In Super Size Me, he risked his health to expose the fast food industry, then in Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, Morgan Spurlock upped the ante, deciding to travel to the war-torn Middle East (armed with just a camera-crew and some defense training). Now the director takes a less harmful approach to journalism; an insider’s look into the world of filmmaking and the advertisement (branding and product placement being common in many major Hollywood pictures) that accompanies it, his latest, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold mixes in another trick — this documentary is financed completely by the aforementioned — a paradox meant to provide first-hand explanations for the subject matter at hand. And although this extra gimmick and Spurlock’s talents as an interviewer and narrator add entertainment value to the “docbuster,” the lack of research and abrupt ending leave much to be desired — a less than enlightening production that at times seems more like a behind-the-scenes featurette than a feature-length piece.
What is fantastic about the film is that throughout it, Spurlock learns with the audience. He isn’t afraid to face rejection, have contributors challenge his controversial body of work, or show the entire legal aspect of the project. His instant likeability in the role — standing as “the average Joe” amongst advertisers — makes him relatable rather than outlandish or pompous.
Because it’s such a controversial issue — some claiming that product placement (especially when done badly) is turning us into sheep to corporate America, whereas others see it as a harmless way of funding one’s work — Spurlock meets fellow filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams, and social icons such as Donald Trump and Noam Chomsky, to hear both sides. His signature brand of humor adds color to these interviews, and Spurlock has excellent chemistry with all those involved, not once choking up or being star-struck. Endings, however, are not the director’s strong suit.
At one point during the third act, Spurlock claims that, “It’s just started, this is where the film really begins,” eluding that there’s much more to come. Unfortunately that isn’t true. Moments later, the credits start rolling, resulting in complete and utter disappointment as scene cards detail the rest of Spurlock’s trip. This begs the question: Does that mean that the last hour or so that we’ve invested in watching the film were just build-up? In turn, what exactly was it building towards? Perhaps it’s to just show how damaging one line can be.
But ad placement is everywhere and Morgan Spurlock’s Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold has the right idea — constantly referring to the increasing control that these co-producers have over an artist’s vision. However, the film’s lack of vital information and constant reiterating of established facts hurts it in the long run. Nevertheless, the director’s dedication to outdoing himself — crafting increasingly grandiose films that expand on his human guinea pig technique of newscasting — is admirable. Here, Spurlock designs another enthralling documentary, whose clever set-up leads to many entertaining moments, but his latest is more often than not, popcorn cinema rather than the elucidative work that it could have been — and that’s more disappointing than Pom Wonderful’s hefty price-tag.