This weekend Morgan Spurlock’s third feature documentary is coming out in theatres. Like his previous two, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a entertainingly gimmicky premise about how he is making a movie about product placement and advertising while completely being funded by product placement and advertising.
These concepts is what helps make Spurlock so popular, but how does he rank as a documentarian?
Early on in Sold, Spurlock said, “I’m a redundant guy” after he blundered on an adjective. The same can be said for his films because he is his films. With the exception of Michael Moore, no other documentarian is prominently the face of their own movies. In many ways, that works because Spurlock is an incredibly charismatic guy. His boyish curiosity and sense of humor is what makes all of his projects watchable.
Spurlock is a wonderful host, but a lackluster journalist. What will happen when you eat McDonalds for 30 days? What do you think will happen? Instead of education and enlightenment, his essays just result in a “Duh” factor. In Sold, it’s even more vague. Instead of really delving deep into the affects of advertising for better or worse, it’s his goal to show that it’s out there. Everyone knows they are surrounded by ads; creating a satirical spectacle doesn’t show anything new about it.
The thesis for his films are simple enough that it’s difficult to refute them, but he never takes the extra step to create an iron-clad argument. They are very surface level films. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
With a range of lighter and darker fictional films, there should be the same spectrum for non-fiction. Instead of delving into a weighty Errol Morris film, is Spurlock is worthy popcorn documentary? Still, I think the answer is no. Spurlock crafts and edits a very pleasurable 90 minutes but the concepts still require deeper examination to be a worthy essay. Films like Man on Wire, Waking Sleeping Beauty, and Best Worst Movie all are able to be fantastic documentaries while being faithful to their subjects. It may seem impossible to make a more definitive and amusing documentary about arcade competitors than The King of Kong whereas Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? is not even the first place to look into Islamic tolerance.
I’ll continue to watch Spurlock’s films with low expectations. He has done well with smaller subjects, like in select episodes of 30 Days or his fun segment in Freakonomics. He has the potential to make a great film but until then he’s just making films that aren’t the best for you. Much like fast food.