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FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 126 Minutes
Release Date: May 8, 2015

I don’t make love. I (bleep). HARD.”

Film ***

So…how does one of the most notorious novels of the millennium become a mainstream feature film? I guess the answer is obvious…it’s also one of the most popular novels of the millennium.

E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey tantalized readers with a look at the darker side of sexuality; namely, bondage, sado-masochism, the dominant/submissive relationship, and so on. It’s been said that it became the success it is largely owing to the advent of the e-reader. People could read it on the bus, at lunch, or anywhere else in public, because nobody else would know what was being displayed on the screen.

But the question: how can you turn it into a mainstream movie? IF I had read the book (and that’s not an admission), I would be concerned about the novel’s copious amounts of graphic sexuality and taboo subject matter, and thinking, no way can it come to the screen without a full-on NC-17 rating.

Yet, Universal stepped up to the challenge, and delivered it…in R rated form. This disc also offers an unrated version, which is the one I perused. IF I had read the book, I would tend to guess the unrated version would be a more accurate portrayal of the subject matter.

The story involves Anastasia Steele (Johnson) as a naďve college girl sent to interview elusive youthful billionaire Christian Grey (Dornan) almost by accident. The interview is not the stuff of legends, but it becomes apparent there is a sexual chemistry between the two. IF I had read the book, I would say this scene plays out exactly as I would have imagined it.

But this is no Hallmark romance story. Christian has a darker side, and when he pursues Anastasia, it’s not “hearts and flowers” he has in mind. Instead, it’s a path that leads directly to a locked and hidden room in his massive apartment. What lies beyond there is a world of discovery, not only for Ana, but for the audience as well.

So, it probably goes without saying that this film will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I have a feeling the movie, like the books, will attract many curious types, but maybe only a handful will really admit to liking what they find there.

IF I had read the book, I would comment that those scenes, which are really the selling points of the story, are toned down a bit, though still quite striking in their unabashed frankness. Scenes that go on for pages and pages last only a few minutes on screen. Apart from that, I might say that every other aspect of the story is accurate and true to the original text. Dialogue from the books was hardly that memorable, but the key bits are all there. I wouldn’t complain as far as that goes.

But let’s be honest…the storyline was never the selling point. In fact, it’s a rather bland and banal affair (no pun intended). It’s the poor, innocent Ana up against the rich, damaged Christian, who warns her to stay away, but can’t seem to stay away himself. Despite his darkness, it’s easy to see why Ana likes him. He’s the typical fictional rich man who makes billions despite never really seeming to do any work, and who uses his money for noble, feed-the-world type projects (apart from what he spends on lush fantasy dates for Ana). And he’s quite handsome. Jamie Dornan was a good casting choice; no complaints from me.

Dakota Johnson as Ana, however, doesn’t quite work for me. IF I had read the book, I would have pictured a much more beautiful and much more innocent-appearing Anastasia Steele. My casting choice would have been along the lines of a Lucy Hale or an Olivia Cooke. Ms. Johnson’s performance is fine, and certainly courageous, but she just doesn’t project the kind of qualities that would enrapture someone like Christian, and I certainly could never believe her as someone who doesn’t know the ways of the world.

That aside, I think this is a movie for fans of the book. Those who aren’t will easily dismiss it and find little memorable about it. But those who made the books best-sellers will have few complaints about the overall faithfulness, and won’t even mind the rather abrupt, unresolved ending. IF I had read the books, I would know the resolutions are coming, and not be worried about them.

Video ****

Universal delivers a top-notch high definition transfer here. The scenes are rich and detailed, and from the brightly lit interiors to the dark, beautiful skylines of Seattle, everything renders with clarity and solid coloring.

Audio ***

Apart from a good song score, most of the film is actually dialogue oriented…except for the stretches where dialogue isn’t much needed. All of this comes together nicely and with good balance in this uncompressed audio track. There isn’t much use of the rear stage, but it isn’t required for this material.

Features ***

For starters, you can choose either the theatrical version or the unrated version, although those expecting some major fireworks from the unrated version might be disappointed; it’s still nothing more or less than you’d see on HBO.

There is a short (almost comical) tease of the next film in the series, and several short featurettes on the world of the film, including looks at the characters, the actors, author E.L. James, and even Christian’s apartment.

Summary:

Fifty Shades of Grey is truly a film for the fans. And there are enough of them to guarantee this one to be a hit, as well as for the two sequel stories. So for fans, this one will definitely deliver a faithful rendition, even if some of the longer scenes from the book still leave a little to the imagination.

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