For years, we’ve been writing about product placement in films, but never before has the screen exploded with such exciting use of brand names as in 2004.
Kate Winslet in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” works at Barnes & Noble. “I, Robot” uses Converse All-Stars as a central plot point. Throughout “Collateral,” Jamie Foxx drives a cab with a big Bacardi Silver sign on top. (Luckily, when a dead body falls onto the roof of the taxi, the corpse doesn’t break the sign.) And a key turning point in “I Heart Huckabee’s” occurs when one of the characters, going through an existential crisis, sets fire to a Kawasaki jet ski.
In handing out the prizes for 2004 product placement, the runner-up is “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” for using a brand name in its title. (And it makes you realize that this year’s Oscar nominees missed a great chance: Think if they’d added plugs in their titles, like “Finding Never Land’s End,” “Million Dollar Baby Wipes” or “Ray Bans.”)
But, you may ask, how could a film like “White Castle,” which boldly uses such a plugola, only be runner-up? It’s because the film came out the same year as “The Terminal,” which has more plugs per square inch than any film since Steven Spielberg’s last film, “Minority Report.”
End credits for “Terminal” list actors playing such roles as “Burger King employee,” “Discovery Store manager” and “Boy in Brookstone.” At least 18 other stores are displayed prominently in the terminal (where United Airlines planes land, we are frequently reminded), and, without giving away too much, the film’s climax involves a can of Planter’s Dry Roasted Peanuts and the Ramada Inn.
The year’s other product uses are less blatant, but more curious. Apparently there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so companies have agreed to unusual uses in various films. Here are some of the year’s most notable:
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
In “The Manchurian Candidate,” Liev Schreiber receives a climactic, lethal phone call on his Nokia.
In “The Day After Tomorrow,” a man is talking on his Panasonic cell phone when he’s knocked unconscious by huge hailstones.
HARD FISTS, SOFT DRINKS
Topher Grace, in “In Good Company,” nurses his black eye with a cold Diet Pepsi.
BOOZERS AND LOSERS
Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood in “Eternal Sunshine” botch the memory-loss procedure with Jim Carrey because they’re drunk on Rolling Rock. (“Don’t you have anything real to drink?” asks Kirstin Dunst.)
Down-on-his-luck alcoholic Denzel Washington in “Man on Fire” has a moment of crisis when he has to choose between a Bible in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other.
… AND LEAVE THE HASSLING TO US
The opening scene of “Ray” features a young Ray Charles being harassed by a Greyhound bus driver.
TROPOSPHERES OF INFLUENCE
In “The Day After Tomorrow,” climatologist Dennis Quaid charts the weather crisis — or, in his words, “the lethal downward spiral from the upper troposphere” — on a Dell computer.
Shortly after Halle Berry turns into “Catwoman,” she scarfs down Bumble Bee tuna with her hands from the tin.
Jamie Foxx in “Collateral” explains to Javier Bardem that he destroyed info “To protect your Hermes-Faconnable ass.”