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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Basic Instinct (1992)

"She's evil! She's brilliant!"
- Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: September 05, 2001

Stars: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone
Other Stars: Jeanne Tripplehorn, Wayne Knight, Leilani Sarelle, George Dzundza
Director: Paul Verhoeven

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (frequent explicit sex, graphic violence, and language)
Run Time: 02h:08m:07s
Release Date: September 18, 2001
UPC: 012236120650
Genre: late night

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C-B-B+ B

DVD Review

You know a film has become a part of pop culture when you see it parodied on The Simpsons. Sideshow Bob popped up in an episode-long remake of Scorsese's Cape Fear. The Halloween episodes frequently spoof horror and sci-fi. One of the most memorable gags was a tie-in to one of the most talked about scenes of any recent film. Yes, who could forget the homage to 1992s' batch of Paul Verhoeven excess, the lurid Basic Instinct, starring a kilted Willy in the infamous "interrogation" scene? Both the original and the animated version work very well, and the former is deserving of its place in pop culture history. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn't measure up.

Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is investigating a rather violent murder. A famous former musician was killed, stabbed with an ice pick by his lover while in the heat of the proverbial sexual moment. The best lead is his girlfriend, Catherine (Stone), an extremely wealthy heiress who was the last person seen publicly with the victim. The only problem is her lack of motiveóshe's worth far more than the dead man. It is discovered, however, that she'd published a book some time earlier in which a former rock star was killed in much the same manner. Of course, no one would write a book about a crime and them commit it, it must be a frame job! Nick must decide who the real culprit is, and determine if Catherine can be trusted.

Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Showgirls, Jadeónow there's a resume!) was paid a record $3 million for his script. So I guess dialogue like, "You're dealing with a devious, diabolical mind" is the best money can buy, huh? Cash alone doesn't get you an original story, either. Much of the film feels like recycled material from both Fatal Attraction and Verhoeven's own The Fourth Man (of which BI is almost a direct remake, at least thematically). It is well paced, but nothing more. For one thing, there are only three possible suspects, and one is barely a character, taking quite a bit of the mystery out of things. There is almost no earned suspense (instead, over the top "fake scares" are used), and the climax is sloppy and ineffective (as is the "shocker" final image). Don't get me wrong, there are definitely many enjoyable elements, especially for fans of camp, but ultimately, the script is pretty much a mess.

There are two reasons why BI ended up with over $100 million at the box office, however: Paul Verhoeven and Sharon Stone. Verhoeven delights in the excesses of the script, and adds stylized gloss to the rather trite screenplay. Not only does he go all-out with the frequent explicit sex, but he also gives the entire film a dark, grim, noir feel. It was his handling of the scene that made the interrogation sequence such a perverse pleasure. Every noir needs a femme fatal, and Sharon Stone pulls off a triumph in her breakthrough performance. She is equal parts sensual and menacing as Catherine, and she goes for broke without going over the top. She is a lot of fun to watch, and by far the best part of the film.

The rest of the cast doesn't fare as well. Jeanne Tripplehorn is grating and totally unbelievable as Nick's psychologist (she even earned a Razzie for her role, as did Douglas). Douglas isn't mush better, but granted, Nick is a rather absurd character, who suffers from frequently questionable motivations. He's also thoroughly despicable, as he doesn't do much more than booze it up, while taking frequent breaks to rape someone. He is hard to accept as a protagonist, and even harder to stomach in the more emotional "love" scenes. Of course, the hasty plotting of Catherine's seduction of Nick doesn't help much.

