Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Unrated is overrated
I've never bought into the shameless marketing of unrated versions of dumb comedies. I think the idea excited me for about a week-and-a-half back in 2001, or whenever the concept was introduced. And then I remembered I'm an adult, and the internet is full of pornography if I'm so inclined.
So I never, ever watch the unrated version. It's not only because I don't need to be titillated by two extra boob shots per movie. More than anything, it's because I hold the strong belief that there should be one definitive version of every movie out there. In trying to explain this view to those who don't already agree with it, I use the art world as a metaphor. When the Mona Lisa was done, it was done, and no one later decided that she should be holding a walkie talkie instead of a gun, or that Michelangelo's David would shoot first. So I don't like director's cuts of movies, and rarely watch them even as a curiosity. If I don't even want to give the director the chance to show me his/her true vision, it should stand to reason I don't care for the marketing department's true vision -- a vision concocted to goose DVD sales to horny teenagers.
But this blog is about scientific inquiry. So in the name of science, I decided to watch the unrated version of Miss March last night, to see what all the supposed fuss was about.
I had been sort of wanting to see Miss March since I first saw the trailers, and I have a movie called Sex Drive to blame for that. A friend and I went to see Sex Drive last fall, expecting something mindless that might have a few laughs (and, let's be honest, a few boobs). Well, it had more than a few laughs, and we were surprised by how charming it actually was. A worthy modern-day successor to a wide range of influential movies, from The Sure Thing to American Pie. Miss March -- about a high school senior who goes into a four-year coma right as he's about to lose his virginity, and discovers upon waking that his previously abstinent girlfriend has become a Playboy centerfold -- seemed to have that same kind of vibe.
It didn't take long for me to hear that Miss March was terrible, and for it to drop off my short-term radar. Then yesterday, seeing it on the shelf at Blockbuster reminded me of that flicker of interest. Certain that this was not a Mona Lisa whose purity could be tainted by an unrated version, I decided to make Miss March the subject in my experiment.
And just how hard is the marketing department pushing this unrated version? Well, let's look at the cover. Not only is there that band wrapped around the supposedly naked body of actress Raquel Alessi (who never gets naked in the film), but there's the GIANT word "UNRATED" emblazoned across, twice the size of the title, and "FULLY EXPOSED EDITION" in only slightly more modest print underneath. And there's more text -- also capitalized, but I'll spare your eyes: "Do not open near wife, girlfriend, mother, sister, boss, grandparents, babysitter, clergy, etc." (True enough, I did watch it on a night my wife was out of town, but mostly because I knew she wouldn't have any interest in sitting through it.) According to the marketing department, this is the hottest movie you are ever going to see.
I have a different theory. My theory is, the only truth in advertising about the word "UNRATED" is this: They literally did not submit it to the MPAA to be rated. Which is of course true, because the MPAA only rates the version intended for theatrical release. Any secondary version of a film can, therefore, accurately be listed as "unrated" -- in fact, you might almost say it must be listed that way. The makers of Miss March want you to believe that this was the version submitted to the MPAA, but that it would have been slapped with an NC-17, so they had to edit it down to an R if they wanted anybody to see it. There may be one or two movies out there where this is actually the case, but the majority of the time, the unrated version gets conceived after the fact -- or at the very least, footage is shot with full knowledge that it will be saved for the unrated DVD release. By this strict definition of "unrated," the unrated version could theoretically be cleaner than the theatrical version. The only way you would know would be to compare the two.
And the makers of Miss March are banking on the fact that you won't. They believe most consumers lured in by the DVD's promises will watch the unrated version only. Perhaps it's even more self-deprecating than that. Perhaps they realized that the movie is crap, so regardless of which version you watch, it'll be the only one.
Well, not me. I wanted to see exactly which parts they considered too hot to include in the R version -- if any at all. I wanted to hold them accountable to their warnings of "full exposure."
But I didn't want to watch the damn thing twice. Even the pursuit of science has demands that are just too unreasonable.
So I decided I would watch the unrated version, identify scenes I thought might be too hot/vulgar for the theatrical version, then watch the theatrical version on fast forward, slowing down only during the passages under examination. Having just seen the movie, I hoped I'd be able to note any major differences even at five times the speed.
Here's what I came up with, using my notes as title headings (Some spoilers to follow, if you really care):
1) Crackheads. Near the beginning of the movie, the future centerfold (Raquel Alessi) and her pre-comatose boyfriend (Zach Cregger, who also co-directed and co-wrote) are giving a "scared straight" speech to an auditorium full of elementary school kids. Their warped idea of how to promote abstinence involves telling the kids that because so-and-so smoked cigarettes, her baby "came out a crackhead." Except Alessi's mouth is not saying the word "crackhead." That was dubbed in later. I doubted they would go to the trouble of dubbing in crude dialogue just to make the movie more racy, especially since "crackhead" is not the kind of word that gets ratings boards in a tizzy. It wouldn't be worth it to undermine yourself technically -- it's easy to see the lips don't match up, and I was only half watching. But I saw no other explanation for it.
Verdict: The word is dubbed in the theatrical version as well. In fact, all three times she references the crack baby, it's dubbed. I'm no lip reader, but I'm now pretty sure the actual line of dialogue was "her baby came out retarded." An 11th hour save on being politically correct, but do Cregger and his co-writer/co-director/co-star Trevor Moore lose points for filming it the "wrong way" in the first place?
