The two big documentaries of the year - Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me -- share more than a few similarities. Both were created by likeable, populist documentarians. Both use pop culture - familiar logos, TV, pop music and animation - to engage the widest audience possible. Most important, both go after corruption with a vengeance.
I've come to the conclusion, however, that while Fahrenheit 9/11 is the more "important" film, Super Size Me is the better documentary. I'm glad Michael Moore is doing what he does - somebody's got to - I just wish he wasn't so self-righteous about it. In contrast, while the premise of Super Size Me is inarguable -- that fast food in general is damn scary, even deadly -- much of Super Size Me's success has to do with filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's engaging personality.
Inspired by the true story of two teenage girls who were suing the McDonald's corporation for their obesity, Spurlock set out to eat nothing but McDonald's for one month. His rules were simple: He had to eat three square meals a day, he had to try everything on the menu at least once, he could only eat items offered on the menu, and if they asked him if he wanted to "super size it," he had to say yes. Spurlock gained 30 pounds in one month (gaining 10 pounds alone in the first five days), his cholesterol shot up 25 points and his liver -- as one horrified doctor put it -- was "turning to fat."
What makes Spurlock so effective is that he's having so much fun. Undeterred by his vegan chef girlfriend or his team of medical professionals, Spurlock clearly relishes his McFeasts, at least initially. In fact, both on the film and in the DVD extras, it's clear that he doesn't so much have an ax to grind as he becomes fascinated after discovering that fast food is as bad for us as a steady diet of hard liquor.
Speaking of the extras, they really add to the whole package here. In addition to some great deleted scenes - including a summary of Spurlock's trash output - the bonus stuff is really quite good. An additional interview with Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, further underscores the importance of non-corporatized food, while the "Smoking Fry" segment will have you never looking at a McDonald's French fry the same again.
Publication date: 10/07/04