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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Fifty Shades of Grey - Unrated Edition (Blu-ray)
Fifty Shades of Grey - Unrated Edition (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // May 8, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted May 14, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
If this is romance, romance is dead

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: A fun bad movie
Likes: Sexy good times
Dislikes: Female-focused fantasy romance
Hates: , Terrible writing, legitimately bad movies, this movie

The Movie
The saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. What if life gives you a bag of excrement instead? And what if, instead of life delivering that bag, it's author E.L. James? Director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who had graduated from short-film success with the John Lennon-focused Nowhere Boy, is the one who received that metaphorical bag when she took on the task of adapting James' blockbuster mommy-porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey. A romance novel cloaked in S&M, it began life as fan-fiction and never rose above that level of quality, but somehow was embraced by readers who enjoyed the thrill of the book's explicit naughtiness, and ignored its utter lack of literary value. And with the kind of sales it generated, a movie was certain to follow, much like the bout of stomach pain that follows a meal of belly bombers at White Castle.

Fifty Shades tells the story of the ridiculously-named Anastasia Steele (Melanie Griffith/Don Johnson spawn Dakota Johnson), the walking personification of frumpy, who subs in one day to interview young billionaire Christian Grey (second-choice Jamie Dornan) for her college newspaper. For some reason the film can't be bothered to think about, this stud becomes obsessed with Ana, and begins a sexual relationship with her, which eventually reveals itself to be the start of a dominant-submissive pairing, complete with a contract plotpoint that rivals the trade negotiations in the first episode of Star Wars in how it manages to drag down any energy the film might generate from having two physically-attractive young people mash their genitals together. Though Taylor-Johnson does deliver a few very erotic moments between Christian and Ana, nothing about those scenes really seem to push any envelopes in terms of fetish play (not that the film's core audience would notice.)

If you can find it in yourself to care about what happens between these two (and honestly, not much of anything happens over the course of the film beyond some intercourse and some moments of melodrama), your brain will soon be short-circuited by the inane dialogue and asinine behavior on display (as well as the brief, meaningless introduction of several characters that my wife informs me will only be important in the second and third films of the franchise, which means Marcia Gay Harden is essentially on the sidelines here.) Christian repeatedly tells the starry-eyed Ana that he has no interest in a romantic relationship, that all he wants from her is an agreement to be dominated, but she keeps asking why he won't treat her like a girlfriend. Though she mostly agrees to what he wants, she strives to change him, making the entire film representative of a classic bad relationship that only women would be willing to accept as possible even in a fantasy. That the ending is an insult to anyone with the bad fortune to sit through two hours of drivel is the final straw, as it's the kind of finale that only a film known to be a part of a trilogy could even try to get away with.

Though the writing by Kelly Marcel (co-writer of Saving Mr. Banks) is pathetic at best, certainly a result of sticking closely to the insidiously bad source material, there's a genuine sense of skill in other areas of the movie, be it Taylor-Johnson's fine work with The Avengers DP Seamus McGarvey (the sex scenes are meticulously shot), the lush set designs or the fantastic music (both from Danny Elfman and a well-curated soundtrack.) The whole thing reminded me of an argument that once raged amongst my friends in college: can you make a movie that's so good in all the technical areas that the story has no effect on the quality of the film. All due respect to Godfrey Reggio, Fifty Shades of Grey proves that to be completely wrong. (Though we'll see if Jem and the Holograms can top it.)

For those curious about the unrated cut of the film on this release (the theatrical is also here) it follows the usual "unrated" trend, adding a few frames here and there, outside of a well-targeted smack of a riding crop and an alternate ending, which, according to my source, is essentially a bridge to the second film, but is really would be unnecessary if not for the awful theatrical finale.

The Discs
The film arrives in a two-disc set, with a Blu-ray and a DVD, which are packed in a standard-width, Blu-Ray keepcase, with an attractive matte-finished, foil-embossed slipcover that repeats the cover art. The Blu-ray features the standard Universal curve menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and French and Spanish DTS Digital Surround 5.1 tracks, as well as a DVS 2.0 track, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.

