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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Basic (2003)

"As some of you may have heard, there is a hurricane warning tonight. Well, Rangers do not wait on good weather. Rangers do not wait for bright sunshiny days. Oh, no. Rangers are trained to operate in the worst possible conditions, and take those conditions and turn them against their enemies."- Sgt. Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson)

Stars: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen
Other Stars: Harry Connick Jr., Tim Daly, Dash Mihok, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt, Roselyn Sanchez, Taye Diggs, Christian De La Fuente
Director: John McTiernan

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language
Run Time: 01h:39m:24s
Release Date: 2003-07-08
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C-A-A- B-


DVD Review

The script for Basic by screenwriter James Vanderbilt has drawn comparisons to Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, though not in a complementary way; I can only imagine that Kurosawa would be appalled to see his name mentioned in the same breath. Director John McTiernan's film suffers from a series of red herrings and double crosses that essentially cancel out the any connections each previous scene provided the viewer.

Tough-as-nails Sgt. Nathan West (Jackson) leads his group of cadets into the jungles of Panama; only two come out alive. The survivors, Dunbar (Van Holt) and Kendall (Ribisi), are rushed back to the base where they are to be interrogated by the reluctant Lt. Osborne (Nielsen). When they refuse to speak, Col. Styles (Daly) calls in an old friend and Army Ranger turned DEA agent, Tom Hardy (Travolta), who begins to extract the information from the cadets, only to discover that their stories are widely different from the other.

From there the film is essentially a series of misguided steps that leaves the viewer shaking his head in confusion. Basic has every intention of being a technically proficient and thrilling military suspense film, but Vanderbilt's script is an excess of trickery and smoke and mirrors tactics. Perhaps the treatment read as a very clever take on the thriller genre; how else would it have attracted the star power that it so brightly boasts? Yet in the end, the numerous double crosses and surprises are handled so poorly that the ultimate payoff fails to yield the puzzle piece needed to see the whole picture.

With a script as poorly executed as this, it is refreshing that the direction and acting in Basic is at least memorable. McTiernan feels more comfortable here than in other recent films; his slick camerawork and sharp editing are very much on display, which adds to the film's overall appeal. Travolta brings his flair and a small amount of charm to a very nice performance. Every bit his equal is Jackson who, while only in a handful of scenes, steals the screen with a very dynamic performance.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer, Basic looks terrific as one might expect from such a recent release. Much of the film takes place in low lighting with abundant shadows and thankfully the transfer pulls these stylistic choices off very well. Colors, when evident, have amazing vibrancy with no bleeding evident, while the darker hues show no grain and appear to be very deep. I noticed no edge enhancement as well as no evidence of pixilation.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for Basic as one might expect is nothing short of great. Surround effects rule the proceedings as the ambient sounds in the rain-soaked jungle blend perfectly with the booming musical score. Dialogue is crisp throughout with no distortion while the .1 LFE track provides very nice support in the low end department.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John McTiernan
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: A commentary by John McTiernan leads off the short list of extra features, and while it is far from being as dull as the director's other tracks, it still is far from a worthwhile effort. McTiernan discusses numerous topics including the convoluted script (which no amount of explanation can help) as well as locations and casting. There are some large gaps where McTiernan remains quiet and it is evident that another participant would have added some life to the track.

Basic: A Director's Design is a look into the making of the film, featuring interviews with cast and crew. The more intriguing, though not necessarily better of the two is Basic Ingredients: A Writers Perspective. The 15-minute featurette includes a discussion with writer James Vanderbilt as he maps out his script and how he came to create the situations and twists.

Trailers for Basic, xXx, Formula 51, Tears of the Sun, S.W.A.T, Bad Boys II, and Identity are all offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound with anamorphic widescreen enhancement. There are a few minutes of deleted scenes available here though none add anything to the overall story arc.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

One might need a roadmap and a flashlight to successfully navigate oneself through Basic's mangled plot.

Kevin Clemons 2003-07-29