A psychology class could be based on the works of Joe Eszterhas. In every script he's written, the men are but pawns, terrorized and menaced by the women, who threaten their sexuality, often while holding sharp objects. The men, in return, do their part by forcing themselves on at least one other character. He seems to have only a minimal grasp of human sexuality as well, as every character is an id to the nth degree. I guess he figures that no film is truly a winner without some gratuitous, tastelessly overt lesbianism (no wonder gay groups protested this film). BI coasted to success on controversy and soft-core porn, and if not for Stone and Verhoeven, it would be classified as a overdone mess, memorable only for its camp value, spoken of in the same breath as Showgirls. That breath would then be follow by raucous laughter and a suggestion to watch something else.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The biggest problem I had with this transfer was its overall dingy, aged appearance (and this flick is only 9 years old!). Colors appear muted and unsaturated throughout, and fleshtones look a bit on the orange side. There is a noticeable grain in many dark interior shots, and the black level is only fair overall, with dark gray the predominant tone. Fine detail could be better, with many dim scenes appearing a bit soft. In the outdoor, brightly lit scenes, detail is better, but still not up to the full potential of DVD. There was also quite a bit of noticeable edge-enhancement. On the plus side, however, I noticed no artifacting. This certainly isn't unwatchable, but for a special edition re-release of a relatively new film, I expected better.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Apparently, this mix was newly created for this DVD. The results are very nice, but don't expect a lot of the flashy bells and whistles that populate the mixes on newer films. The most impressive element is definitely the use of LFE. In many of the action scenes (especially the car chase), there is quite a lot of bass. Other than that, the dialogue is always clear and natural, and well placed in the mix. The score makes good use of the front channels, but could have filled out the surrounds a bit more. As for the surrounds, they kick in a bit in the action scenes as well, but not to the extent that I'd call them aggressive.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Paul Verhoeven and cinematographer Jan DeBont; feminist film critic Camille Paglia
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Hidden Easter eggs: screen tests for Sharon Stone and Jeanne Tripplehorn
Extras Review: Artisan has replaced their discontinued, movie-only edition of this film with a special limited edition with custom packaging. The packaging is what I'd call a clear example of form over function. It looks niceóclear "ice-blue" plastic complete with an ice pick (doubles as a pen... a shoddy plastic pen that barely writes). It looks nice, and I like how the disc art shows through, but try opening it. Unless you lay it flat on the table, the disc falls out (as does the pen). The disc sits on a bed of blue foam, which covers a flimsy circular booklet containing the chapter stops and some worthless PR fluff notes. There's no writing on the spine, either, which I find annoying (but then, I am anal retentive about the organization of my collection).

By far the best extra is the newly produced documentary Blonde Poison: It is largely a retrospective piece, and thus it features little in the way of on-set footage. However, there is some discussion of the genesis of the project and some in-depth commentary on the criticism that greeted the production. Interviewees include Verhoeven, DeBont, Jerry Goldsmith, the producers, and several activists from Queer Nation, a gay and lesbian rights activist group. At 24 minutes, however, this feels rushed. I would've appreciated some comments from Douglas and especially Sharon Stone. Supposedly she was unaware of the explicit nature of the interrogation scene, and yet she owes much of her success to this famous money shot. I'd like to hear her opinion, ten years removed.

Cleaning Up Basic Instinct is a brief featurette that reveals some of the dialogue changes necessary to air the film on commercial TV. Some of the overdubs are pretty funny and all are ludicrously performed. I'd like to see this option on other discs.

Two storyboard comparisons are offered (for "Car Chase" and "Elevator Murder"). Both feature the film and storyboards on the same screen, for a direct comparison. A third sequence, "Love Scene," is offered as a storyboard montage, but without the companion footage. And I so wanted to compare! It was amusing to see the ridiculously detailed drawings, anyway. Like a cheap porno comic. Not that I've ever seen one of those.

Two feature-length commentaries are included. One includes Verhoeven and DeBont. Some sites have reported that this track is a direct port from the SE laserdisc. However, from what I can find, the original track featured only Verhoeven, plus the two comment on Hollow Man at one point, so clearly this is a newer recording. Anyway, the two are very enthusiastic, but they do tend towards the technical side of the production. An OK listen, but nothing essential. More enjoyable for me was the offering from feminist film critic Camille Paglia, a huge fan of the film. She ascribes every shot with deep meaning, and frequently makes comments like, "this is one of the great scenes of all time...filmmaking at its finest." Yeah, ok. Very amusing, and sporadically informing. She talks a lot, too.

Finally, rounding out the disc are more mundane extras, including a trailer, a TV spot, crew bios, and some laughably brief production notes. Two Easter eggs are also hidden, one on the features menu and one on the setup menu (just highlight the big ice picks). For your trouble, you get screen test footage for Sharon Stone and Jeanne Tripplehorn. Eh.

There are two different versions of this disc. Both contain the special case, but only the unrated cut features the second commentary track with Paglia.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

I don't care how much controversy surrounded the release, and I don't care how much the film made. Nearly ten years later, Basic Instinct looks to be nothing more than a sloppy, suspenseless psuedo-thriller, albeit one tarted up with graphic, often violent sex scenes and frequent over-the-top gore. Sharon Stone is memorable, and Verhoeven provides his usual sense of style, but, in the immortal words of the Mad Magazine parody, "Basically It-Stinks."


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