Universal (a division of Comcast CMCSA -0.73% Corp.) has dropped this full-length theatrical trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey courtesy of NBC’s The Today Show. The last ten seconds are arguably not safe for work, yet the trailer earned the green-band (for general audiences) approval. There was actually a sanitized for network television version that debuted this morning on The Today Show which was followed by an interview with the cast and a clip from the film. This was actually preceded several days ago by what amounted to a teaser to the trailer presented by Beyoncé Knowles’s Instagram account. The star of Austin Powers: Goldmember and The Pink Panther will be singing a version of “Crazy in Love” for the film adaptation of E.L. James novel, some of which is sampled in the above trailer. It was certainly a different way to drop a yet another teaser for a trailer. But them’s the breaks as the technology changes how marketing materials like this are dispersed. In this day and age, how a trailer is released is arguably as much of a news story as the existence of said trailer and what it contains about the film it is advertising.
This one was actually supposed to come out next week, where it would have competed directly with Walt Disney's DIS -0.53% Guardians of the Galaxy. But it was moved back to February 13th, 2015. So yes, Universal is either betting that women will drag their significant others to this erotic drama as something of a Valentine’s Day date movie and/or that single women will take in the picture as a kind of girls’ night out outing for the manufactured romantic holiday. This may seem like an unusual V-Day pick, but I’d argue it’s no more unconventional than studios opening a male-centric action picture over the holiday weekend and cynically hoping to woo the female audience by showing off what little romantic content it happens to contain (re: Daredevil). Maybe Universal will cut a trailer with a car chase and/or an explosion or two.
I’m not going to go into the issues that critics have with the source material, which is of course a bondage-centric bit of Twilight fan fiction that became a publishing sensation and indirectly coined the rather offensive term “mommy porn.” As is always the case when females become interested in any kind of popular art, the pundits and analysts were out in full force over the last couple years trying to explain why women had the gall to enjoy something that isn’t explicitly targeted at the male audience. No one feels the need to explain why men like Transformers, but we all have to wring our hands over why women enjoy Sex and the City, Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey. My only issue with the film is that the online fan petition to get Alexis Bledel cast as Anastasia Steele didn’t work. Because you know, art…
I wrote last week about the fifteenth anniversary of Eyes Wide Shut and how Warner Bros. blew a chance to legitimize the NC-17 rating as a mainstream classification for adult films that aren’t explicitly pornographic in nature. I’m assuming Universal is going for an R-rating for at least the domestic theatrical release, but one could argue that Fifty Shades of Grey is also something of an opportunity to legitimize the NC-17 at least as a commercial option, if not an artistic one. Point being, I can’t imagine anyone intending to see an R-rated version of Fifty Shades of Grey would be turned off by the prospect of an NC-17 version. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine this film won’t get… um… spanked by (predominantly male) critics at large so artistic respect would still be out of reach for the NC-17 even on the off-chance that Universal takes the plunge.
Of course, the big question is whether or not adult moviegoers, female or male, will venture out to a theater and watch what is basically (and I say this without moral judgment) pornography amid other moviegoers. If ever there was a test case for a major studio release going Video On Demand and first run theatrical on the same date, it is this one. One last thing, the one unconditionally positive aspect of this film is that it is a female-targeted motion picture that is based on a novel written by a woman, adapted by a female screenwriter (Kelly Marcel) and directed by a female director (Sam Taylor-Johnson). In an era when women can’t even getting directing gigs for Sex and the City movies, the Hunger Games and Divergent movies are all helmed by men, and only the first Twilight was directed by a woman, Taylor-Johnson getting a crack at a probable hit darn-well matters. For that reason alone, I hope Fifty Shades of Grey makes a boatload of money next February. Fifty Shades of Grey, starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, opens February 13th, 2015. As always, we’ll see.