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posted: 8/27/2014 5:45 AM

Superheroes for sale: Product placement gets bigger and bolder

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  • An obscure Oscorp employee (Jamie Foxx) transforms into the villainous Electro during "The Amazing Spider-Manj 2."

      An obscure Oscorp employee (Jamie Foxx) transforms into the villainous Electro during "The Amazing Spider-Manj 2."

 
 

I recently caught up with "Noah," Darren Aronofsky's mega-budgeted, mega-wacky Biblical epic featuring a great performance from Russell Crowe and a couple of befuddling ones by Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson. I didn't enjoy the movie as a whole, but I enjoyed one particular aspect of it immensely.

There was no product placement.

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"Of course not," you're thinking, "it's the story of Noah's ark." But it is a rare and special treat to see a blockbuster -- and with a $125 million budget and a $359 million worldwide gross, "Noah" was a blockbuster -- that doesn't constantly bombard us with product names.

Take this summer's opening salvo, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." The logos for Dunkin' Donuts, Kodak, Disney, Hankook, Whole Foods, Forever 21, Coca-Cola and Reese's all appear on screen ... in the film's 2-minute, 30-second trailer. Just imagine how many more you'll see if you watch all 142 minutes of it. (Now available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD!)

But maybe I'm not playing fair with that one -- New York is Spidey's home base, and those logos are visible in the background of scenes shot on location in Times Square. But the saturation of corporate symbols is there nonetheless.

Let's go back a month earlier to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," a fantastically entertaining film that balances action, humor, character and tension better than any movie in recent memory. Cap (Chris Evans) and his S.H.I.E.L.D. teammates drive around Washington in Chevrolets. Cap wears Under Armor, while running buddy Sam "Falcon" Wilson (Anthony Mackie) prefers Nike. Sam's rockin' some huge JBL speakers in his apartment, and our heroes actually go to an Apple Store and use Apple products in a pivotal scene.

That's product placement in the truest sense, and one could argue that it lends the bigger-than-life adventure an air of realism; Cap fought aliens alongside the Incredible Hulk in "The Avengers," but he still uses an iPhone just like you!

I wrestle with that question of realism every time I go to a movie. Is it perfectly plausible that "Thor's" Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) would keep Kashi cereal in her trailer and talk to Darcy (Kat Dennings) about Facebook and Pop Tarts? Sure. But it's also plausible that someone paid for those things to be seen and/or mentioned in a Marvel movie.

The situation can be even worse on TV, where product placement sometimes becomes the sole focus of a scene. A final-season episode of "House" showed us the Ford logo on the front of Dr. Adams' (Odette Annable) car, then cuts to the interior, where she explains a cool new cruise-control feature to Dr. Park (Charlene Yi). Yes, that really happened.

This is only going to get worse, and either we'll just accept it as the price of doing business in Hollywood, accept it because we are surrounded by corporate logos at every turn in our own lives, or we'll just stop turning on the television and going to the theater. (Yeah. Sure.)

Does the constant barrage of product placement bother you, too? Or would you never notice these things if someone hadn't pointed them out? Let me know.

Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald copy editor and a tireless consumer of pop culture. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH and drop him a line at sstangland@dailyherald.com.

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