Basic Instinct (Special Edition) Review
Considering all of the controversy surrounding Basic Instinct and the criticism it received, it's ironic that the film is essentially an update of the work of Alfred Hitchcock, albeit with extreme doses of violence and sex. Hitchcock loved to play with the emotions of his audience, and the director of Basic Instinct, talented Dutchman Paul Verhoeven, doesn't just play with his audience, but forces them onto an emotional roller coaster at gunpoint.
A rich former rock-star has been brutally stabbed to death with an ice pick whilst having sex with an unknown woman. Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is called in to investigate, and is immediately lead to the girlfriend of the deceased, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). Tramell is a successful author by day and a cold-hearted bisexual predator by night, always taking pleasure at weaving the unsuspecting into her web of sexual games. Sparks instantly fly between Nick and Catherine when they meet, even though he suspects her to be the murderer. Nick has recently turned his life back in the right direction after a past that involves drugs, drink and traumatic career events, and he frequently visits his police psychologist Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), with whom he has an on/off relationship. However, Nick's meeting with Catherine has triggered a force that is ultimately stronger than him, and he is soon drawn into a ferocious and frenetic world of sex, murder, danger and intrigue; a world in which he doesn't know who to suspect.
Basic Instinct knows where the line is drawn and permanently exists beyond it. Verhoeven clearly possesses different sensibilities than most other Hollywood directors, as he continually grabs hold of and shakes the film-noir genre until only the bare-boned conventions remain. Basic Instinct is essentially a mutated Vertigo, with its issues of an unsuspecting detective drawn in by the apparent charm of women's duality. Indeed, in Basic Instinct, you are never sure of the connection between the two lead women in Nick's life - Catherine and Beth. It's as if Verhoeven wants us to feel totally uncomfortable throughout the film, as if the viewer is unaware of whether to feel shocked or sexually aroused. Because of this, we the audience assume the persona of Nick himself, since he is clearly attracted to Catherine, despite the fact that evidence strongly suggests she is the killer. If you noticed that Sharon Stone seems to conjure up notions of Kim Novak in Vertigo, then you are correct, as the dresses that Sharon Stone wears throughout the film were designed to match (in the same order) the dresses that Kim Novak wears in Vertigo. This could also explain why Jeanne Tripplehorn displays a very anachronistic hairstyle, since her fashion style might also be based on Vertigo's Barbara Bel Geddes.
Whereas most noirish male protagonists are drawn towards a web of danger due to a self-imposed sense of moral intervention, Nick is drawn towards the world of Catherine Trammell purely out of his taste for danger. As soon as Catherine enters Nick's world, he immediately starts to drink and smoke again, suggesting that he is now fully embracing danger like some long-lost friend of his past. Michael Douglas is the perfect casting choice as Nick, since he seems to embody the delicate acting balance of arrogance, charisma and bravery. Douglas clearly has no qualms about being used as Verhoeven's toy during the film, and doesn't shirk at playing what is essentially a male lead duped by stronger female characters.
The biggest sensation in Basic Instinct is Sharon Stone, who had struggled to find worthy lead work in Hollywood until the film made her an overnight star. Her famous nudity in the film has spawned many inferior imitations and even comic spoofs, and yet has ultimately served to constrict Stone's career progress. Although she has shown on occasions (such as Scorsese's Casino) that she can act, she struggles to be taken seriously when appearing in major works, and her follow-up erotic dramas (Sliver especially) have been shoddy imitations. However, at least she is no longer appearing in the likes of the remake of King Solomon's Mines and Police Academy IV: Citizens On Patrol. Jeanne Tripplehorn is arguably as good as Stone in her supporting role as Beth, as she generates an esoteric aura that seems harder to understand after multiple viewings of the film.
The sex scenes in Basic Instinct are very steamy and very physical. Devoid of passion and completely intense, these sequences do not suggest the act of making love but rather the act of battle. Taken further, you could argue that the sex scenes between Nick and Catherine conjure up the sense of a hero battling the possible-killer. The sex scenes are about dominance, which has caused many feminists to attack the film as being openly misogynist in its principles. These attacks seem to ignore the fact that all of the women characters in the film are extremely strong characters, and ultimately seem to pose more danger to the men than vice versa.
Joe Eszterhas' script is arguably his best, since he dangles enough in front of the audience to pull them through the film, despite actually giving them nothing on its conclusion. This is possibly why the film works on a more enjoyable level than most of its erotic imitators, as Basic Instinct is first and foremost a noir murder mystery and secondly an erotic thriller.
Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score deserves mention, as it is deeply unsettling and effectively corroborates the tense undertone of the film. The moody cinematography by Jan De Bont (director of Speed, Twister and The Haunting remake) is thick and swirling, and seems to illustrate a grey cloud over the proceedings, despite the film having a flashy visual décor.
It's Paul Verhoeven's directing that is the most impressive element of the film however, as he clearly revels in the idea of pushing conventions to the limits. We only really saw what Hitchcock could do without the constrictions of censorship in his 1972 masterpiece Frenzy, and Verhoeven, although not carrying on the baton like De Palma, is still employing the same techniques. Although Verhoeven's work is often trashy in terms of plotting and dialogue (probably because his preoccupation with his films' more action-orientated sequences), he continues to show that he is far braver than most Hollywood directors when it comes to visuals that pack a punch. It's hard to imagine any other director asking Sharon Stone to uncross her legs for a shot to reveal she is wearing no underwear.
