How do the
trailer masterpieces of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed rank against each other?
I could write a review for each of the Fifty Shades of Grey films, but that would entail actually watching them in their entirety. Frankly, I have a better use of my time. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth critiquing though, especially if based off of the two minute trailers.
A trailer is hardly an accurate representation of a full film. Nevertheless, they are an art form of their own, worthy of critique. When it comes to the Fifty Shades trilogy, a ‘story’ we’re all generally familiar with, it’s even more interesting to see how it’s marketed. Do they play up the plot, the drama, or just give you the sex you came for?
Below are the Fifty Shades films ordered chronologically, and ranked based on their representation through the trailer.
Disclosure: I’ve never seen Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, or Fifty Shades Freed, nor have I read any of the books. The only knowledge of this series is based on the inspired series, Twilight, which I have read.
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
Twilight quick summary: A basic girl falls in love with a beautiful but mysterious guy who has a dark secret. This secret puts their love to the test. She doesn’t care about his secret, but he constantly tries to push her away for her safety, even though he wants her.
Sure enough, this trailer seems to follow most of that premise.
The trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey utilizes the classic bait and switch. At first it appears that Fifty Shades of Grey is a horror film about a woman (later dubbed Ms. Steele) investigating some high profile businessman (Mr. Grey) who is going to try and kill her. But wait! It’s actually a Stockholm syndrome situation in which the murderous businessman seduces the woman meant to investigate and take him down.
As the trailer continues, tension rises and Beyonce swells. What is this all building to? When the ball drops, so too do the panties, and we finally know the truth of what this film is about. Apparently Mr. Grey isn’t a serial killer, he’s just…kinky. Fans of the thriller genre hoping for a murder movie are out of luck.
Fifty Shades of Grey does a decent job building tension and creating intrigue, though the changes in pace do happen rather suddenly. Admittedly, it’s likely they assume you already know what this film is about and don’t require much explanation or preamble. This makes it mostly a trailer for its time, and won’t be as effective in later years when people will have forgotten the phenomena of Fifty Shades of Grey.
There’s an overuse of dip to black and cross fade transitions, the frequency of which feels more suited to a rave scene. It’s only excusable if it’s meant to illustrate Ms. Steele’s inability to keep her eyes open in the film due to pain from torture. Given that this film is about murder and/or BDSM, maybe that’s exactly what they were going for.
When it comes to the music, using Beyonce is a smart, strategic move. Viewers will subconsciously have a positive response to the trailer just because they love the song. They’re sucked in with a rendition of one of Queen Bey’s most popular tracks.
The title cards don’t add much to the trailer, other than to let us know when it’s coming out. The trailer would still make sense without them, so they just feel like a superfluous addition to make a time count.
‘Fifty Shades Darker’
New Moon quick summary: Mystery guy finally decides his girlfriend’s safety is more important than being with her, so he leaves. The girl then ends up falling in love with someone else until unsafe, mystery man reenters her life.
If the trailer is any indication, Fifty Shades Darker is quickly derailing from the inspired material.
The Fifty Shades Darker trailer is a complete reversal from the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer. Here, we quickly establish that Anastasia (she has a first name now!) and Christian broke up or had a fight, but are able to move forward together because the way to Anastasia’s heart is through her stomach not…elsewhere.
In case you forgot what this series is about, the first half of this trailer is dedicated to reminding you it’s about sex. It then suddenly switches gears by way of music transition. Turns out Anastasia might still get murdered in this franchise after all.
Drama is hiked up even further, and even more suddenly, when a title card pops up to tell us that there’s more drama. With a slew of new characters (ghost girl, mean guy, mask woman), it’s anyone’s guess who can be trusted. It’s also anyone’s guess why Anastasia’s life is at risk, but presumably that’s the suspenseful twist they want you to see the movie for.
Fifty Shades Darker‘s pacing is all over the place. Not only can it not decide what genre of film it is, it isn’t able to successfully transition between them either.
Yet again there’s an abundance of dip to black transitions. Sparsely used, these could have been very effective in the latter half of the trailer to emphasize the tension and danger.
Still keeping with tradition, there are also three title cards in Fifty Shades Darker. This time they’re used to emphasize the ‘darker’ tone of this film compared to the first one. The danger was evident by the drastic change in music and shots chosen. A title card referencing the title of the movie just feels heavy-handed.
As someone who is not a fan of Zayn Malik or Taylor Swift, I’m personally immediately put off by this trailer. However, Zayn Malik and Taylor Swift are popular among the youth of today, so like using Beyonce in the first film’s trailer, it’s a strategic move. Although, these films are targeted to slightly older audiences, and Malik and Swift are targeted to a younger audience. Perhaps they could have matched their demographics a bit better.
The vocals in the music are also far too loud. You can’t have Zayn and Taylor serenading me in falsetto and expect me to pay any attention to what Anastasia is saying. Then again, maybe that’s the point.
‘Fifty Shades Freed’
Breaking Dawn quick summary: Girl and guy get married. Girl accidentally gets pregnant, and her demon fetus almost kills her, so guy must rip the baby out via C section. Demon baby is hunted down by those who wish to kill her, and girl and guy civilly fight them off, living happily ever after.
The final instalment’s trailer is nothing like this.
Fifty Shades Freed is the most evenly paced of the three. Like the first two, it has three acts, but unlike the first two, it transitions between them smoothly. It starts out happy and harmonious as wedding bells ring, but gradually reveals sub-conflicts that build to the main threat: Anastasia’s life is still in jeopardy.
In Fifty Shades Freed, you get it all. There’s an even balance of story, characterization, action, romance, conflict, and, what you all came for, sex. Old faces return, and new faces are introduced, but at its core, it’s all about Christian and Anastasia.
After three films, the final instalment finally learned the best way to make use of various technical elements.
For Fifty Shades Freed, title cards add to the story and heighten tension, rather than feel like filler content. “Don’t miss the climax” pulses between shots in quick succession right at the end, creating the very build up it’s referencing. And you can bet someone got a raise for that word play.
The shot transitions are well placed, used only in places where it creates the most impact. It also cleverly switches up the now established dip to blacks by using dip to whites. The white dips are not overused, and are more impactful because of it. They’re solely placed in the opening during the wedding section, fitting the tone perfectly.
While the first two films used established artists to help sell it, Fifty Shades Freed opts for a more unknown artist, Bishop Briggs. They don’t need to try and win you over with your favorite musical artist anymore. If you aren’t a fan of the films by now, you’re not going to be. That said, Briggs’ cover of “Never Tear Us Apart” fits thematically with the first two songs, and provides the perfect backdrop for this final trailer.