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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Noir > Sex > Erotic > Basic Instinct – Unrated Director’s Cut (Blu-ray)

Basic Instinct – Unrated Director’s Cut (Blu-ray)


Picture: B+     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B+



When Michael Douglas had a huge hit with Fatal Attraction in 1987, he established himself a cutting edge and bold, willing to take all kinds of risks and it made him bigger than ever as one of the top male stars in Hollywood.  Ridley Scott’s Black Rain broke him in international markets and the hits kept on coming (though Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down never got its due) long afterwards.  However, the amazing impact of Fatal Attraction would be eclipsed five years later when Douglas played a disturbed police detective in Paul Verhoeven’s ever-controversial Basic Instinct.


Written by the equally controversial Joe Eszterhas (who became one of the top paid screenwriters of all time thanks to films like this) pulling no punches, the thriller originally received an NC-17, but the distributors knew that would kill its box office.  It instead became (and remains) one of the biggest money-making R-rated films of all time and has never stopped being a hot title.  Now, Lionsgate has issued the film in Blu-ray and it instantly is one of the most desired and desirable back catalog titles in the format and in the uncut, unrated edition.


Douglas plays Nick Curran, a detective with a shaky history who is still on the job.  He was on drugs, is still on edge, does not get along with everyone and has a brutal murder to investigate.  On the suspect list is a writer named Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone in a classic star-making role) who happens to write murder mysteries.  Her boyfriend has been stabbed to death with an ice pick during a crazy sexual encounter and it happened to be her boyfriend.  She is on the suspects list, but Curran has to investigate others as well and the more he looks, the crazier things get.


There is his honest and not always tactful partner (George Dzundza) who is trying to help him while also trying to solve the case.  There is another woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn) who may know more than she says and then there is Catherine, who may or may not be playing mind games with Nick as he starts to become sexually attracted to her.


And that is not all of the plot twists, but why ruin them?  Though the film is trying to be a combination of Bullitt, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and actual Film Noir (Eszterhas and Verhoeven actually know what that is, unlike most who throw the word around to sound smarter then they are) that most would botch or do with no energy, it has enough original and bold moments to make it a minor classic of genre filmmaking.  The lesser “R” version was a big hit, but uncut, the stakes are made much clearer, serious and honestly spelled-out.  This was always a film for adults, no matter how coy it is about simplicity and playing with the idea of “stupid” in a way many missed.


Stone is so good here that many still cannot separate her work here from her as a real life woman.  Though she has not always made the best film choices, she still has her moments (Bobby, Casino, Alpha Dog) that show that she can act.  Douglas gives one of his most intense performances and the cast all around is impressive.  A lucky 13 years later, hardly any film of its kind has come close to being as good and no matter how much money it makes, will never get the credit it deserves for being as good as it is.  Maybe this Blu-ray will finally change that.


The 1080p 2.325 X 1 digital High Definition image finally gets it correct.  At the time, Tri-Star Pictures was distributing for then-owner of the film Carolco.  After their late 1980s merger with Columbia after two co-productions with Carolco (Rambo III and Red Heat) put them on the brink of bankruptcy, Basic Instinct was the kind of hit that helped the companies get back to profit.  Unfortunately, Tri-Star (starting with films like Ed Zwick’s Glory and Sidney Lumet’s Q&A) started using a sort of thin “tissue paper” kind of print to distribute their films on.  Color was awful, film black suffered and depth was a joke.  It was like watching a print somewhere between Super 8mm and 16mm film.


That unfortunately was the kind of print that was being used for the DVD versions (and 12” LaserDisc for that mater) of the Unrated version here, but here is an edition that finally uses a good print.


Being such a hit, this film has had a long history on home video, being issued in more versions in more formats than just about any film in history.  Besides VHS, 12” LaserDisc and DVD, it has been issued twice before in two different high definition formats.  The one you might know of is the region-free HD-DVD overseas that some fans have already ordered as an import, but you are far less likely to know about the very rare (and “R” rated) basic 12” LaserDisc from Japan that was actually in analog High Definition!  It was one of two launch titles along with the other big Carolco hit Terminator 2 (see the Blu-ray review elsewhere on this site) that launched the format.  It was not a hit.


Before becoming a highly commercial director to a fault, Jan De Bont was a cinematographer and was Director of Photography (A.S.C.) on this film as he had been for a while with Verhoeven at the time.  There is some early digital work you might notice when first watching, but this was shot in real anamorphic Panavision and outside of a 35mm print, this is the only way to see how nicely shot this film really is.  For films shot in scope that year, only Roger Donaldson’s White Sands and David Fincher’s Alien 3 were as well-crafted visually.


The original theatrical sound was Dolby’s advanced analog SR (Spectral Recording) playback system that offered amazing fidelity and even some richness the Dolby Digital compression signal can be lacking in, but when an SR track is upgraded to 5.1, there are often remixing errors and problems.  For years, only Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby EX was available in the U.S. for the film on DVD, though some overseas DVDs got DTS.  This Blu-ray is the U.S. debut of a DTS track of any kind.  In this case, it is DTS HD 5.1 96/24 sound and though it shows the age of the recording a bit, it sounds good enough to be the best version of the sound ever issued (though we have not heard the import HD-DVD) with the late, great Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing score and other interesting mixing and sound effects choices.


It also has some good sonic moments during the peak scenes, action, sex and violence.  Combined, the HD image and DTS sound will give anyone a new appreciation for how good this film really is.


Extras include a mixed audio commentary by Camille Paglia, a classic & hilarious commentary by Verhoeven & De Bont talking about the film (with Verhoeven obsessing joyfully about Hitchcock) that is a must-hear, storyboard comparisons, the original theatrical trailer, original screen tests, a montage called Cleaning Up Basic Instinct about making a TV safe version of the film and a solid making of documentary called Blonde Poison.


After years of wrangling, lawsuits and the loss of David Cronenberg, a belated and very, very lame sequel was made (see our review elsewhere on this site) that is to be skipped.  Some films are simply without the possibility of a sequel or prequel like The Exorcist and Basic Instinct in this uncut version is one of those films.  If anything, it has appreciated with age as so many imitators failed in its wake.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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