

The all-HD video extras start with "At the 2011 Sundance Film Festival" (14:39), which shows us Spurlock remarks for and responses to the film's debut audience and also interviews him, other crew members, and brand representatives at the after-party. It's a bit promotional (go fig!) and the information repeats nearly verbatim certain things the commentary shares, but it's a good abridged visual version for those who don't make time to rewatch the movie.

"Workin' Nine to Five (AM): Pom Behind the Scenes" (3:42) shows us the arduous making of the film's brief professional POM commercial, with storyboards, Spurlock reflections, and on-set footage of the late night supermarket shoot.

As you would guess, "Shooting for Perfection: Hyatt & JetBlue Behind-the-Scenes" (4:52) supplies similar treatment for the film's other two ads, with Spurlock explaining how they took shape and how making them differs from documentary filmmaking.

Morgan Spurlock and his "stunt son" Joshua Wanatic play with figures on a model airplane in the film's JetBlue commercial. We get a good bit more of Ralph Nader in the deleted scenes.

A commercials section (3:51) lets you watch the movie's three ads on their own, along with two others shot but not fully (if at all) seen in the film.

For how lean the film is, you expect a pretty substantial deleted scenes section and that is what you get in 12 scenes running 49 minutes long. This footage amounts to a mini-movie, half as long and more than half as entertaining as the feature presentation.
We hear the all-time favorite commercials of numerous interview subjects, spend more time with Ralph Nader, take in discussion of the ways in which the movie should be marketed, get a lesson on the greatest marketing achievement ever (the diamond), discover the state of the news from an otherwise unseen Dan Rather, and see a much extended cut of Spurlock's psychological profiling to determine his "brand personality." Perhaps not good enough for the film itself, much of this is nonetheless very good and worth making time for.

The on-disc extras conclude with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold's official theatrical trailer (2:26), a standard Sony Pictures Classics inclusion that, for obvious reasons, is especially appropriate here.

Finally, there are BD-Live offerings, or there should be, but the section didn't seem to be, uh, live yet. I don't expect anything substantial there.

Perhaps because documentaries aren't something people are compelled to go Blu on, Sony leaves a number of the extras exclusive to this disc. Missing from the DVD: the Sundance Film Festival featurette, 15 minutes of the deleted scenes, the making-of on the JetBlue and Hyatt ads, and, of course, the presently hypothetical BD-Live content.

Corporate logos, Morgan Spurlock poses, and clips from the film rotate as dollars fall on the Blu-ray's inspired menu screen.

As if a nod to the film's theme, the Blu-ray opens with an unusually high number of trailers, promoting Salvation Boulevard, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight in Paris, Exporting Raymond, Life, Above All, and, most appropriately, Super Size Me (the only SD spot). The menu's "Previews" listing repeats all these same ads.

The Blu-ray's inspired menu opens with a funny Spurlock introduction. When it settles, it moves clips, sponsor logos, and Spurlock publicity poses while dollars fall and a part of OK Go's "The Greatest Song I Ever Heard" plays. Actions are cleverly punctuated by cash register scan beeps and drawer bells. Like other Sony Blu-rays, this one supports bookmarks and excels at resuming the movie, bonus features, and the menu.

The slim case utilizes the inside artwork well, designating available ad space. For all the film's strategic alliances, there is surprisingly just one insert inside, Sony's standard 3D and "make.believe" ads.

The types of onscreen distractions that Public Citizen president Robert Weissman mentions appear onscreen to disclose and advertise at JetBlue's new JFK terminal.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock delivers another film that makes you laugh and think throughout. The subject matter should appeal to any fan of modern movies and television, while the execution should appease all those who don't mind humor in their documentaries. My only question is did the fact that Sony's indie division distributed this preclude Spurlock from tackling one of the most prominent cases of product placement in recent times: the prevalent use of Sony VAIO laptops in Sony films? (The subject is so ripe for a montage, YouTubers!)

This film is well worth a look and its Blu-ray adds greatly to one's enjoyment, with a top-notch feature presentation, half a movie's worth of interesting deleted scenes, a strong commentary, and other appropriate bonus features. Do check this out.

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Related Reviews:
New to Blu-ray: The Killing (Criterion Collection) • The Big Lebowski • Dead Man • Godfrey: Black by Accident
Documentaries: Crumb (Criterion Collection) • Waiting for "Superman" • Waking Sleeping Beauty
Featured Films: Iron Man • Despicable Me • Avatar • Toy Story 3 • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Songs List: Matt & Kim - "Cameras", Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - "Peter and the Wolf", London Festival Orchestra - "Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46: In the Hall of the Mountain King", English Chamber Orchestra - "Grieg: 4. In the Hall of the Mountain King [Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46]", Eric V. Hachikian - "Blast Out", Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - "Carmen: Act II: Gypsy Song", Philharmonia Orchestra - "Scheherazade", London Festival Orchestra - "Carmen Suite No. 2", Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra - "Montagues and Capulets", Eric V. Hachikian - "Jump the Fence", Moby - "Run On", Erik Janson, Bevan Manson, Jonathan Zalben - "Alegria Para Hoje", Eric V. Hachikian - "Cha Cha Cha", Ruwanga Samath - "Almost Mash", Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - "Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125: Scherzo", Zagreb Festival Orchestra - "Overture to 'La gazza ladra' (The Thieving Magpie)", Taio Cruz - "I'll Never Love Again", Jonathan Zalben - "Sunny Beaches", Oxygen - "Sacramento", The Yoginis - "Bird Instrumental", OK Go - "The Greatest Song I Ever Heard", Big Boi, Matt & Kim - "CameraBuggin'" with "Shutterbug" Voicebox by Bosko

Buy The Greatest Soundtrack Ever Sold:
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Reviewed August 20, 2011.



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