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James Foley
Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Bella Heathcote, Kim Basinger
Writing Credits:
Niall Leonard

While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.

Box Office:
$55 million.
Opening Weekend
$46,607,250 on 3710 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R/Unrated

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS X
English DTS Headphone X
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
English DVS (Theatrical Cut Only)
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 118 min. (Theatrical Version)
132 min. (Unrated Cut)
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 5/9/2017

• Both Theatrical and Unrated Cuts
• 2 Deleted Scenes
• “Writing Darker” Featurette
• “A Darker Direction” Featurette
• “Dark Reunion” Featurette
• “Nee Threats” Featurette
• “The Masquerade” Featurette
• “Intimate with Darker” Featurette
Fifty Shades Freed Tease
• Previews
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Fifty Shades Darker [Blu-Ray] (2017)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 30, 2017)

While studios expect much-hyped movies to earn a substantial amount of money opening weekend, they don’t want that short time frame to account for a high percentage of the overall gross. They want these flicks to have “legs” and continue to rake in bucks over the long haul.

Looking at big hits from recent years, it seems healthy for a big movie to make about 25-35 percent of its entire gross during opening weekend. Anything more might be too “frontloaded” and imply the film couldn’t find an audience beyond “pre-sold” fans.

That seems to be what happened to 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey. With a fairly small $40 million budget, the movie earned $166 million in the US and went onto a $571 million worldwide take, so it clearly made a substantial profit.

But did it attract viewers beyond the folks who already loved the original novels? Not really. In the US, Grey earned more than 50 percent of its total gross during opening weekend, which is awfully high. 2015’s The Force Awakens and 2016’s Rogue One fell in that 25-30 percent opening weekend range I mentioned, and movies don’t get more “pre-sold” than those two.

Even though it appeared that Grey did little to expand to viewers beyond the women who loved the books, it did still earn a ton of money, so the inevitable sequel appeared with 2017’s Fifty Shades Darker. With a higher budget of $55 million, it fared less well in all domains: $114 million US, $378 million worldwide.

And it looks like Darker failed to retain a lot of those viewers who propelled it to a huge opening weekend, as its $46 million launch was barely half of Grey’s. On the more positive side, at least Darker showed greater legs, as its first weekend accounted for only 40 percent of its total.

Despite the decline in profits, fans will get a third film with 2018’s Fifty Shades Freed. Will any of them feel excited about it? Maybe, but I won’t. Like the first movie, Darker provides a less than stimulating cinematic experience.

In Grey, college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) met handsome, super-wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and the pair launched into a sexual affair marked by his affection for the kinky side of the street. At the movie’s end, we found their relationship in limbo, as Anastasia’s emotional needs conflicted with their “arrangement”.

Early in Darker, Anastasia runs into Christian at a gallery, and he manages to convince her to resume their partnership. This time they’ll not go by the formal “rules” he insisted upon in the past, which leaves their path open to greater emotional intimacy.

Shadows of Christian’s past threaten this renewed connection, however. A former “submissive” named Leila Williams (Bella Heathcote) stalks Ana, and Ana grows upset when Christian introduces her to Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), the older woman who acted as his ”Mrs. Robinson”.

In addition, Ana’s boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) shows obvious romantic interest in her, a fact that doesn’t sit well with Christian. All of these factors complicate Ana and Christian’s attempts at a “vanilla” relationship.

Though I disliked Grey, I held out hopes that Darker might fare better. Grey existed essentially as an “origin story”, so I thought that with all the exposition and preliminaries out of the way, the sequel might better explore the series’ possibilities.

That doesn’t occur. Maybe the franchise simply lacks the natural material to go anywhere, but whatever potential it enjoys, Darker does nothing to prosper.

As far as I can tell, Fifty Shades of Grey found an audience because it allowed middle-aged women the usual “romance novel” fare with a slightly kinky edge. Grey never actually got hardcore in any way, but its variation on the theme obviously appealed to the target audience.

Given the movie’s existence as multiplex fare, it comes with limits on how explicit it can become, and even with an unrated version on Blu-ray, Darker never truly “goes there”. As was the case with Grey, Darker barely feels “R”-rated, as it maintains a dull, lackluster sense of sexuality.

With Darker, one notable change occurred behind the camera, as it replaced Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson with James Foley. This became intriguing partly because of the gender shift, as the studio opted to shift to a male director for this female-oriented franchise.

Foley’s past also made his presence surprising. 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross remains probably his best-known film, and it’d be harder to imagine a more “guy’s flick” than that. Would Foley’s presence result in a movie with more of an edge than the soft, dull Frey?

Nope. If I hadn’t read the credits, I wouldn’t even have realized that Darker used a different director, as it comes with the deep flaws as its predecessor.

The main issue remains the abject boredom that greets the viewer. For a series that built it reputation on kinky sex, Darker seems awfully flat and safe, and not just because it can’t go hog-wild with explicit material.

No, the bigger concern stems from the one-dimensional characters and circumstances. Darker piles on plot elements, as we encounter the overriding theme of the expanded Ana/Christian relationship but also get the challenges from the various secondary characters mentioned earlier.

