Nearly 20 years ago, teenage dimwits Wayne and Garth (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) brilliantly skewered product placement in Wayne's World as a slick TV executive (Rob Lowe) tried to sell them on the benefits of sponsorship for their public-access cable show.
"Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor," deadpanned Wayne, grinning as he took a slice out of a Pizza Hut box. He then condemned "selling out" while he munched Doritos, took Nuprin for a sudden headache and praised "the choice of a new generation" while holding up a Pepsi can.
The tongue-in-cheek sequence, which ironically boosted business for the spoofed products, achieved in a minute what it takes Morgan Spurlock 88 to accomplish in his entertaining but less-than-
revelatory The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, opening today in Victoria at the Cineplex Odeon.
The "doc-buster," as Spurlock terms it, is actually titled POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, since the pomegrante juice company paid $1 million for "naming rights." It's one of more than 20 sponsors, including Ban deodorant, JetBlue, Mini Cooper and Sheetz convenience stores, whose products are shamelessly plugged in exchange for their funding of the $1.5-million meta movie from the filmmaker who survived a McDonald's fast-food diet to make 2004's Super Size Me.
While ostensibly being brought to you by these sponsors and more including, hilariously, Mane n' Tail equine shampoo Spurlock's latest movie stunt is meant to be a so-called exposÃ© of product placement and how resistance to its power is futile.
Spurlock is such an irreverent and endearing prankster that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is comically captivating as he takes us into Madison Avenue boardrooms to try to persuade corporate types to invest in a film that for the most part ridicules them.
And you can be sure history will repeat itself since as with Wayne's World darned if their products won't remain in your consciousness after the closing credits roll on the movie Spurlock is plugging everywhere he can.
There's no denying he became a master of self-promotion when he risked being super-sized to death in his McDocumentary.
Indeed, it's ironic that Spurlock himself is as "branded" ("playful/mindful," is how one consultant describes him) as some of the wares he pitches with amusing transparency in his merry indictment of product placement. Ironically, his inventive documentary also happens to be one of the most egregious examples of screen branding since last year's shill-fest Iron Man 2.
With Spurlock as the onscreen pitchman for his movie's concept, his film works best when he lets his camera capture the bewilderment, shrewdness, arrogance or self-delusion of movie marketers, executives and others he tries to persuade to participate or seek input from, including a "neuromarketer" who claims to be able to tell how advertising affects your brain.
The problem is we're not learning much that's new. Corporations will pay big bucks to have their products favourably featured in movies? Wow. Screenplays can be tweaked to showcase a brand, like Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away? Imagine that!
We get it that advertising is pervasive except perhaps, as noted in the film, in Brazil's Sao Paulo, where outdoor advertising is banned. And we got it four years ago when Vancouver filmmaker Jill Sharpe addressed it in her documentary Corporations in the Classroom that Channel One, a U.S. marketing firm that provides free satellite service and TV sets to needy schools on the condition students watch a certain number of "news" shows with commercials, is a disturbing entity. Does Spurlock not realize this is old news?
As amiable and transparent as Spurlock is, he shoehorns in so many familiar examples of product placement you'll feel you've seen much of it before. What's indisputable is that the practice of inserting brand-name products onto screens is nothing new.
A classic example was in the 1932 Marx Brothers comedy Horse Feathers, when Groucho Marx handed Thelma Todd a certain sweet candy when she fell off a canoe and asked him to throw her a "life saver." Heck, there's even a vintage Flintstones spot where Fred and Barney are seen lighting up Winston cigarettes, the cartoon series' sponsor.
One memorable and offensive example was when a shivering child was handed a Coke in Santa Claus: The Movie, which was released in 1985 by TriStar, a film subsidiary of Columbia Pictures, then owned by Coca Cola Co. And who can forget the most high-profile example of that era: Reese's Pieces in E.T., product placement that sparked the boom that continues to this day.
It's not for nothing Apple laptops proliferate on movie screens. And how about these examples from the product placement Hall of Shame? Sandra Bullock's Taco Bell references in Demolition Man; Will Smith saying "Converse, vintage 2004" as he reveals his sneakers in I, Robot; Adam Sandler's gratuitous plugs for Subway in Happy Gilmore; AOL in You've Got Mail; FedEx in Cast Away; Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (enough said); or the Martian Child kid who only likes to eat Lucky Charms.
It would be as funny as Spurlock's movie if it weren't so disturbing, especially since there's no escape from such advertising.
Actually, I stand corrected. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader offers one solution.
"Close your eyes and go to sleep," he says. Sounds like a plan.
Wayne's World scene spoofing product placement
Trailer for The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Flinstones Winston Cigarette Commercial
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