With its release only two weeks off, the $40-million Sharon Stone-William Baldwin movie "Sliver" has received an R rating after Paramount Pictures toned down numerous scenes to please the Motion Picture Assn. of America ratings board.
The steaminess of the film, which depicts a voyeur training his camera on tenants of a Manhattan apartment building, had prompted the ratings board to initially recommend 110 editing changes to escape an NC-17 (no one under 17 admitted) rating. After arguing their case, director Phillip Noyce and producer Robert Evans agreed to make at least 15 changes to satisfy the ratings board, sources said. No entire scenes have been removed. People younger than 17 can see R rated films with a parent or adult guardian.
The filmmakers maintain that the movie is erotic, not pornographic, but that its suggestiveness and the subject of voyeurism unnerved the ratings board.
In one scene, Stone's character is shown in a bathtub and, while the act itself is not shown, it is clear that she is masturbating. In another, she and Baldwin make love while standing in front of a picture window. In still another, Stone sits atop Baldwin in the throes of passion.
"There are four scenes in the film that are totally original," Evans said, declining to be specific. "That originality may have taken the MPAA aback a little."
"The film is being completely toned down," said a source close to the film.
The battle surrounding "Sliver's" rating is reminiscent of the maneuvering over the rating of last year's "Basic Instinct," a sexually charged thriller also written by Joe Eszterhas and starring Stone. That movie, released by TriStar Pictures, has grossed more than $115 million so far.
In an interview, Eszterhas contended that the masturbation scene in "Sliver" "is not crudely done.
"It's very classily done," he said. "You can't see body parts. She's in a tub. What you see is her face and her arm is moving."
The race to complete "Sliver" has added significance for the studio because Paramount needs it to launch the important summer movie season.
A number of industry insiders believe the movie is a guaranteed hit given its high-profile cast and the hot-blooded tone of its script. But they express amazement that Paramount allowed itself to have such a shortage of films in its pipeline--an embarrassing end product of the Brandon Tartikoff regime that departed the studio last fall.
Last year, the studio had to rely on Steve Martin's "Leap of Faith" as its major holiday release because it had no other film ready for the lucrative Christmas season.
In January, less than four weeks before it was to open, Paramount was re-shooting the final scene of "The Temp" and rushing it into the theaters for the President's Day holiday weekend. In that case, test audiences didn't care for the ending, but even after a number of rewrites, the climax did not please critics or audiences.
Now, it is "Sliver" that is rushing to the finish line.
In the film, Stone plays Carly Norris, a woman looking for some new excitement in her life after her unhappy marriage ends. For her new home, she chooses "sliver," what New Yorkers call the lofty, narrow apartment buildings unique to Manhattan.
Her neighbors include Zeke Hawkins (Baldwin), a wealthy young bachelor, and Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger), an author of true crime best-sellers who is investigating a series of mysterious and deadly accidents in the building. The screenplay is based on the Ira Levin novel.
In recent weeks, recruited audiences attending advance screenings gave the ending low scores.
"The audience clearly had a problem with the ending of movie," Eszterhas said. "What we discovered was, we were asking the audience to make an endorsement of an action (by Stone) that they felt to be immoral. That is why they were rejecting the picture. We had to reassess and readdress the movie in those terms."
Decreeing that the May 21 release date was written in stone, Paramount Communications president Stanley Jaffe and studio chief Sherry Lansing ordered up new shoots and brought back all three stars. Eszterhas had two other endings ready to shoot.
Rumors began to spread that the picture was in serious trouble; that Paramount was frightened of Noyce because he also had to re-shoot the ending of "Patriot Games" last year when that climax proved unusable, and, that the redone scenes in "Sliver" amounted to as much as 40 pages of dialogue and took 10 days.
Noyce downplayed the significance of the re-shooting schedule, saying through a spokesman that he had merely added shots at the end to "enhance the whodunit aspects of the movie" in an effort to make it "more mysterious."
"We did it for 'Patriot Games,' " the Australian director ("Dead Calm") explained. "We had to re-shoot the whole end sequence. It is not something atypical to the filmmaking process."