Super Size Me Review
Americans are fat, we all know it, they’re famous for it. Of course they don’t like us to see the fat ones, they hide them away, pushing the beautiful ones into the spotlight, and it’s only on pedestrian freakshows like Jerry Springer we get to see the everyday folk.. But finding those beautiful ones must be getting harder and harder now more than half of the country is officially overweight. So why is America getting fatter by the day? Some might call it karma (and if that’s the case Bush’s re-election must have just cost them another 25%), but there are others that feel the blame lies in the hugely profitable fast food industry. Of course the fast food giants deny this, there’s nothing wrong with their food, sure it isn’t health food or anything, but to say it’s so bad for you that you’re eating a little heart disease burger with a side order of hypertension fries and a large diabetes cola – that’s ridiculous. Or is it? Morgan Spurlock decided to find out, when he embarked on a mission to eat McDonald’s and only McDonald’s for thirty straight days. Now there are people out there right now that are probably annoyed they didn’t think of this first, after all McDonald’s has a lot of fans, what kid wouldn’t want to go there every day, plus you get to be in a movie! What could be better? Well kids, be careful what you wish for.
The rules of the challenge are simple, over 30 days Morgan has to eat everything on the McDonald’s menu at least once, he has to eat there three times a day and he can’t consume anything that McDonald’s don’t sell – no exceptions, not for water or even aspirin. Morgan’s menu for the month is nothing but those immaculately photographed illuminated photos that tempt millions every day. Oh and one last rule, if he’s offered the Super Size meal, he’s got to have it, no matter how hungry he really is. Of course there’s science behind this quest, Spurlock wants to know exactly what a McDiet will do to the body, so he enlists the help of three doctors, a dietician and a personal trainer, too keep intimate track of any changes his body undergoes. They all agree, he’s going to get fat, how fat? Maybe a few pounds. It certainly won’t be good for him but what do you expect from greasy burgers and fries every day, well it’s good he got quite a few opinions, it shows not even professionals really know what junk food can do to your body, as Morgan was about to astound them all.
I really can’t say clearly enough just how much everyone needs to see this film, and I mean everyone. Going in to the film I was expecting it to be about how awful McDonald’s was – having read Eric Schlossers’ Fast Food Nation a few years ago I wasn’t expecting much in the way of new information, but hopefully presented in an entertaining way. And then there was all the press about him nearly dying, surely that had to be hyperbole? What really surprised me about the film, was how serious a documentary it was. It may have been a stroke of genius on the part of the movie’s marketing people, but the trailer only told part of the story, and the most crowd friendly part. I’ve no doubt that a lot of people went to see this movie expecting a much more irreverent time, yet I doubt many of them left complaining about the education they were to receive. And Super Size Me is certainly an education. Interspersed with the story of Morgan’s downward health spiral – which quickly becomes a full on nosedive – we get to see Morgan travelling the country revealing some scary statistics about the food we eat – and the nutrition it lacks – along with interviews with both the average guy on the street and a variety of learned individuals that know a thing or two about the subject. Both are frightening, the average Joe’s reveal a disturbing level of ignorance – the amount of people that are completely dumbfounded when asked what the definition of a calorie is will send waves of jaw dropping awe around the room, but the healthcare professionals – and Morgan – drop some statistics that will disturb you about your own ignorance. Even if you know what a calorie is. It’s estimated that one in three American’s born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lives, and when you look at their diets it’s easy to see why. As Morgan walks through the lunchroom of an American school it’s frightening to see just how little real food is being eaten, it’s all crisps, chips and soft drinks, and this isn’t even your average school, this particular school has one of the most rigorous physical education programmes in the country. It makes you wonder what they’re easting in the schools that don’t teach their kids so well.
But of course it is Morgan’s personal journey that really enthrals. As he piles on the pounds at a rate that truly amazes everyone he’s recruited to monitor him along the way – to the extent that they start to question the integrity of their scales – it’s worrying to see a healthy guy slide so far so fast. Morgan’s greatest strength, as both star and director of the movie, is his honesty, no subject is taboo here, because Spurlock wants people to really know what effects they’re going to see from eating this food. Most people wouldn’t want the world to hear stories about how difficult normal sexual performance has become for them, but Morgan puts it up on the screen along with every other embarrassing and disturbing detail of his journey. Which isn’t to say this is a miserable, stern affair to watch, because whilst there is a lot of serious food for thought in the movie, the irreverence played up in the marketing is certainly still there as he can be a very funny guy, and his often flippant attitude in the light of the things that are happening around him keeps things fun. It’s that same attitude though that makes you pretty sure when the doctors start telling him this isn’t too smart an idea anymore, that he’s really not going to take their advice.
