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As I’m about a third of the way through the third book in E.L. James’ lusty romance series Fifty Shades of Grey, my interest in the potential movie adaptation is naturally piqued. We learned yesterday that Universal and Focus Features have acquired the rights to the story, which has grabbed the attention of many a female. But as I continue to wonder how this story could work as a successful film, and one women will flock to in droves as they have to the eBooks on which it’s based, a part of me thinks it might work better as a pay-cable TV series.
What apparently started out as Twilight fan fiction evolved into a story about a college grad who falls for a young, wealthy business tycoon with an appetite for the rougher type of sex. That’s actually putting it mildly. The first book in James’ series of novels focuses on Anastasia Grey’s growing interest for the attractive, mysterious Christian Grey, and the sexually charged relationship that ensues between the two. The story evolves from there, leading into the second and third novels, with the primary focus remaining on Christian and Ana’s relationship, with a side of Christian’s personal baggage. To say that the sex-scenes are described in detail is probably an understatement. The novels often delve into the specifics of the couple’s sexual exploits, which likely explains why the books have been branded by some as “mommy porn.” At it’s core though, Fifty Shades is a romance.
I can certainly see the appeal in the film, especially for those who want to see what a living, breathing Christian Grey looks like. But I have to wonder how the story will work for a feature film, and whether women will be interested in sitting in a movie theater watching what could be fairly graphic sex scenes play out on a giant screen. It’s one thing to see a bit of nudity and some under the sheets movement at the movies. It may be another to watch an S&M scene unfold while seated among dozens of strangers. There’s certainly the potential for awkwardness there, especially given the frequency of these scenes, at least, as they appear in the book. This is, assuming the film aims to recreate some, if not all of Christian and Ana’s bedroom moments.
The sex is a big part of the story, and it plays a pretty big factor in the development of Ana and Christian’s relationship, given the extreme nature of some of the scenes, so I can't imagine they plan to leave them out, though it's likely they'll be downplayed from the detailed descriptions offered in the book. When considering these scenes adapted to the screen, I find myself more inclined to draw comparisons to television than film. In fact, by comparison to some shows, what goes on between Christian and Ana might be considered tame. Pay-cable dramas like Starz’ Spartacus and HBO’s True Blood have frequently included sex scenes featuring a lot of nudity, and in some cases, graphic violence. So it’s not like Fifty Shades would be breaking new ground on television if the series were adapted for a pay-cable drama.
Looking beyond the sex for a moment, let’s also consider the story being told here. Girl meets boy. Girl falls for boy. Boy ties girl up. Lots of sex ensues. I know I'm over-generalizing the story, but that is sort of the timeline of events. They may decide to combine books to make one big movie, or split the story up differently, perhaps in two parts, which would add a bit more conflict and drama, when factoring in some of the events that take place in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. But going by the first book alone, there isn’t a huge amount of story to tell.
Structurally, the first book is really about Ana’s decision to be and stay with Christian, knowing what he’s into, and trying to figure out if she can be what he wants. Sure, that could work for a movie, but I see this kind of character development as something that could lend itself nicely to a pay-cable series, spaced out over a 10-episode season, as opposed to a two-hour movie. With the James’ involvement, the story could even be (excuse the pun) fleshed out, perhaps building up some of the other characters, like Kate, Elliot, and Mia. There might also have been more room to fully explore Christian and Ana as characters. Alas, this all may be pointless to ponder over at this point, given Universal and Focus’ recent acquisition.
In the meantime, I’m curious to see how the film adaptation develops, and perhaps once we have a better idea of what Universal and Focus have in mind for the project, including whether they plan to cast unknowns or go with big names.
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