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Super Size Me

Whatever you do, don't watch Super Size Me (2004) after a heavy meal. Morgan Spurlock's debut documentary did more than win critical raves and film-festival honors (including a Director's Award at Sundance) — it arguably forced McDonald's to abandon its calorie-laden "Super Size" menu option. It also built upon the success of author Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation in seeking to educate the public about their personal eating choices and the social costs of obesity and inactivity. Thus, if you've just stuffed yourself with a particularly tasty chili dog and fries, you're bound to find Spurlock's journey about as comfortable as an attack of intestinal cramping. Not that his ordeal is all that harrowing. It's simple, in fact — all he has to do is eat at McDonald's three times a day for a month. That's it, although there are a few corollaries. For example, he can't eat any food that isn't from McDonald's; he must try everything on the menu at least once; and he must "Super Size it" whenever offered, cranking some meals up over 1,500 calories per sitting (and that's not including dessert). Given Spurlock's 185 lb. frame and daily requirement of 2,500 calories, it's not hard to see where the scale's headed, although his team of health experts are astounded when he packs on nine pounds in just seven days; by the end of the month, he's 27 lbs. overweight with high cholesterol and compromised liver functions.

McDonald's unwittingly gave Morgan Spurlock the idea for Super Size Me when they claimed, in response to an obesity lawsuit, that their food "can be part of any balanced diet and lifestyle." And if it seems that the resulting documentary is a bit of a sucker-punch (and let's face it, who really thinks fast-food is healthy?), the fast-food giant failed to respond, at least on camera at Spurlock's invitation. Where the response appears to have happened was between the film's premiere at Sundance and its nationwide rollout a few months later, because in the interim the "Super Size" option was banished at McDonald's, apparently for good. But should we score one for lefty do-gooders who want banish fun as well, eventually guilting us into eating tofurkey and hemp granola while marveling over our exquisitely detoxed colons? Not really. Part of what makes Super Size Me so much fun is that it's hardly a leftist screed — if anything, Spurlock comes across as a fellow driven by nothing more than curiosity and common-sense, albeit armed with a sardonic sense of humor. The mere fact that he began his documentary without knowing how it would turn out gives it a verité appeal, making carefully scripted anti-corporate films (such as The Corporation) seem manipulative and cold. He gives McDonald's ample opportunities to state their case without any sort of Michael Moore ambush (they don't return most of his phone calls). A food-industry lobbyist does go on camera, although he unwittingly admits that the companies he represents are "part of the problem" (by the time the film premiered, he was no longer working there). And Spurlock hunts down the ultimate McDonald's lover, Don Gorske, who has eaten at least one or two Big Macs a day for years and sports a thin frame and 160 cholesterol (tip: he rarely eats fries). Spurlock himself loves junk food, aware that it's scientifically engineered to taste good, and he resists his vegan girlfriend's admonishments, refusing to give up meat when his 30 days at the Golden Arches are up. But like a good investigative reporter, his intertwined vignettes present compelling evidence that America's obesity crisis is intrinsically related to the rise of convenient, low-cost, high-fat junk food in a largely sedentary population, and he saves his best point for last: McDonald's and other fast-food chains aren't in business to make people unhealthy, but simply to sell what folks want to eat. And lawsuits won't change that — only eating habits will.

ThinkFilm's DVD release of Super Size Me features a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio, both of which accurately render Spurlock's low-budget guerrilla style of filmmaking. The many supplements will entertain fans who saw the feature film in the theater, including a commentary by Spurlock and girlfriend Alex Jamieson, four deleted scenes, a selection of interviews, including one with author Eric Schlosser (who does not appear in the film itself), and "The Smoking Fry," in which one McDonald's menu item appears remarkably resistant to bacteria. Keep-case.
—JJB



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