None of these add up to a hill of beans. All the narrative elements exist as simple window-dressing, a way to fill the time between Christian and Ana’s tiresome sexual exploits.

That doesn’t become a formula for an engaging movie, and none of the actors elevate the material. Johnson and Dornan remain attractive leads but they share zero chemistry and sleepwalk their way through their forgettable scenes together.

Darker comes with a fairly capable supporting cast, but they get left out to dry as well. As Christian’s adoptive mother, Marcia Gaye Harden brings a little spark, but she barely appears in the film, and none of the other performers shows a pulse.

All of this adds up to another snoozer of a tale. Fifty Shades Darker provides a slow, boring attempt at erotic drama that seems more laughable than exciting or intriguing.

Note that a quick preview of 2018’s Fifty Shades Freed pops up during the end credits.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

Fifty Shades Darker appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a satisfying image.

From start to finish, sharpness looked good. Only a little softness affected wide shots, and those examples occurred too infrequently to cause problems. Instead, the film looked concise and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and edge enhancement was absent. I also failed to detect any source flaws.

In terms of colors, the movie featured a palette that favored a mix of orange and teal, with an emphasis on the blue-green tones. Across the board, the hues looked fine within those parameters. Blacks were dark and deep, while shadows appeared clear and smooth. I thought the movie consistently looked positive.

As for the movie’s DTS-X soundtrack – which downconverted to DTS-HD MA 7.1 on my system – it seemed fine but it didn’t excel due to a lack of ambition. Like most character dramas, the movie featured a limited soundfield that favored the forward channels.

The mix showed nice stereo spread to the music as well as some general ambience from the sides. Panning was strong, and the surrounds usually kicked in basic reinforcement, though a thunderstorm and a scene that involved a damaged helicopter added some life.

Audio quality appeared good. Speech was natural and distinct, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded clean and accurate, with good fidelity and no signs of distortion. Music was perfectly fine, as the score and songs showed positive dimensionality. This track was good enough for a “B-“ but didn’t particularly impress.

The Blu-ray presents both the film’s theatrical (1:57:48) and unrated (2:11:28) cuts. How do the two differ?

Across those nearly 14 minutes, the unrated version adds or expands 11 scenes. By far the most substantial occurs with a long sequence in which Christian and Ana play a game of pool that allows the winner to choose the sexual context for the evening. This piece lasts five minutes, 17 seconds, so it accounts for almost 40 percent of the extra material.

The pool scene feels fairly tedious, and the same goes for the other added bits. These mostly bring us minor character bits, with the most notable extensions related to Ana’s mother (Jennifer Ehle). She barely appears in the theatrical version but she gets a little more room to breathe in the unrated cut.

If you hope the new footage will add to the film’s “hot and heavy” factor, don’t expect much. The unrated cut does add a little more sex but not enough to make a dent. The extra material really does focus on minor character issues and that’s about it.

This means the unrated cut fails to improve upon the theatrical version. Actually, I think the UC makes Darker worse just because it runs longer. Darker wears out its welcome in its 118-minute edition, so a 132-minute flick becomes even less enjoyable.

In addition to the extra footage found in the unrated cut, we get two Deleted Scenes appear: “Christian and Ana Discuss What Elena Said” (0:51) and “Christian and Ana Discuss Ana’s Security and Her Work” (1:00). Both are minor and forgettable.

The set includes six featurettes. We find “Writing Darker” (3:16), “A Darker Direction” (4:42), “Dark Reunion” (7:58), “New Threats” (8:54), “The Masquerade” (6:35) and “Intimate with Darker” (7:14). Across these, we hear from producer/author EL James, producers Marcus Viscidi and Dana Brunetti, screenwriter Niall Leonard, director James Foley, production designer Nelson Coates, set decorator Carolyn Loucks, costume designer Shay Cunliffe, and actors Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Eric Johnson, and Bella Heathcote.

These pieces look the source and its adaptation, story/characters, Foley’s approach to the material, cast and performances, aspects of the masquerade ball shoot, and filming the sex scenes. Although we get a decent array of notes along the way, the featurettes generally feel fluffy, so don’t expect a lot of insights.

A Tease to Fifty Shades Freed offers a preview of the third Shades movie. It lasts a whopping 35 seconds and simply shows a few brief shots from the next film. Fans won’t get much from it.

The disc opens with ads for Split, The Zookeeper’s Wife, Before I Fall, The Mummy (2017) and The Last Word. No trailer for Darker appears here.

A second disc presents a DVD copy of Darker. It includes the deleted scenes, “Writing”, “Reunion” and the “tease” but lacks the other extras. It does provide both the theatrical and unrated cuts, though.

If anyone expects Fifty Shades Darker to fare better than its dull predecessor, they’ll encounter disappointment. Like the first film, Darker lacks spark or drama, so it becomes another sluggish, tedious piece of romance novel nonsense. The Blu-ray offers very good picture along with adequate audio and a smattering of supplements. Maybe the third time will be the charm, but I don’t hold out much hope for improvement with the next Shades.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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