Actors: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Rita Ora, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Format: Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, Widescreen
Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Studio: Universal Studios
Release Date: May 8, 2015
Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 2, 2016
I am neither sexually frustrated nor artistically ignorant enough to ever find reason to read the pathetically popular fan-fiction book franchise written by E.L. James on her blackberry. Having already endured all four of the Twilight books, I understand the appeal of poorly written soap opera drama (though the reading of those books ensured my disinterest in their film adaptations), and approached the viewing of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey with a harsh bias and eagerness to write a ruthlessly unfavorable review. While the story itself is as unsatisfactory as I had expected, the characters poorly developed, the situations contrived and unbelievable, the dialogue comically stupid, and the chemistry more forced than a film with Robert Pattinson as the lead, Fifty Shades of Grey is far from the worst film I have seen this year. It wasn’t even the worst film I watched this week.
While I realize that this hardly sounds like stellar praise, it came as a shock to find that there were actually elements of the film that worked. Though I don’t believe, like, or care about the character of Christian, I was surprised to find that Jamie Dornan was not as awful as I had anticipated. And even with my extreme aversion to nepotistic casting in
Dakota Johnson actually seems the perfect casting choice for the
contradictorily written role of Anastasia Steele. What’s more, there are
aspects of the production which are fantastically accomplished, which is far
more than the material deserves. Despite many critics left unimpressed by the
edginess of the sex scenes, they are masterfully created with the help of
careful editing and a precisely chosen soundtrack of pop songs that is
occasionally helped out by Danny Elfman’s erotically charged score. Perhaps
part of the success from these sequences comes out of a reprieve from the
terrible dialogue, but whatever the reason, Fifty
Shades of Grey ends up feeling like the most expensive soft-core porn ever
Even though there are a few erotic sequences within the film, it is hardly as edgy as all of the hype would have you believe. Even the unrated version of the film could be easily matched by any generic late-night Cinemax film. Those looking for a truly honest and shocking portrayal of a dominatrix relationship would be far better off watching Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol. II, though that is about the only thing that film does seem to get right. Bondage hardly takes any real significance in the content of Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps to save some for the two sequels, or possibly in order to make it generically bland enough for widespread ticket sales.
Another thing left for the sequels is any type of proper character development for the character of Christian. He is an enigma, seeming to be left mysterious as a defining aspect of the erotic fantasy, though this places a much higher demand on the character of Anastasia. While innocent and naïve enough to be a virgin as a senior in college, Ana is also contradictorily quick to jump into bed with the playboy millionaire who is also a self-proclaimed sexual deviant. It is a difficult task to play Ana’s simultaneous fascination and disdain for Christian’s sexual proclivities, but somehow Johnson makes it far more believable than the material deserves.
Although the story is sold as being about Christian bringing Ana into his world of bondage and emotionless sexual pleasure, the film shows far more of the opposite. Despite his many rules and restrictions, the draw of Ana’s intriguing innocence has Christian breaking more of his own rules than Ana is convinced to follow. Despite his claims to not desire romance, Christian spends most of the film wooing and romancing Ana rather than seducing her. At the center of the film is not sexual fantasy, but the fairy tale of a woman slowly “fixing” the heart of a broken heartthrob billionaire with endless time to dote on her.
The Blu-ray release of Fifty Shades of Grey features an unnecessary unrated cut of the film, although it offers nothing that would have prevented the film from its R-rating. There are a few addition shots of breasts and thrusting, but more noticeable are the non-sexual additions. This includes the awful flashback shots that are tacked onto the ending, causing the movie to finish with a poorly edited whimper rather than the clever book-end of the theatrical cut. The Blu-ray package also comes with a DVD and digital copy of the film, and boasts a sneak peek at the next installment in the franchise, though it is essentially just a shot of Christian putting a mask on. Again, I get the feeling that the “edginess” of the sequel will be quickly over-matched by Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, a film considered to be edgy fifteen years ago. Additional extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes with interviews from the cast and crew. Despite a variety of different featurettes, with varying titles, they all seem to blend together as extended commercials to convince fans to continue feeding the success of the undeserving franchise.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 5.5/10