When Anastasia Steele, a literature student, goes to interview the wealthy Christian Grey, as a favor to her roommate Kate Kavanagh, she encounters a beautiful, brilliant and intimidating man. The innocent and naive Ana startled to realize she wants him, despite his enigmatic reserve and advice, she finds herself desperate to get close to him. Not able to resist Ana's beauty and independent spirit, Christian Grey admits he wants her too, but in his own terms. Ana hesitates as she discovers the singular tastes of Christian Grey- despite of the embellishments of success - his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family - Grey is consumed by the need to control everything. As they get close Ana starts to discover Christian Grey's secrets and explores her own desires.
Once upon a time, a woman's idea of romance was one in which a handsome prince rode up on a white horse and whisked her off to his castle to live happily ever after. Now, it seems, women prefer that a rich industrialist fly them off in his helicopter so they can spend a non-committal weekend in his sex dungeon. This is romance in the 21st Century, folks.
Let's be honest, as a middle-aged white male, I'm not exactly the target audience for the movie adaptation of author E. L. James' bestselling novel, 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. I've never read (nor do I have any desire to) the book upon which this film is based, so I went into this movie with no preconceived notions, other than – given that the book is little more than an adaptation by the author of some Twilight fan fiction that she wrote – the fact that I figured this was going to be pretty bad. Yeah, the story is pretty silly and hard to buy, but I was surprised to find how immensely watchable this turned out to be. At the risk of alienating the few readers out there who may have valued some of the film opinions I've given in the past, I have to confess that I actually liked 'Fifty Shades of Grey.'
The story is simple, yet kind of disturbing at the same time. A young English major named Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is interviewing wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for her college newspaper. Whether it's because of his GQ looks or his large bank account, Ana is instantly attracted to him, and Christian seems drawn to both her klutziness and her girl-next-door personality. Although he insists that romance and relationships aren't his thing, he starts dating Ana and eventually takes her to his penthouse apartment where he shows her what he's really into when it comes to other women – and it involves a lot of whips and chains. Instead of her 'serial killer' alarm going off, Ana is intrigued by his fetishes, if only because if she reacted like a normal woman (read: run!), we wouldn't have much of a movie.
While the plotline here isn't something that one would think screams 'romance', what makes a lot of this movie work is that it hired two very appealing actors in the lead roles. I've never seen (or if I have, don't remember) Dakota Johnson act before, but she's very good here and most viewers will be drawn to her character. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, I am familiar with – thanks to his creepy portrayal of a serial killer on the Irish TV series, 'The Fall'. Oddly, he plays almost the same kind of creepy here, but this time it's because of the things he is keeping secret from others both when it comes to his lifestyle and events that happened when he was a young boy (only a taste of which is revealed in this film).
But, of course, a big selling point of this movie is the sex – which is surprisingly the film's weakest aspect. Having not read the novel, I have no idea how far the bondage material went in the original story, but it's pretty tame as far as this theatrical adaptation is concerned. Yes, there's a sufficient amount of nudity (ironically, mostly focusing on Ms. Johnson, even though this movie is aimed toward a female audience), but it's actually pretty tastefully done. As for any BDSM in the movie, the furthest it goes is various forms of handcuffs and ties, some light play with a riding crop and flogger, and a slightly aggressive spanking scene that (pardon the pun) climaxes the movie.
'Fifty Shades of Grey' is at its best when it doesn't take itself too seriously, which isn't as often as I wish it would have. My favorite scene in the movie involves Ana insisting on a business meeting with Christian to barter terms in the contract she needs to sign before she engages in the dominant/submissive relationship that he wants to have with her. Watching the two characters go through a legal contract and negotiating what sexual acts they will or won't do together proves to be the funniest (and most fun) part of the film. I wish more of the movie could have been this playful.
Yes, overall, this is a pretty ridiculous story that makes its main female character a little more helpless and gullible than she should be. However, I really dug the two leads (particularly Dakota Johnson) and believe that their on-screen chemistry together – however sick and twisted it might be – is the real reason to tune into this movie. Sure, it's a guilty pleasure…and sure, it's not going to go down in the annals of moviemaking as anything of particular noteworthiness…but I found myself entertained for a couple hours…and that's all anyone should ask from a movie like this one.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fifty Shades of Grey' unties itself onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD come housed in a standard Elite keepcase, with the DVD on the inside left and the Blu-ray on the inside right. An insert containing a code for an UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the movie is also included (the flipside of which is an ad for the upcoming 'Heroes Reborn' series on NBC). A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop the case.
Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with a bunch of short promos for other films (Universal probably guessed a lot of people would either be buying or renting this one), comprised of trailers for The Boy Next Door, 'Satisfaction', The Gunman, Maps to the Stars, The Loft, Seventh Son, Unbroken, and 'Heroes Reborn'.
In addition to this combo pack, there are a number of retailer exclusives out there if you can find them. The nicest of these is probably Target's Deluxe version, which includes everything in the standard combo pack, plus more than 30 additional minutes of bonus content and a journal and pen inside exclusively designed packaging. Target is also offering a version with just the additional bonus content, but minus the exclusive packaging and journal/pen set. Walmart is also offering this combo set in exclusive packaging, which also includes a collectable photo book. Finally, Best Buy is offering up a steelbook version of this release.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Fifty Shades of Grey' was shot digitally, primarily on the Arri Alexa XT, and the image here is pretty impressive, with plenty of depth, detail, and the kind of 'pop' on Blu-ray that viewers love to see. There's definitely a dichotomy going on in the cinematography between the sterile, business world of Christian Grey (lots of whites, blacks, and – of course greys) and that of Anastasia Steele (a much warmer, colorful look). Between the two, I think Grey's world looks better on Blu-ray, as some of the scenes of Ana's home life came off as such a little too close to over-saturated for my personal tastes.
In terms of any glitches, there are a few moments – usually when the camera is panning and particularly when it's panning during an establishing shot of a cityscape – of aliasing in the transfer, but nothing that occurs so frequently that it becomes a distraction to one's enjoyment of the movie. Other problems like banding or noise aren't an issue here. Black levels are very strong throughout, so shadow delineation is good – something viewers will appreciate in those 'dungeon' scenes!
The primary track here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one that sounds pretty good, given the presentation of the film – which primarily consists of a lot of talking between the two characters, enhanced by a great musical soundtrack (featuring a lot of classic romantic songs). While dialogue remains primarily up front, the rears are used mainly to enhance those musical numbers, as well as for some ambient noises throughout the movie.
In addition to the lossless English track, 5.1 DTS tracks are available for the theatrical version in both Spanish and French, as is an English Descriptive Video Service in 2.0. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French. Please note that the extended version of the movie only features an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, with none of the other audio options available; however, all the subtitle options listed above are still available on the extended version.
If you can get by the silliness of the story concept, 'Fifty Shades of Grey' actually turns out to be a pretty watchable movie with two fascinating characters. Yes, for the purposes of the storytelling, the female lead has to make some stupid decisions while the male lead has to remain mysterious (and, okay, let's just be honest – pretty creepy), but I can't say the movie didn't suck me into its story or interest me enough to be curious what will happen in the planned sequel. Believe it or not, this one comes recommended.