2) Spooge on limo. The limo picking up the two abstinence-lovers for the prom already has three occupants: A budding rapper (played by The Office's Craig Robinson) named Horsedick.mpeg (a sort of funny joke that gets run into the ground), and his two "bitches." As the abstinent couple gets their picture taken by her parents outside the house, one of the "bitches" springs out through the sun roof and spits up what appears to be a mouthful of semen. "Horsedick, you nasty," she says.
Verdict: Also in the theatrical version. Semen hasn't been off limits since There's Something About Mary, though expectorating it on a car roof might have been pushing the envelope. Still, the semen and the accompanying fellatio implications were deemed acceptable for an R.
3) Hospital shit. When Eugene (let's give this guy a name) awakens from his coma -- courtesy of a baseball bat to the head by his brilliant friend Tucker (Moore) -- he falls out of the hospital bed in his confusion. Moments later, while exerting to stand up but not yet having control of his bowels, he releases what can only be described as a "shit bomb" from underneath his hospital gown. The effect is quite good -- the shit looks like a believable mixture of chunks and liquid, and cascades outward in a way resembling a tossed bucket of dirty water. And though gross-out gags are a bit played out, the ick factor really worked for me on this one.
Verdict: You guessed it -- also in the theatrical version. I wasn't surprised that this was okay for an R. In fact, I was hopeful that it wasn't exclusive to the unrated version -- if it had been, it would have been a good visual gag that I would have missed if I'd stuck to my usual viewing philosophy.
4) Straw dick. Given the way sexual braggarts always get their comeuppance in movies like this, we shouldn't be surprised that the suggestively named Horsedick.meg turns out not to have a dick at all. In the big finale outside the Playboy Mansion, he's outed as a guy born without genitalia, who has to "piss through a straw." Several members of his shocked posse then grab him and pull his pants down, at which point we see what looks like balls with two thin straws protruding, about the thickness of the kind you use to stir your coffee. To make matters more gross, some actual urine spurts out the end. (And how's this for a continuity error -- there's no way that girl could have spit out Horsedick's semen in the limo if he didn't have a penis.)
Verdict: Last but not least, this was also in the theatrical version. If a movie like Miss March doesn't have jokes like this, what does it have?
So all four potentially sketchy scenes I identified were in both versions of the film. For a moment I was delighted by the outrageous possibility that the unrated version and the theatrical version might be exactly the same. What better validation of my skepticism could there be?
Yet when I compared the running times, the unrated version was a full three-and-a-half minutes longer: 93:26 compared to 89:53. Just where were those extra 213 seconds?
I couldn't find them all, but I did account for the difference in some ways:
1) Grotto. Having made it to his personal Shangri-La, Tucker stumbles across the grotto at the Playboy Mansion. In the theatrical version, it's basically just a wide shot where you see a nude woman diving into the water from far away. In the unrated version, the difference is exactly those two boob shots that I mentioned at the start -- just two quick cutaways of topless women. Yawn.
2) Lesbian scene. The least surprising thing in Miss March is that a hitchhiking Eugene and Tucker get picked up by a pair of attractive European lesbians who can't stop pawing each other. In fact, they ask the two guys to drive so they can go at it in the backseat. This scene is pretty chaste in both versions, in terms of actual nudity -- there's a nipple quickly flashed here and there -- but in the unrated version, there's the introduction of a bottle into their love-making. I didn't really consider this very risque -- all she does is hold up a bottle and then lower it out of view -- so I didn't write it down the first time. But on fast forward I thought it might have been missing from the theatrical version. Then again, maybe not. I couldn't be bothered to slow down enough to examine it closely.
3) A different ending. And here is where my big fear of alternate versions really comes into play. See, I liked the ending they chose for the unrated version better. In the unrated version, after reuniting with his lost love, Eugene unwittingly gets drunk again, with Tucker as his personal bartender, right before going to finally consummate his relationship. It was this drunkenness after the prom that caused him to fall down the stairs and land in a four-year coma, so history looks like it will repeat itself. In the unrated version, we then see him upstairs in a bedroom with Cindi (let's give her a name), pounding away at high speed as only a drunk rookie might do. It's a little crass but it is otherwise pretty chaste -- the sheets cover them up. As he is approaching climax, Cindi warns him not to over-exert himself, but it's too late -- we hear a juicy release of feces, and the credits roll. That's gross as hell, but it works -- gives literal meaning to the colorful metaphor "he shat the bed." Besides, it brings back a recurring joke -- it's Eugene's fourth involuntary shit of the movie -- and that's always a smart move in the closing scene of a comedy.
In the theatrical version, however, they shied away from the bed-shitting joke. Could that really have been too gross for the MPAA? You don't see the shit, you only hear it. So instead, the movie ends with Tucker and Eugene each slamming down a shot glass on the kitchen counter. In other words, it doesn't even end with a joke. No wonder no one liked this movie.
In the final analysis, I didn't like it much either -- regardless of the version. But it's not the worst piece of shit I've ever seen, either.
I can say that Hugh Hefner, who makes an extended cameo here, chose a better product tie-in movie with last year's The House Bunny. Not only was that movie both funnier and sweeter, but it has only one version, which happens to be rated PG-13 -- meaning it can be plenty winning without torrents of feces and semen.