The Quality
Taylor Johnson and company's work on this film certainly gets a loving presentation thanks to this 2.40:1, AVC-encoded transfer, which is aces across the board, with lush, appropriate hues (the depth of color on the frequently-present wooden surfaces is just beautiful), outstanding fine detail (you'll have a fine appreciation for the handcrafting of Christian's toys) and deep, solid black levels that make the darker sex scenes work quite well. This film piles on the production value, and this delivery makes sure it all shines, with no issues with digital distractions gumming up the works. Turn off the sound, and the film becomes at least 50 percent better.

Speaking of the sound, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does a fine job with the film's mix. Far from the most challenging of film's aurally, as most scenes are just dialogue and seductive music, punctuated by the occasional sound effect, but when called upon, particularly in crowd scenes, the surround mix is effective, with impressive atmospheric presence in the surrounds and nice separation between the clear dialogue and strong music. A great presentation all around of a solid right-down-the-middle mix.

The Extras
Up first is an extra most people have seen online, the 29-second teaser for the sequel Fifty Shades Darker. There's not much of anything to it, especially if you read the book.

The biggest extra is "The World of Fifty Shades of Grey" a set of 16 brief featurettes, separated into three categories: Christian, Ana and Friends and Family. Running a combined 46:19, the pieces, which cover characters, actors, wardrobe and sets, average about two to three minutes each, and feature interviews, on-set footage and up-close looks at the clothes from the film (this set knows its audience.)

"Behind the Shades" is a long-form featurette (19:28), offering an overview of the making of the movie, with info on adapting the book, shooting locations, dealing with fans and production details, like the fake name the movie was filmed under. With plenty of interviews and set clips, it's a solid look behind the scenes.

Naturally, the woman behind the phenomenon gets her own turn in the spotlight, as "E.L. James and Fifty Shades" (5:45) focuses on her book, her history and the fandom that's made her such a financial success. For someone who loves good writing, it's more than a little upsetting.

The whole S&M theme wasn't ignored in the extras, as the 8:42 "Fifty Shades: The Pleasure of Pain" introduces Liam Heder, who served as the BDSM consultant on the film. He talks about a variety of topics related to the film, including props, rules and amateur interest, with Harden and singer Rita Ora chiming in as well. For anyone unaware of this world, it should be a bit eye-opening. They should have reached out to someone who didn't work on the film though to express the unhappy opinion the film engendered in the BDSM community.

An odd little extra for the obsessives out there is found in "Christian's Apartment: 360 Degree Set Tour," a set of nine panoramic images of locations from the film, which spin when you select a prompt. Embedded in the panoramas are markers with allow you to view related photographs, which show props, rehearsal photos and very awkward posed photos of the stars. The biggest bonus here is the level of detail in the photos, which let you appreciate the handcrafting of Christian's toys.

Musical tie-ins are the theme of the remaining extras, which includes two music videos, one for Skylar Grey's "I Know You" (5:05) and one for The Weeknd's "Earned It" (4:40). Grey's track is matched by its video, as the dull ballad gets a dull video showing her performing on a stage, accompanied by a piano, shot from many angles. "Earned It" is far better from both perspectives, as the slow-burn R&B jam fits the film well, and the video, which features a troupe of S&M themed burlesque dancers, is interesting to watch. When you check out the "Behind the Scenes of "Earned It"" featurette (4:40), you'll realize that's because Taylor-Johnson shot the video, as she and The Weeknd talk about the origins of the song and the idea behind the video, including the influence of Cabaret.

Also included is a code for an Ultraviolet stream/download.

The Bottom Line
The key issue with Fifty Shades of Grey is the writing, and considering that the film is based on an utterly terrible novel and was intended mainly to appeal to that book's considerable and loyal fanbase, it really had no chance for cinematic quality from the get-go. Watching a well-filmed movie like this, one thinks that maybe the team behind this waste of pixels could have done something quite good if the story it tells was decent by any objective measure. However, you can't legislate taste. This Blu-ray has the unenviable task of shining a turd, and achieves that goal, with an excellent presentation and a healthy dose of extras that are likely to appeal to those who somehow enjoy the movie. For everyone else, there is a slight amount of so-bad-it's-good at work, but not enough to carry through the two hour runtime.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter

*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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