Before we move on to the new NC-17, let's make sure we understand the old movie-rating system, using "Bambi" as a model.
G: No foul language. No sex. The acknowledgment of violence -- Bambi's mother is shot off-screen by a hunter -- but no visible bloodshed.
PG: Introduction of foul language, but delivered in a cute manner: Bambi's wise guy kid brother calls Thumper a "----face." Introduction of mature themes: Early one morning Bambi spots a strange pair of antlers outside his mother's door. Consciousness-raising violence: Hunters are shown dropping rabbits into a stew pot.
PG-13: Escalation of mature themes: Bambi's fraternity brothers sit around discussing sex; one young buck resembling Judd Nelson unwraps a condom and shows it to the others. Emphasis on teenage concerns: The hunters -- symbolizing typical adult authority figures -- are depicted as mean and slothful.
R: Magnification of mature themes: Bambi is a pimp. His sister dances at a topless bar. Gratuitous violence: Bambi's mother is shot with an AK-47.
X: Total depravity: Bambi agrees to be tied up in a deer-slave love tryst. Thumper is sliced up with a chain saw and fed to wolves. Bambi's mother has graphic sex with Smokey Bear and is snuffed.
Of course we don't have to worry about X anymore. X went poof.
And now for the complete score: NC 17, Duke 6.
NC-17 poses a problem for hard-core porn movies, which now advertise as XXX. NC-17 NC-17 NC-17 takes up so much space on the marquee there's hardly any room left for John "Wadd" Holmes. They could advertise as NC-51, but the higher math would confuse their audience.
Why NC-17? A Double-R, or RR, rating was rejected, because it was feared too many people would step upto the ticket window and order roast beef and cheese.
(I'll let you in on the secret: X didn't really go poof. NC-17 is X with an expensive haircut. Under the old rating system studios were afraid to make X's because there was no profit in them -- they couldn't do saturation advertising because many mainstream publications wouldn't take ads for X-rated movies. But with this happy-face NC-17, newspapers will likely take the ads. You didn't realize this was all about money? Shame on you. Soon there'll be lots more moody, dirty movies for adults. Is this a great country, or what?)
What good are ratings? As a parent, I want to know how much cursing, how much sex and how much violence there will be in a movie so I can make an informed decision whether to allow my children to go. If there's a lot of sex -- is Laura San Giacomo in the film? -- my children can't go, because I'm going, and it's embarrassing for all of us to be there together. Someone should stay home with my wife.
Wouldn't it help if ratings were more specific? For example, shouldn't we differentiate between external and internal violence? Typically, external violence is a pizza-faced kid who couldn't get a date for the prom putting on a hockey mask and slashing every living thing in Toledo. This is an HEV-163: heavy external violence, at least 163 mutilated body parts. (Do not confuse this with HOV-3, a rush-hour car chase film.) Internal violence is what happens to your duodenum if you watch this film. This gets a V rating, for vomit. "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" would get a V-4 rating, indicating you would rrrrralph up not only today's meals but also those from the past few days.
In terms of sex, some people may want to distinguish between quantity and quality. (To them I say, Hey, who's got time for quality?) But for most of us, the simple MSH rating -- More Sex than at Home -- will suffice.
The MR rating warns people this is a Molly Ringwald film.
An S rating warns that Martin Sheen or one of his sons is in the film. Avoid S-3.
The VK rating is an insider's term referring to a film that has changed its content to soften its rating: In the original "Godfather," it wasn't a horse's head in the bed, it was Victor Kiam, wiggling his waggle. This was considered too horrible, so the scene was rewritten.
NACL contains salty language.
UL-185 is the price of unleaded gas this week.
COD is the Chill Out Dad rating, which signifies that your children believe they can handle a movie that you wouldn't even take your wife to. "Blue Velvet" is a COD.
CG-35 is a movie you need your kid's permission to see.
NA, for No Adults, is a movie with any combination of skateboarding, ninjas, bicycle messengers and Kiefer Sutherland.
EHN refers to the Eleanor Holmes Norton trilogy: EHN-OOPS, in which she forgets to pay her taxes for the first time; EHN-7, in which she forgets to pay her taxes for the seventh straight time, and blames it all on hubby, Ed; and EHN-3, in which Ward 3 voters tell her to take a hike.
BP-160 is a movie starring Julia Roberts, and is unsuitable for men with high blood pressure.
NO-83 is the temperature forecast in New Orleans.
QB-VII rates Joe Theismann's films.
BW-90 is a Bruce Willis film, requiring proof that your IQ is below 90.
SAT-450 is a Stallone film.
CSNY means the movie has a strong '60s content.
MIT, strong nerd content.
The I rating means you have to come alone.
NG means this film is no good.
NFG is the NC-17 version of this film.