Fifty Shades of Grey and the Danger of Bringing Books to the Big Screen

Fifty Shades of Grey Book Cover - Photo Credit Stella Smith (Flickr)
Fifty Shades of Grey Book Cover - Photo Credit Stella Smith (Flickr)
The Fifty Shades book trilogy - Photo Credit Mike Mozart (Flickr)
The Fifty Shades book trilogy – Photo Credit Mike Mozart (Flickr)

Insatiable, rampant and widespread. Words used not to describe Charlie Sheen but rather the millions of people who count themselves as fans of Fifty Shades of Grey, the erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James released in 2011. This Friday sees the release of the novels eagerly anticipated film adaption and with it, the matchless expectations of millions around the world. When those fervent fans take their seat at their local cinema, popcorn in one hand and a whip in the other, odds are that what they see up on the big screen bears little resemblance to what they envisioned in their mind. This presents the crucial flaw in film adaptations: it’s not what we imagined.

Fifty Shades of Grey book cover and movie poster - Photo Credit Mike Mozart (Flickr)
Fifty Shades of Grey book cover and movie poster – Photo Credit Mike Mozart (Flickr)

For the majority of Fifty Shades fans, the book was something personal, a world only they had privilege to. When we find a book that means something to us we become protective. When we first learn about our favourite book coming to the big screen we have high hopes but every piece of news seems to go against what we wanted and slowly but surely doubts begin to creep in. When we first hear who is cast as the main character they never seem to match up with our preferred choice and instead of picking the actor you wanted it inevitably ends up being the one actor who you just can’t stand. As the release date creeps closer we become more and more nervous, calmly telling ourselves that the book is so good there’s no way they can mess it up. When watching the movie and realizing they have cut our favourite scene and slapped on a Hollywood ending, our inner thoughts go in to meltdown and we begin to lose hope in all that is good in the world. We exit the cinema, downtrodden and hurt and mutter “you’ve done it again Hollywood; you’ve slapped me in the face and charged me €10 for the privilege.”

Moving a story from page to screen is fraught with difficulties due to the expectation of the reader. When reading a novel, our imagination is the film and we all become directors, mapping out the look of every scene in our mind, and the film adaptations cannot match our limitless scale. We become protective of our vision and when we see an adaptation of a book we hold dear to us differ in any way, we come away bitter and disappointed. Readers are a passionate group and defensive of those novels that mean something to them. The problem is that the film isn’t for them, it’s for the 99% of other people who haven’t read it and don’t know the changes the scriptwriter has made. While others may come away delighted with the movie, we just utter our four word review: “The book is better”.

Few things can beat reading a great book - Photo Credit Kirstin (Flickr)
Few things can rival finding a book that means something to you – Photo Credit Kirstin (Flickr)

With film adaptations, it seems even the biggest bestseller is deemed not commercial enough in content. Often times those deep, soulful monologues where the main characters inner thoughts are revealed and we begin to relate, sympathise or understand the character is often replaced with a quick speech that scratches the surface of who the character is. The procedure of bringing books to the screen is a process of forcing them into familiar niches in hopes of reaching a wider and less discerning audience.

That isn’t to say that every film adaptation is awful, far from it. When a movie remains faithful to its source it provides the reader with a story beyond what they could’ve imagined. Films such as Brokeback Mountain, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Godfather show that if the filmmakers are able to translate the essence of a book to the screen that it can match or even exceed the authors original story. It’s just a shame that this is an-all-too-rare occurrence.
A bad movie we can forgive, but a bad movie based on a cherished book, now that’s a hanging offence.

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