Super Size Me isn’t just a movie, it’s an education. Much better than the preaching of Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock doesn’t demand his audience agrees with everything he says, he wants to give us all the tools we need to decide that what we’re doing to our bodies isn’t a good thing, and shouldn’t even be an acceptable thing. It’s a charge he succeeds with admirably, as the huge effect this movie has already had on people already proves. Anyone who eats at McDonald’s – or any other fast food restaurant – should watch this film, because those companies aren’t telling us the truth. If you still want to eat McDonald’s when you’re done, well you’ve got a stronger stomach than me, but at least you’ll know what you’re doing, and what can be more important than being able to make your own informed decisions.
Unfortunately, for baffling reasons, Super Size Me has not been presented anamorphically on DVD. It is in 1.85:1 widescreen, but being an NTSC movie it doesn’t fare too well on larger screens once it’s been zoomed to the correct ratio. On a fullscreen TV the picture looks fine, Morgan himself mentions on the commentary that he was impressed how much this ended up both looking, and sounding, like a real movie, and if it weren’t for that lack of enhancement this would have been a fine transfer, but that’s a serious black mark against it. So it’s a good thing the movie doesn’t rely on flashy visuals to draw you in.
Again it seems harsh to judge Super Size Me on its sound when it really isn’t a large part of the experience. That said, it actually fares pretty well, it’s only a Dolby Digital stereo track, but you couldn’t as for much more from it. The inventive use of sound effects makes the soundtrack interesting – without ever descending into silly territory – but when Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” kicks off the movie with aplomb you can relax knowing the inadequacies of the video transfer haven’t been carried over into the audio department.
There are a few nice scenes that didn’t make it into the movie – you imagine from the quality of what is there that there were many more – but some entertaining ones have been brought together here. The most notable of which was actually shot after the film proper was completed, and you’ll certainly wish he’d thought of it earlier. Morgan decides upon a little science experiment, pitting the good food of McDonald’s against some bought at a local, fresh made, burger joint, a variety of McDonald’s favourite foods are placed in jars in Morgan’s office and left to rot. Unsurprisingly the fresh made food grows a coat of fur first, without the deluge of preservatives that are present in the processed food they don’t stand a chance. Surprisingly the range of McDonald’s burgers aren’t so far behind, I would have thought they’d have a few more days in them. But what will amaze you is the McDonald’s fries. It’s disturbing to see 8 week old food without a hint of mould on it, 8 week old food that looks like it was bought yesterday. Really, really disturbing.
Audio Commentary from Morgan Spurlock and Alex Jamieson
Morgan and his girlfriend – who also happens to be a vegan chef – provide a breezy commentary fitting of the movie here. It’s full of extra information that didn’t make the film, as well a more of the friendly arguing that made many of their scenes together in the film so enjoyable. You can just imagine how much a vegan chef approved of her boyfriend partaking in this experiment, and the track provides some nice back story to how Morgan was inspired to make the movie, as well as Alex cringing at some of the admissions she made on camera, even though they weren’t about her.
A handful of interviews grace the disc, including more from the guy that lives on Big Macs – literally, he’s eaten 20,000 of them and says they make up 80% of his solid food diet – but the best is from Eric Schlosser. Morgan says at the beginning of the interview the question he got asked most was ‘why didn’t you talk to Eric?’ As the man responsible for Fast Food Nation – which is as essential reading as this film is viewing – he is the perfect person to talk about Morgan’s exploits. And talk he does, at length, and it’s great to hear, he has a gentle yet commanding way of speaking, almost like a loving parent trying to explain just why you shouldn’t be eating paint and he really helps bring home some of the points raised in the film that there wasn’t time to fully explore.
I can’t say enough good things about Super Size Me. As a documentary maker Morgan Spurlock can certainly teach Michael Moore a thing or two, Super Size Me never feels like one man’s agenda forced down your throat. Like the best lessons it’s one taught with humour, and respect for it’s audience. The message would have been invaluable however it was told, but in this form it’s a – hopefully for many people – life changing lesson, and a damned enjoyable hour and a half to boot.
Read my exclusive interview with writer, director and test subject Morgan Spurlock here.