[box cover]

Basic Instinct: Special Edition Unrated Director's Cut

Artisan Home Entertainment

Starring Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, Jeanne Tripplehorn,
and Joe Eszterhas

Written by Joe Eszterhas
Directed by Paul Verhoeven

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

That shot in Basic Instinct, the one every guy thinks of when Paul Verhoeven's 1992 thriller comes up in conversation, the scene that made every unwarned theatergoer gasp, "Whoa, did I just see what I think...?," is one of those significant landmarks that set the tone for a shift in the cultural paradigm. Not only did that brief close-up transform Sharon Stone from a dull B-movie actress into a controversial mega-star, but it also announced that from that point on nothing would be concealed. This monumental step in the public overexposure of sexuality, although certainly less shocking a decade later, adds a little weight to Verhoeven's slim and campy potboiler starring Michael Douglas as a troubled cop who falls prey to the sexual wiles of the key suspect (Stone) in a gruesome murder investigation.

Written by Joe Eszterhas, the king of formulaic schlock, Basic Instinct revels in its tightly knit contrivances, corny banter, egregious plot twists, and brazen sexuality, and this sense of giddy insouciance elevates the final product above the dreck that usually results from Eszterhas' overpriced hackwork. Incorrigible director Verhoeven, no doubt, set this tone with his affectionately Hitchockian visual approach and his gusto for making audiences squirm. However, there is no way in hell that Basic Instinct would've made the impact it did without the presence of Michael Douglas, who very possibly gives the greatest performance of his career in this unlikely vehicle.

Douglas, already a major star, had everything to lose by playing a dark and weak-willed hero haunted by addiction-fueled casualties, engaging in explicit sex scenes in this surely ridiculous and tawdry tale, but in a subtle and strong performance he adds such depth and empathy to the picture that it is he — and not Stone's candid rough-riding — that made the film watchable enough for it to earn its cultural corn.

*          *          *

Artisan has honored that corn with an excellent special edition DVD release (the second from the studio), complete with a tastefully ice-pick-shaped pen, some fairly graphic sex-scene footage cut out of the U.S. theatrical release, and provocative supplementary material. First off, the transfer is simply excellent, and Jan De Bont's Vertigo-inspired cinematography looks absolutely stunning and lush in its anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation. The audio is also superb, with Jerry Goldsmith's evocative (if omnipresent and occasionally intrusive) score booming at full timbre in both a Dolby Digital 5.1 remaster and the original Dolby 2.0 Surround.

The disc includes two commentaries, the first of which, by Verhoeven and De Bont, is surprisingly dull despite its jovial tone. Unlike Verhoeven's commentary on Criterion's Robocop disc, he is comparatively less candid here and perhaps due to the presence of De Bont focuses more on technical details and location descriptions than on the film's thematic content or cultural relevance. However, this slack is more than compensated for by the second commentary, by iconoclastic feminist author Camille Paglia, who describes Basic Instinct as one her favorite films. Although Paglia spends a little too much time describing the film's action as if to a blind companion, she does address, in detail (and sometimes frighteningly over-intellectualized film school-style über-analysis), the film's sexual politics. For example, Paglia's thoughts on the infamous interrogation scene:

The intensity of looking in this scene, looking on the part of the men, on Catherine's part, on our part, raises the temperature in the scene. There's a kind of sadism as Catherine plays with her prey. There's a kind of evocation of great movies about St. Joan, where in this case, the perverse saint, a Mary Magdalene figure, is defying her interrogators. And then the climax, is the exposure — accidental or not — of her genitalia, which has made this scene so notorious. What we're flashing here is the center of life as it was understood in pagan goddess cults. The mere sight of the female sex organ seems to destroy the men. Catherine signals her victory by lighting up a fire, as if to immolate them. The men begin to restlessly move around the room, trying to recover themselves, trying to restore the sexual balance.

You get the idea. Paglia's studious take is sometimes dry, but all special editions would do well to include this kind of third-party analysis, as they're less likely to get hung up on the dull minutiae too many directors, cast, and crew members deign to share.

Another great feature is the bold 30-minute retrospective "Blonde Poison," which, unlike the sterile ass-kissing featurettes usually onboard, includes candid remarks by Verhoeven as well as interviews with protesters of the film's alleged anti-gay content.

Also included are three storyboard montages, one of which is sure to arouse comics readers who always wished "Mary Worth" carried a blue streak, and the curious "Cleaning Up Basic Instinct" montage of comparisons between the theatrical and broadcast television versions, which is either a parody or evidence of the worst dubbing known to man. Plus: photo gallery, trailer, and don't miss the Easter eggs — click on the ice picks to the side of the menu options and treat yourself to either audition or rehearsal footage of Stone and costar Jeanne Tripplehorn, individually.

— Gregory P. Dorr

(Editor's Note: Basic Instinct: Special Edition is also available in an R-rated version.)

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