CinemaCon 2014: First footage of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ unveiled

Dakota Johnson, left, stars with Jamie Dornan in "Fifty Shades of Grey," which was previewed for the first time at CinemaCon on Tuesday.
(Evan Agostini /Associated Press; Inez & Vinoodh)

“Fifty Shades of Grey” became a phenomenon thanks in large part to its titillating content -- but at CinemaCon on Tuesday, Universal Studios was more focused on romance than raunch.

Before introducing never-before-seen footage from the movie, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, studio Chairman Donna Langley promised the crowd the pair “have the kind of chemistry that could turn this into the next iconic romance.”

The event highlighted the difficult line Universal must walk between the material’s more earnest romantic aspects and its more explicit hardcore scenes.

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As millions of fans of E.L. James’ bestselling book know, “Fifty Shades of Grey” follows the kinky romance between Anastasia Steele, a virginal college student, and Christian Grey, a hot-blooded twentysomething billionaire.

Based on the roughly five minutes of footage Universal unveiled, the movie seemed far more tame than the steamy, S&M-heavy book it’s based on. Though Anastasia was shown blindfolded, as well as being pushed up against a wall by Christian, the teaser featured very little sex.

The footage began with Anastasia with walking into Christian’s high-rise office, where she’s been sent to interview him for her college paper. She’s immediately smitten with him, afterward gushing to a friend about how “smart, intense and courteous” he is. Soon, Christian has asked Anastasia out, and they start trading earnest sentiments such as “your face gives me some clue as to what I might be thinking” and “I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

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In James’ book, Christian is a dominant force -- he’s the power player in the relationship. But the only sense viewers got of that dynamic in the footage was when he warned Anastasia he was comprised of more than just “hearts and flowers.”

It’s of course possible some of that footage was of the toned-down sort thanks to the CinemaCon crowd, which can be a more buttoned-up group. Still, that only underscores the balance Universal must strike in selling this film to a large mainstream audience, some portions of which may have appreciated the explicitness in the privacy of their own home more than they will in the communal setting of a movie theater.

The film arrives in theaters on Valentine’s Day.