March 28, 2014

Fifty Shades movie annoys people by not being filthy enough

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The poster for Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie, is as tame as the first footage the studio released.

The poster for Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie, is as tame as the first footage the studio released.

It looks like the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey is going to be less Skinemax, more Lifetime. According to reports from CinemaCon, where Universal Studios screened the first footage from the film, the movie is hewing closely to the tried-and-true love story angle while giving a wide berth to the explicit nature of the infamous book.

Alexandra Cheney at Variety quoted studio chair Donna Langley as saying they were adapting the book “very carefully,” and that it would be the “next iconic screen romance.” Cheney writes that the footage “looked like a love story, not the sadomasochistic relationship portrayed in E.L. James’ first book in the bestselling trilogy…The now well-known elevator exchange between Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) made it into the first look, as did lot of PG kissing and a sneak peek into the red room, but audience members seated around this reporter expressed a similar sentiment—Universal played it safe.”

The report from Amy Kaufman at the LA Times is similar.

The footage began with Anastasia with walking into Christian’s high-rise office, where she’s been sent to interview him for her college paper. She’s immediately smitten with him, afterward gushing to a friend about how “smart, intense and courteous” he is. Soon, Christian has asked Anastasia out, and they start trading earnest sentiments such as “your face gives me some clue as to what I might be thinking” and “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

In James’ book, Christian is a dominant force—he’s the power player in the relationship. But the only sense viewers got of that dynamic in the footage was when he warned Anastasia he was comprised of more than just “hearts and flowers.”

Or, as Nicole Sperling at EW put it, “with the exception of a brief blindfold, a hand on a thigh and a glimpse of a riding crop, Mr. Grey’s penchant for domineering sex was kept to a minimum.”

Fans of the book’s raunchier charms can’t say they haven’t been warned, though. Back in January, Dominic Patten at Deadline quoted producer Michael De Luca as saying that the Fifty Shades story is, “at its heart, a young love story…I think people love a good love story and the these two characters endeared themselves to 90 million readers…it was the love story that did it for me.” That seems a little like saying you read Playboy for the articles. Anyway, Patten also noted that the movie was doing away with Steele’s internal monologue which (ahem, allegedly) supplied many of the books’ dirty details.  “On a literary level that was necessary but on film it is a whole different medium. In any adaption of a book, you have to lose some stuff and you have to combine some stuff. In the dramatic arch of a 2-hour or 90-minute movie, it’s a 3-act structure.”

The movie poster seems to bear out the reports of innocuousness – it could be advertising anything from real estate to financial services to suits. The movie stars Jamie Dornan, who was unbelievably creepy (and excellent) in The Fall, and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele.

Fifty Shades of Grey ushered in a whole new world of mainstream erotic romance in publishing, but it looks like the film world isn’t quite ready to follow suit.

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.

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