Thursday, 19 February 2015

When bestsellers are made into films…

So, I went to see the newly-released blockbuster film, Fifty Shades of Grey (based on the novel of the same name) last night. Yes, it was Valentine’s Day. No, I was not with my significant other who opted to stay at home and let me have a girls’ night out. And yes, I was curious enough to be happy to see it, though it was my girlfriend who asked me to come to the movie with her (as her husband wasn’t interested in what was being marketed as a romantic film for Valentine’s Day). And I have to say that one of the reasons I wanted to see it was research. No, not that kind of research! Book research. The kind where an author sits through a film based on a novel and critically assesses the adaptation whilst still trying to enjoy it, and mentally take notes about what they liked in translation and what they didn’t.
Well, firstly, I have to say it wasn’t the best film I’ve ever seen but it wasn’t the worst either. There were moments that were quite enjoyable though overall I just felt that the film was a little … grey. It was strange to hear the groans at the end of the film from the audience – I can only assume that many people haven’t read the book despite its 100 million copies sold stats, as someone quite loudly asked from the back of the theatre, “Is that the end? What?”.
So mental notes that were being made as I was watching (in random order because it was mental and I didn’t have a pencil labelled ‘Grey’ in my purse to write it all down):

1. They must have blown their budget on the sets – lots and lots of shots of fast cars, repeated shots of Grey’s walk-in wardrobe (seriously?) and his ties (okay, I get the point!), penthouse apartment and hotel rooms, helicopter, glider, Grey’s office, etc… which depicted Grey’s billionaire lifestyle fairly well though there are also repeated shots of ‘distance’ (I suppose a metaphor between Christian and Ana) such as aerial shots of the cities, freeways, etc… which were a waste of time. I guess I expected more from Grey’s penthouse – austere, yes – but with his money minimalism could have been styled better. I’m all for big budget lavish sets but I wonder if the set designer really had read the books or understood the characters because it seemed … dull (with the exception of the Red Room/ “playroom” – or maybe that was the point).
2. Note to self: Make sure there is consistency and logic if they ever do a film of my books! I did think it weird that Ana found a parking spot (a metred parking and she didn’t even put coins in the metre nor was her car towed at the end of her interview with Grey) conveniently right in front of the Grey office building – Inner dialogue while watching the film: lucky her, never happens to me when I’m in the city and have to pay $60 for secured parking because the car parking companies are extortionists – and she doesn’t even lock her car (though it is a pretty banged up VW beetle which she calls “vintage” – wait, did he have to buy her a car that was a girly colour? I’m surprised it wasn’t grey. Or was that the decision of his right hand man, Taylor? Did it mention the colour in the book? Probably.).
3. Inner dialogue while watching (I’m taking a leaf out of Ana’s book): Why did she need a pencil at the interview? (oh right, it’s a motif!) But she never writes with it! She’s actually taping the bloody conversation but can’t start without one of his perfectly lined up pencils? Oh but look how it accentuates her lips! He’s really OCD – not very subtle … this is a little like Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy. Pencils. Towels. It’s all the same.
4. Was there rain in the book after her first meeting with Christian? But seriously, does she stand in it and get soaked so that the director can make a not-so-subtle point about the ‘heated’ nature of their first encounter? And she’s also given her flu-ridden bestie a kiss before leaving the apartment… wouldn’t Ana come down with the flu after all this?

