Some films, unlike Basic Instinct, create so much controversy that they are propelled into the collective consciousness of the public

Films like Basic Instinct go on
from there to become film legends

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 Basic Instinct provides a genuine emotional impact.

Basic Instinct 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 girl friend, 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. The man on the brink of living a moral life, 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 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 Basic Instinct. 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, Starshop 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 Basic Instinct 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 Basic Instinct 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 Basic Instinct special edition presented by Artisan is near perfect. The extras in Basic Instinct 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 Basic Instinct 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. Basic Instinct was a turning point in American cinema but it is not for everybody.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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