Basic Instinct Special Edition

 Detailed MPAA cuts

  Season 2: Episode 35: Basic Instinct Special Edition...

Gavin Salkeld's Cutting Edge reveals the censors behind the uncrossed legs of Basic Instinct 1 and 2

Link Here 1st June 2016

Nineteen ninety-two saw Paul Verhoeven unveil his erotic thriller, Basic Instinct, to the American cinema going public, which Carolco Pictures produced. But getting the film onto the silver screen was not an easy task due to the film's boundary-pushing content, and in this edition of the series we'll be taking a look at the story behind Basic Instinct's time at the hands of the American censors, the MPAA, as well as taking a look at the changes that were made for the sequel that followed in 2006.


Basic Instinct



Paul Verhoeven was no stranger to dealing with censorship, both in his native Holland and later in the United States, with his previous films RoboCop and Total Recall both suffering cuts in America to attain R ratings, to name but two. By the time Verhoeven came round to shooting Basic Instinct, he was well aware that the film may cause issues with the MPAA, particularly since he was contractually obliged by Tristar (the distributor) to deliver an R-rated film. As one anonymous source close to the film remarked at the time:

This is a movie about a female character who kills people at the moment of orgasm. That's a very tough concept.

As a precaution, Verhoeven shot some softer, alternative material for several scenes that he felt would be problematic for the ratings board; thinking that if changes were needed, he could simply use this alternate footage without the need to remove footage outright. On the other hand, in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2015, Paul Verhoeven felt that he had some leeway with how far he could go with the film's sexual content, remarking:

Because it was a thriller, the idea that Sharon Stone could kill during sex was always an element of protection. So we could show sex and nudity much longer than normal, because there was another element there -- the element of threat.

Cut for an MPAA R rating

By the late January of 1992, Verhoeven submitted a first cut of Basic Instinct to the MPAA. Following two initial screenings, the MPAA told Verhoeven that the film was an NC-17; a rating that had been introduced in 1990 to replace the old X certificate. This, of course, was unacceptable to the filmmakers and Verhoeven was not too pleased to say the least. As a source close to the film remarked at the time:

I know he did plenty of yelling... but [the MPAA] had a vise grip to his head.

At the time, the MPAA were keen to promote the new NC-17 as a viable option to filmmakers. One of the main reasons the NC-17 had been introduced was to do away with the connotations of the old X rating being associated with pornography. According to Verhoeven, Basic Instinct was a great example of the kind of film that was suited to this rating; an adult thriller intended for adults, with Verhoeven claiming that the MPAA were eager for the studio to accept an NC-17 rating without cuts:

After showing the MPAA the first cut, they said this is great, please don't change it, it's an NC-17. They wanted a big audience movie to be NC-17 and still be a good movie, not a work of exploitation. They wanted to legitimize the NC-17.

Basic Instinct was submitted to the MPAA seven times, with Paul Verhoeven making around 42 seconds of cuts to the film. Around 22 seconds of footage was eliminated entirely, with the remaining cuts involving the substitution of less graphic footage that had been shot for safety during production. After all was said and done, Verhoeven was pragmatic about the cuts that were made, remarking:

I knew we would have problems... I hoped that I would get away with as much as possible, and in certain cases I got away with some things... I feel the MPAA has been fair and has always been. Perhaps I shoot scenes a little more graphic than I want them to be because I know that I'm going to fight. I might have a tendency to push it a little bit, and say, 'Well, let's see what we can do here.'

Four key scenes in the film were cut for an R rating. Let's take a look at the differences between the original- and R-rated versions of each of these scenes. In the following discussions, we'll be referring to the NC-17 version as the 'uncut version'.


Cut Scenes: Picking her first victim

The opening scene of the film which shows Catherine murdering Johnny was the first to receive MPAA cuts, and Verhoeven pulls no punches with the content. The key issues that needed addressing for an R rating in this sequence (and indeed in other similar scenes in the film) were sex, nudity, and the combination of sex and violence. In particular, the minimizing of sexual thrusting (or 'grinding' as the MPAA refer to it in their classification reports) was something that had to be addressed.

The cut R version loses sight of Catherine straddling Johnny, as well as reducing her breast nudity after she ties him to the headboard. Johnny's murder is also heavily reduced, losing all sight of the ice pick penetrating his nose and profile shots of his heavily-bloodied torso as he is stabbed repeatedly. The cut version elects instead to play the murder mostly off-screen, focussing instead on Catherine's body:

The later sight of Johnny's naked dead body, with his genitals clearly on show, was allowed to remain by the MPAA because the image was one that lacked any sexual connotations. Verhoeven had this instance of full-frontal nudity cleared with the MPAA before the film was submitted.

murder of Johnny 1