5. Honestly, on reflection, I felt strangely hollow at Christian and Ana’s developing relationship. Well, truthfully, I think this was E.L. James’ fault. No, it has nothing to do with the sex. It has everything to do with the chemistry. Problem is, Christian Grey would be a paradoxically easy difficult character for any actor to play – he is a control freak, cold and narcissistic. But Dornan wasn’t quite right for the part. Admittedly, he fits the criteria of good-looking and able to wear a suit like he was born in one, but he was almost overthinking the role. He didn’t look comfortable repressing his feelings – yes, I know that sounds like the character of Grey but, in this case, it was just awkward. There was almost an awareness that he was acting an act – an actor taking on a role of a man who plays a role (as Ana intuits, no one seems to know him at all). And so, with the sexiest part of the film for me being the chemistry between the two characters over a piece of toast, I watched the choreography of the BDSM sex scenes (which were done well enough, don’t get me wrong) and felt utterly detached. Now I am not going to comment on the issue of domestic violence and BDSM in 50 Shades that has stirred up so much controversy (it’s been reviewed and analysed to death), but it does take me to the next issue I had…
6. Did anyone do research for this book/ film? Does a submissive often become a dominant? I’d really like to know. You know, there are some people who enjoy BDSM and don’t have a horror story for a childhood. Mental note: Casey (a poet friend of mine) said that she found it insulting that James had to explain Christian’s fetish as an aberration (an abused child whose mother is a crack head whore) to explain why he behaves the way he does. He clearly enjoys BDSM. Supposedly, he can be “cured” of such deviancy – or is it just “cured” of his OCD/ controlling behaviour? By the love of a good woman? Must watch the next two films to see how they pull this one off.
7. And here it is – did the screenplay writer and director LOVE the novel? Because it isn’t quite the same as Peter Jackson’s love for The Lord of the Rings which is just so obvious. Note to self: if by some miracle of miracles my books get into film, make sure I do not sell out. Must do something like George R.R. Martin or find a director like Jackson. Make sure I write the screenplay like Fay Weldon for the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice – they’re still talking about the lake scene. Will they be talking about the BDSM scenes of 50 Shades in twenty years’ time? Doubt it.
8. Inner dialogue while watching the film: Oh crap. Ana bites her lip? Forgot about that. One of my characters bites her lip. A lot. Is that bad? Will readers think I ripped off 50 Shades or Kristen Stewart’s tic in the Twilight films? God, I hope not!
9. Double crap (yes, a little Ana here)! I too have a first edition text gifted to the heroine. This is looking very bad indeed…
10. Ah, redemption. For an English Lit student she seems a little clueless … and almost illiterate. Does she even read? Where are her bookshelves? Where are the books? Why is she not packing oodles of books for her move to Seattle? Where are the books on her bedside table at her Mum’s place? Oh wait, I saw ONE! One??? Seriously??
11. Oh there’s the pencil again (this is when I thought she was going to stuff up her final exam with her mooning over Christian. And then later with the reference to the mail being delivered as she’s holding the ‘contract’, I was hoping she’d get the notification that she failed and have a meltdown – but hey, no plot deviation there. Darn.).
12. I still can’t work out why she works in a hardware store apart from the convenience of plot to introduce Grey’s fetish. I mean, she loves books, is doing an English Lit major … surely she could have worked in a library? As a tutor? In a bookstore? As a bottom end assistant in a publishing company? But hardware? And she likes to make knots for the display board? That is so weird.
13. Speaking of which, Dornan must have had a few lessons in tying knots. Or did they get someone else to double for him?
14. More inner dialogue while watching the film: The sushi! Are you kidding me? She doesn’t even take a sip of wine – I sort of get that … but the sushi. I would have wolfed that down THEN left.
15. Why is this boardroom filmed with a filtered red lens or red backdrop? That’s what horror stories are made of. If she wanted an office meeting why didn’t she ask him to turn on the lights? She can barely see the ‘contract’!
16. And more: Ana searches the net for ‘submissive’ but never thinks to look up ‘butt plug’? She isn’t too bright, is she? But hey, a moment of humour in the film. That’s good.
17. Geez, her friend Jose could have been slightly hotter in the film.
18. It is a little weird. Christian’s in her apartment (obviously breaking in and acting like a stalker) yet she doesn’t question it? Where’s the “How the fuck did you get in here?” part? And “I’m going to call the police if you don’t get the fuck out of here?” part?
19. And she’s wearing a sports bra – did she take a run before doing the laundry? I don’t get it. Wouldn’t she have showered? Was this in the book?
20. Didn’t she have a Blackberry in the book until he gave her an iPhone, or am I wrong? Probably. I’m not certain now. But seriously, a flip phone? What century is this?
21. Did Dornan learn to do braids as well as knot tying for this role?
22. Inner dialogue while watching the film: Good soundtrack. Hmmm…. That’s about the best thing in the movie. Well, that sucks.
23. More inner dialogue: Seriously, for a film adaptation of 50 Shades, why is there less on show than in Basic Instinct?
24. And yet more: When did she bring her computer to the apartment? And all that other stuff she’s giving back to him? What about the clothes? Why isn’t she giving him back the clothes too? That’s odd. I would definitely be giving back those awful flats she keeps wearing – totally unsexy.
25. There’s more humour in the film than I remember in the books. That’s actually a plus.
26. Oh, the ending of the film is cyclical. Another motif. I suppose they had to end it somehow…
Okay, I just give up. It probably wasn’t the best adaptation if I kept talking to my “Inner Goddess” or whomever I was talking to during the film…