The Fifty Shades of Grey movie will apparently be ‘tamer’ than the book – will it affect its box office chances?
Hollywood doesn’t want to rock the boat; its primary interest is to make lots of money – quickly. It does this by generating lots of publicity and getting people talking, getting as many bums on seats as possible while also attracting sponsors and advertisers for revenue. This is why it didn’t come as a surprise when the much talked about Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation had been said to have been ‘watered-down’ as it makes its transition from novel to big screen.
It seems odd that the Fifty Shades of Grey movie producers would want to tone down the elements that made the novel such a hit
The Fifty Shades of Grey novel (which has found over nine million readers worldwide) became an overnight sensation back in 2011, launching lingerie lines, dance classes and spin-off novels. It also opened up the debate of talking about female sexuality – hushed up for so long – while also delving into the darker world of the human psyche, controlling relationships and S&M, the latter formerly a topic restricted largely to adult websites and literature. Ann Summers has the novel to thank for launching a thousand products; the novel made S&M mainstream, a topic that could be chatted about in coffee shops and pubs, and it forefronted the fact that women have sexual needs that need to be fulfilled.
It seems odd, then, that producers of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie would want to tone down the very elements that made the novel such a hit in the first place, favouring instead the much more traditional ‘love’ story between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Universal knows how the film industry works. The rumoured feud between James and producer Dana Brunneti suggests a conflict of interests, but one that, of course, Universal will win. The producers want to ensure maximising profits and, as the film’s fan base is going to be primarily women, Universal needs to appeal to as broad a base as possible. This means attracting a younger, female audience.
This of course means discarding some of the steamier scenes. Originally, there was rumour of an X-rated version on DVD release to keep some viewers happy, but this seems to have been, excuse the pun, shelved. Adapting E L James’s words on to the big screen is a risky business – the author was unknown when she wrote it, giving her artistic license, but Hollywood has to be careful not to offend, not to shock. The original (like we have seen before in Nordic Noir and world cinema) must be diluted – and fit the Hollywood paradigm of what is culturally acceptable – in order to sell. Universal knows that making the big Hollywood blockbuster comes with accepting certain limitations: don’t take risks and stick to what you know.
In a recent poll, 75% of voters said they wouldn’t be buying a ticket. But Hollywood will find a way to get you through those doors
The studio may be criticised for erring on the side of caution; a reader’s imagination is one thing, but seeing Grey spank Ana within an inch of her life may sit uncomfortably when it’s played out in all its high definition glory. The novel relied on shock value, and the reader’s imagination. The film may allude to the more eyebrow-raising scenes without actually delivering. Whether it will be detrimental to ticket sales remains to be seen. In a recent poll on The Hollywood Gossip, over 75% of voters said that if this were the case they wouldn’t be buying a ticket at all. But the Hollywood machine will find one way or another to get you through those doors.
With its release set for Valentine’s Day 2015, the publicity will whip you up into a frenzy: will they or won’t they show ‘that’ scene? Whether it does or not, the film will focus on that timeless love story, and Grey and Steele will become a modern Darcy and Lizzie simply because it is a guaranteed success story. It’s been proven time and time again (Clueless, Sex and the City, Bridget Jones) that women can’t resist a good, old- fashioned tale of falling in love.
In the novel, Christian Grey is a diluted Mr Rochester, a damaged troubled soul (who is also a millionaire) that needs to be nursed back to health by his angel of the hearth – in this case, the naive but spirited Ana.
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Sex sells of course, something E L James knows only too well. Though film can also do this through casting good-looking, sexy stars in the roles. The dark, dashing, enigmatic ‘hero’ Christian Grey is played by The Fall’s award-winning Jamie Dornan, former Calvin Klein model and pin up boy. Dakota Johnson plays girl-next-door Ana – pretty, but unthreatening. Usually, the quality of the writing acts like an albatross around the filmmaker’s neck, always with the predicted comparisons in the back of their minds. But the writing in James’s novel is so poor that the film could have really stood up in its own right, not beset by comparisons with the ‘great original’ that it can never imitate or do justice to.
Whatever you think of the book – and I think it’s a badly written tale of abuse, control and even rape – the producers could have done something really interesting and original with this adaptation. But leave that to the independent, arthouse cinemas. Hollywood doesn’t care what you think of the film once you’re through the cinema doors. It just wants to get you there. Once it’s clocked the big bucks, it’s already on to the next big money making hit.
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Featured image: Universal/Focus Features
Inset images: Eren Belle Astentista (via Flickr); Universal/Focus Features