In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that while I attempted to read EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, I found the writing style rather dull and sophomoric, and gave up on it before I got to the halfway point. Even so, it’s rather easy to see why the book was such a massive success. It allows readers to live out a sadomasochistic fantasy with the two main characters that they wouldn’t consider doing in their own lives. When news of a film adaptation began circulating, the question of whether the erotic fantasies conjured up in the book could be effectively transferred to the screen loomed large.
The answer is a resounding no, and it becomes painfully obvious whether you’ve read the book or not. Fifty Shades of Grey teases a lot of naughty stuff, but offers little. It’s actually surprisingly tame, and dare I say, boring. The pacing is also incredibly slow, and I began to wonder if the film was ever going to end. Call me crazy, but I don’t think this is how you’re supposed to feel watching a movie ostensibly about sex.
Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a soon to graduate, slightly naïve college student. As a favor to her sick roommate, she agrees to go to Seattle to interview the mysterious billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Decidedly awkward, Ana is quickly in awe of the smartly dressed, confident Mr. Grey. Almost from the start, Christian looks as though he wants to devour Ana. After a few awkward interview questions, the die is cast. Even so, it takes them longer than you would expect to kiss for the first time, but that breakthrough allows Christian to show Ana the most beautifully maintained BDSM room I’m sure you’ll ever see.
And while Fifty Shades does provide copious shots of a nude Dakota Johnson, and a nearly nude Dornan (no full frontal, undoubtedly to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating), the lack of chemistry between the leads is evident—there’s just nothing there. While some may argue that it speaks to the cold obsession that sometimes occurs in BDSM relationships, this has the look and feel of indifference. Given the lack of chemistry, it’s really hard to buy the fantasy Fifty Shades of Grey is selling.
On the positive side, the film is nicely photographed, and Dakota Johnson manages to make his reminiscent of her mother Melanie Griffith, but she has some rough edges; perhaps she gets that from her dad, Don Johnson. She just seems like a real person, even as she’s pulled into Christian’s world of wealth and fantasy. In contrast, Jamie Dornan’s Christian is devoid of personality. A stony narcissist, whose expression never changes, Christian’s lack of feeling points out just how toxic his relationship with Ana is.
Despite plenty of sex, there’s nothing sexy about Fifty Shades Grey. Nonetheless, the film ends on a cliffhanger, presumably because the studio assumed (rightly), that this film would make enough to warrant a sequel.
Presented in the 2.40: 1 aspect ratio, Universal Studios 1080p transfer is a solid one. Apart from a bit of softness at times, the image is nicely detailed Blacks are deep, and consistent throughout. The color palette which leans toward teal, is fairly bright, and vivid. There is no DNR, edge enhancement, or other digital anomalies. Fans should be pleased with this transfer.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track serves the film well. While it appears somewhat restrained at times, atmospheric sounds are fine, and dialogue is clear throughout. Music is was reasonably distinctive and dynamic.
English, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Unrated Cut of the Film (HD, 2:08:29) The additional footage is roughly three minutes at the end of the film that doesn’t add much to the story.
- The World of Fifty Shades of Grey (HD,44:42) Divided into three parts: “Christian Grey”, “Ana” and “Friends and Family,” we hear from director Sam Taylor-Johnson, set decorator Sandy Wasco, production designer David Wasco, costume designer Mark Bridges, executive producer Marcus Viscidi, producer Dana Brunetti, property master Dan Sissons, and actors Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Dakota Johnson, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Max Martini, and Rita Ora. They discuss the films production, their characters, the story, locations, costumes, and more.
- Behind the Shades (HD, 19:28) Author EL James, director Sam Taylor-Johnson, actress Rita Ora, executive producer Marcus Viscidi, and others discuss the book and its adaptation for the screen.
- EL James and Fifty Shades (HD, 5:45) James discusses how she came to write Fifty Shades of Grey.
- Fifty Shades: The Pleasure of Pain (HD, 8:42) Sam Taylor-Johnson, Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, BDSM technical consultant Liam Helmer and others discuss the film’s BDSM elements, and how they’re depicted.
- Christian’s Apartment: A “360-degree set tour.”
- Music Videos: Two clips: “I Know You” by Skylar Grey and “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” by the Weekend.
- “Behind the Scenes of ‘Earned It’” (HD, :49) A very brief look at the video shoot,
- DVD copy of the film.
- Digital Copy of the film.