Basic Instinct
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Basic Instinct

Some films create so much controversy that they are propelled into the collective consciousness of the public. Some go on from there to become film legends. Often there is only a sensational scene or two that is responsible for this. Rarely, such a film can also stand on its cinematic quality. Basic Instinct is fortunately in the latter, rare category. While the topic of the story and the themes presented are of an adult and often risqué nature the story of the film provides a genuine emotional impact. The film is on the surface a murder investigation. A once disgraced detective, Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is assigned the investigation of the murder of a rock star. The primary suspect is his girlfriend, famous author Catherine Tramel (Sharon Stone). Backed by her double doctorate in psychology and literature she enjoys playing mind games with any that cross her path. She is also a young woman completely without inhibitions. She goes beyond the enjoyment of sex and drugs, she needs the constant stimulation in order to define herself and live. Nick has his own problems. He is a recovering alcoholic and cocaine abuser. He was having an affair with his departmental psychiatrist Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn). He is under the constant, unblinking eye of his manager and co-workers including his partner, Gus (George Dzundza). During their first meeting as part of the investigation, Catherine sets her sights on the downfall of Nick. The murder of the rock star exactly recreated a murder describe in one of Catherine’s novels and she plays this to the hilt. Why would she use her own novel as a blueprint for a real murder? Catherine starts to wear down Nick by attacking his week points. He gave up smoking so she is constantly lighting up in front of him and offering him a cigarette. She knows he gave up drinking and coke so she is always ready to supply him with both. She plies him with her overwhelming sexuality by first undressing in front of him and escalating things to touches and offers he finds extremely difficult to resist. The story is in the grand tradition of the best film noir movies with a nineties lack of inhibition. The classic film noir elements are all there. There is the requisite man on the precipice of a moral dilemma; always living on the side of respectability but now tempted by the irresistible femme fatale. A counter point character (Gus) that attempts to provide a moral compass to the belabored protagonist. There is a murder mystery with more twists and turns and potentially lethal danger than a remote mountain road.

This is a cast any director would dream about. Douglas is the consummate professional. He lives the role to the point where the audience can easily believe he is in the moral dilemma Nick must face. We see Douglas play Nick’s disintegration as a slow, downward spiral towards everything he worked so hard to extract from his life. We watch as a flawed man faces every demon contained in his life. Stone is the only actress that could have played this role. She creates a Catherine that is simultaneously attractive and repulsive. She attracts through her overt sexuality and uninhibited nature. The repulsion comes from air of danger and complete lack of empathy towards others. She lives for her own excitement often at the expense on anyone around her. Stone can make a simple act of lighting a cigarette into something erotic and dark. Stone moves with a cat like grace that tempts completely. Often overlooked in reviews is the excellent work by the supporting cast. Dzundza provides the needed balance to the decent of Nick. He is a family man, concerned with always doing what is right. He displays a moral imperative to help his friend and partner. Without this character there would be no contrast and that is what propels a film from good to great. Tripplehorn is the counterpoint to Stone. Where Stone flaunts her sexuality, Tripplehorn smolders just beneath the surface. Beth is truly in love with Nick perhaps because of his flaws yet she hides a past and is reluctant to let him in. As his shrink she knows everything about Nick yet she reveals little to him. The sum total of this talent is riveting

Controversial director Paul Verhoeven created this film. Even though his career seems inconsistent, sprinkled with a number of hits and misses, he never fails to push the envelope. His resume contains such films as Robocop, Showgirls, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers and more recently, Hollow Man. Born in Amsterdam and possessing a degree in math, his background shows his demand for precision and perfection from cast and crew alike. He does not appear to be type of director that easily accepts input from the actors. He is at the helm and he calls the shots. In several of his commentaries Verhoeven points to his childhood in Nazi occupied Europe as one reason for his fascination with violence. His films are among the most violent and explicit since Sam Peckinpah. The film presented on the DVD is the original director’s cut previously only seen in Europe. The changes made for the American audience included several scenes of extreme violence and sexuality. The original is even less for the faint of heart than what made it to the American theaters. Each scene in this film is crafted to perfection. Cable versions that cut the film to pan and scan ratios lost the composition of the frame where even a mere reflection in a piece of glass is important to the mood, theme and story. The camera lens Verhoeven utilizes play with sights you receive. Sometimes the lens provides a human eye like reality and then rapidly shifts to a lens that ‘lies’, presenting a viewpoint that distorts reality in much the same fashion as the characters.

The special DVD edition presented by Artisan is near perfect, at least when considering it within the context of its release date. The extras include a running commentary with the director and director of photography. Adding an interesting perspective is the alternate commentary by feminist Camille Paglia.She covers a lot of history of the view of women in film, how society treats blondes and sexuality in the media. There is a funny featurette that compares the theatrical release to the watered down version shown on TV. Some strange alternatives for some dialogue were chosen. The video is a crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer completely free of artifacts. Audio is in 5.1 Dolby plus the original Dolby stereo track. This film was a turning point in American cinema and has stood the test of time significantly for a new high definition re-release. The remastering for Blu-ray was originally accomplished by Lionsgate in 2007. If you already have that upgrade there is nothing to be gained in this 2015 edition except it does contain the code for an Ultraviolet streaming video copy. The Blu-ray does an exceptional job of bringing out the nuances in the set design and realism of the general cinematography which, in combination with the TS-HD MA 5.1 provides a much more robust experience. And for the more puerile fans of the film, that scene is clearer than before.

bulletBlonde Poison Documentary on the Making of the Film
bulletAudio Commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven and Director of Photography Jan De Bont
bulletAudio Commentary with Feminist Critic and Noted Author Camille Paglia
bulletCleaning Up Basic Instinct A Montage Comparing the TV Version to the Theatrical Version
bulletStoryboard Comparisons
bulletTheatrical Trailer
bulletOriginal Screen Tests

Posted 08/01/03            03/21/2015

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