The Naked Truth
A Slate investigation into unrated DVDs.
As a guy who hit puberty in the PG-13 era, I feel a twinge of sadness whenever I see an ad for The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Wedding Crashers. I was too young to experience the early-'80s golden age of funny movies with nudity— Porky's, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Revenge of the Nerds—and the American Pie renaissance of the late 1990s came too late. Without any comedies to teach me the birds and the bees, I was left in the capable but humorless hands of my parents, the public schools, and Shannon Tweed.
The adolescents of the 21st century will suffer no such deprivations. Thanks to the proliferation of unrated DVDs, today's youth are promised boobs at the click of a button. The aisles of Best Buy overfloweth with unrated cuts of sex comedies and risqué foreign flicks. At this point, there's barely anything left to unrate: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: Pantless Edition, anyone?
Who among us can resist the siren call of bonus nudity? The latest figures suggest it's something on the order of three people in rural Nebraska. According to the Los Angeles Times, the sales of unrated versions typically account for 65 to 90 percent of a movie's DVD proceeds. But are the skin-thirsty really getting their money's worth?
Public servant that I am, I took it upon myself to help today's adolescents separate the scammers from the flashers. An exhaustive Slate investigation of 15 unrated sex comedies has revealed that unrated does not necessarily equal boobs. All an "unrated" sticker really means is that some of the "totally out of control" new scenes you've been promised were not submitted for the MPAA's approval. That extra footage could be eight minutes of cheerleaders taking showers; it could be two seconds of animated bunnies sniffing tulips. As long as the material was not submitted, it's "unrated."
DVDs that do use added nudity as their primary selling point don't wait until the movie starts. Selecting one of the options on the opening screen of the unrated Van Wilder DVD inspires a jiggle-happy model to shed her T-shirt. (Fans of the Hays Code can click the "View Censored" button, which summons a strategically placed black bar.) The unrated version of the gay-cruise-themed Boat Trip is more shameless. Perhaps to assure viewers that they haven't accidentally rented The Birdcage, Boat Trip's menus include a whopping 13 minutes of original footage of topless women sunbathing. To break up the monotony, men walk by and offer the ladies bananas every so often.
These two, however, are the perverted outliers. The menus on the "Uncorked" edition of Wedding Crashers are sedate by comparison—just a few stills accompanied by a snappy instrumental. The box promises a "Longer! Wilder! Funnier!" film. Lies! Lies! Lies! Well, at least the longer part is true. The eight new minutes do add layers to characters like the gay son, Todd; they do not subtract layers from the film's female characters. If the MPAA had looked at the new stuff, it no doubt would have stuck by the original R rating.
When extra nudity does pop up on DVD, it's not the kind of stuff that was too erotic for the big screen. Rather than introduce new boobs, unrated DVDs typically further the audience's understanding of boobs with which they're already acquainted. The added material is a stray frame here or there that doesn't add much carnal knowledge—these were boobs that were cut for time or dullness.
Thus, we arrive at the great unrated DVD paradox: The uncensored version is often less raunchy than the cut you see in theaters. Take American Pie 2. The only added-for-DVD bawdiness is a few extra seconds in the movie's lesbian sequence. Now, consider that this footage—what this completist Web site deems "minor chest-kissing"—comes encased in six minutes of new, non-knocker-revealing exposition. A statistician would argue, then, that the percentage of film stock devoted to nudity has actually decreased in the unrated version. The40-Year-Old Virgin has a similar decline in its skin-to-screentime ratio. With its preposterous 17 minutes of new footage, the unrated Virgin is the Titanic of lowbrow comedies—a couple of stray nipples wedged into hour upon hour of clothed dialogue.
If you haven't seen the original movie, how can you tell if you're getting any bonus nudity at all? While the creators of EuroTrip saw fit to include a handy "Nude Scene Index," most unrated DVDs make you do all the work. That's where the parental-advisory clearinghouse Screen It! comes in. Since it exhaustively documents every areola in recent cinematic history, the site can be used for both smut avoidance and smut detection. Before watching a DVD, the savvy pubescent consumer should print out a copy of the Screen It! review for in-movie consultation. If there's a nude scene they didn't see fit to mention, you're probably looking at fresh skin.
If you want something extra for your money, it makes the most sense to buy an unrated DVD for the bonus profanity. Badder Santa includes several more minutes of Billy Bob Thornton's scatological rants. And the unrated version of Anchorman has an "almost uncensored" commentary track in which Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay bat around such topics as polar bears copulating with mules. One representative sequence: