When it comes to making a buck Hollywood isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. Like a horse following a dangled carrot into the backdoor of a Tesco warehouse, studio execs will trail behind any cash-cow begging to snap up the film rights. One Direction turning a profit; let’s make a film about them. Jack Reacher books shifted a few units; let’s knock out a movie. The latest money spinner to catch Hollywood’s eye is of course "EL James” 50 Shades of Grey.
You couldn’t walk around a summer holiday destination last year without tripping over one of the 50 Shades books. My better half picked them up to see what all the fuss was about and confirmed what I already suspected. There was nothing in the 50 Shades books that hasn’t been available for years from the Ann Summers steamy book section. The books were thinly disguised pornos, and not particularly well written ones at that. Not that I begrudge Erika Mitchell any of the success she’s earned; any struggling writer deserves praise for getting ahead in this dog-eat-writer industry. As with a lot of books that hit on a zeitgeist, it was a case of right place at the right time, the first steamy read with word of mouth (thank you Twilight) for the e-reader generation (ie. the person opposite me on the train can’t see the cover of the dirty book I’m reading).
Books are one thing; movies are a completely different ball game. On the off chance that the Universal execs have stumbled across this, here’s my offer to save them the potential financial pounding and artistic embarrassment of a failed movie; seven reasons why they should leave 50 Shades on the page:
- See that beautiful blonde woman in the picture above? That’s 23 year old actress Dakota Johnson. She's been cast as the unlikely named 50 Shades heroine Anastasia Steele, the stories 21 year old uni / college student and closet virgin. In what possible universe is a woman as good looking as Johnson still carrying her V plates? Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with abstinence or "waiting for the right man”, but lets be honest here, there’s no way on earth someone this overwhelmingly attractive has not had a sexual encounter by the end of their college years. It’s not like Johnson/Steele would have struggled to draw any male attention. If they were going to cast a remotely believable Steele they should have at least plumped for someone less conventionally attractive who might stand a chance of getting the audience to buy the conceit that she’s 21 and still a virgin.
- I don’t know about you but my first romp in the sack wasn’t exactly world shattering. Most people don’t really have a clue what they’re doing the first time they have sex. Its new, you’re nervous, you’re praying it just goes off without any embarrassment for either party. But not Steele. She goes from unlikely sexual novice to human sex-toy in the time it takes most blokes to fumble open a condom wrapper. She hasn’t even groped her first cock before she’s signing contracts to engage in BDSM and the sort of bedroom antics usually reserved for couples a few years into their comfort zones. If the unlucky female I had my first dalliance with suggested something similar I’d be sweating bullets and looking for the door. And I’m a bloke, the supposedly dirtier minded half of the species.
- The 50 Shades book got round these glaring plotholes with a few well placed paragraphs of exposition. Tons of exposition isn’t too much of a sin for the printed word providing its done right, but it can sink a movie. If your script is full of explanatory dialogue what you end up is a film where everyone stands around asking dumbass questions so that another cast member can explain the story to the audience. Explanatory dialogue scenes are a ten-pint-piss on the suspension of disbelief bonfire. "So why is Anastasia still a virgin at twenty one?”....”I’m glad you asked that question Kate. Allow me to explain, the reasons are tenfold...”. And we’re done with the movie.
- The Da Vinci Code (2006), a movie based on a trillion selling popular novel now stands as a lesson from Hollywood history. As a page turner Dan Brown’s book was the perfect quick read. As a film it limped like a newborn movie taking its first baby steps. Tom Hanks dashed from one scene to the next, stopping only to explain each and every plot point to Audrey Tautou and the audience as if our brains were dribbling out of our ears. Chances of 50 Shades ending up in the same sorry state? I’d say 50/50 at least.
- Unless Universal are going to make a porno, they’re going to have to cut most of the sex scenes out of the script. So that’ll be a film that has about twenty minutes of worthwhile scenes; money back please. The alternative is to make a film stuffed full of soft-focus, shot in dark, barely see what’s going on, Moby soundtracked, fumbling "sex scenes” which are about as entertaining to sit through as a rectal examination.
- Come to think of it, if Universal do try something original and make the first porno for mainstream cinema they probably won’t do much better either. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to watch porn properly (as opposed to watching it for "other” reasons) but it gets real boring real quick. Porn is for titillation, so unless Odeon are going to be offering double beds and some privacy for their showings, forget it. And can you see us prudish Brits rocking up to cash in our Orange Wednesday vouchers for the opportunity to watch a porno with a couple of hundred other cash strapped adults?
- The will-they-won’t-they between Anastasia and Christian drives the plot of the books (though its still fairly obvious how its all going to end). Since the world and his wife already know the ending it makes viewing the movies to see what happens a pretty pointless endeavour. Granted, most people already knew the ending for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but there was a lot more to make the journey of that literary adaptation worthwhile. The only other thing 50 Shades offers is the aforementioned frolicking and spanking. You could argue that it’s all just a bit of fun, nothing to be taken too seriously. But when you wade through the metaphor heavy text of 50 Shades and Ana’s constant harping on about her "inner goddess” you can’t help but feel that it’s a work that really does want to be taken seriously. If the intention was otherwise it makes a damn good job of hiding it. And I’m fairly sure that if I couldn’t find any trace of tongue in cheek, the Universal execs wouldn’t have either.
Of course, the deal is already done. Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam will star, Sam Taylor-Wood will direct, and the sheep like general public will stagger in to cinema lobbies to hand over more cash. Universal will rub their hands with glee, Erika Mitchell will buy a bigger house, and another shit film will be added to the long list of failed literary phenomena movies. Circle of life.