Ironically, Basic Instinct feels slightly tame nowadays in terms of its erotic content. In a way, this is the best thing that could happen to the film, as outside of the controversy of the film's alleged misogyny and the media's obsession with Sharon Stone's pubic hair, a thoroughly entertaining murder mystery is left for the audience to savour.
Academy Awards 1992
Academy Award Nominations 1992
Best Film Editing - Frank J. Urioste
Best Original Score - Jerry Goldsmith
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture quality is generally very pleasing although colours exhibit slightly dated tones on occasions and some brief artefacts can be detected. Even so, images are very sharp and rich with a very small trace of grain.
Region 2 fans of the film will delight at the fact that Basic Instinct has been given a DTS audio track by Momentum. The 5.1 alternative mix provided is very rich in audio clarity and left/right spatial channelling even if the rear channels are sparingly used. Jerry Goldsmith's score is given room to shine, and his musical contribution often strikes an unnerving chord in your back. In the more action orientated sequences, the rear channels are used more extensively, and in DTS mode the bass elements Are given added emphasis and add more of an enveloping atmosphere to proceedings. On the whole however, there is little to compare the two tracks.
Menu: A very fitting and stylish menu that involves a huge block of ice being struck by an ice pick. This menu is slightly better than the Region 1's menu, and features some excellent sound effects and musical portions.
Packaging: This promo copy only featured the usual amaray packaging, with an extra disc holder for the second disc. It's rumoured that the full retail release will include a mock 'icepack' packaging complete with an ice pick pen, in the same vein as the Region 1 version.
Audio Commentary With Paul Verhoeven & Jan De Bont: This audio commentary with the director Verhoeven and cinematographer De Bont is very interesting as the two men are obviously in sync with each other's wavelengths and can talk about their opinions of the film without having their view compromised by anyone who doesn't agree (such as the writer Joe Eszterhas). The two talk very fluidly, and are fascinating to listen to if you can block out their thick Dutch accents. What's most interesting is the two's many mentions of Hitchcock and their frequent on-set anecdotes.
Audio Commentary With Feminist Critic Camille Paglia: This is a deeply fascinating commentary track that may not appeal to everyone. Because of the criticisms the film received by some feminists and gay rights activists, the makers of the film seem to be playing a major trump up their sleeve by having Paglia, a feminist critic who is openly bisexual, comment on the film. Paglia admits that Basic Instinct is one of her favourite films, and is extremely dedicated to her comments and expresses many alternative viewpoints on the film. This is the type of commentary track that will only appeal to those who have sat through many college or university lectures, as some of Paglia's views would sound preposterous to those who aren't used to dealing with such studious opinions. Despite this, the commentary is hilariously frank, and Paglia provides a tremendous study of the film.
Blonde Poison: The Making of Basic Instinct: This is an excellent and concise documentary that lasts for twenty four minutes and is produced by Jeffrey Schwarz. Most of the major cast and crew members contribute to the documentary (bar Sharon Stone), and many elements are discussed, such as how gay activists (who are also interviewed here) exploited the film for their own ends, or how the discussion of whether Stone shows merely her thighs or her actually vagina in that scene sparked a gender divide of opinions. For such a short documentary, the interest is maintained at a high level.
Featurette: An original six minute featurette that seems to be absent from the Region 1. It briefly skims the surface and is merely an extended trailer with short interview snippets, however it does feature Sharon Stone talking to camera about her interpretation of Catherine Trammell.
Cleaning Up Basic Instinct: This is a hilarious five minute reel showcasing the original theatrical version and the toned-down TV network version. Essentially, all of the swear words have been removed, which begs the question of why should a film so adult in content need its swearing removed, considering it is only appropriate for a late night slot? The dubbing out of the swear words is so abrupt, and so obviously performed by actors with completely different voices than that of the original actors, that it is highly amusing to watch and note how terrible the modified scenes turned out when compared to the original film.
Storyboard-To-Screen Comparisons: Three sequences are included for storyboard to screen comparison - The Love Scene, The Car Chase and Elevator Murder. The most interesting is of course the Love Scene. Its storyboards, when contrasted with the actual film version in the bottom right corner of the screen, are much more shocking and sexually frank, and provide an insight into just how far Verhoeven wanted to push the film initially.
Screen Tests: These screen tests were presented as hidden extras on the Region 1 version, and contain early video test footage of Sharon Stone and Jeanne Tripplehorn, lasting for six and three minutes respectively.
Photo Gallery: A collection of promotional stills from the film, accessible via user navigation.
Trailer & Teaser: The original tense theatrical trailer is provided with dated nineties soundtrack, combined with a brief teaser TV spot trailer.
A controversial, sexy and extremely convoluted murder mystery has been given fantastic treatment by Momentum, who have managed to usurp the Region 1 version by providing a DTS sound mix and throwing in an extra featurette (even if the production notes and cast & crew filmographies are missing). Essentially, this is an excellent film, with a technically impressive disc and some very well chosen and inspired extras.