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Basic Instinct (UK Import) (HD DVD)
Studio Canal / 1992 / 128 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: February 12, 2007
List Price: $41.99
(Ships worldwide from hdmoviesource.com)
Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Friday, February 22, 2008
This is a review of the UK HD DVD release of 'Basic Instinct.' This movie has already been released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate, which is currently not releasing titles on HD DVD. (For more information about importing HD DVD discs, visit the HD DVD imports thread in our forums area.)
Non-format-specific portions of this review were first published in our review of the domestic Blu-ray version of 'Basic Instinct.'
Every once in a while, a film comes along that so pushes the envelope of what is permissible to say and show on-screen that it changes the rules for all that follow it. Such cinematic touchstones don't have to be particularly good, but they do have to capture the cultural zeitgeist in such a way that our perception of the film becomes inseparable from its attendant controversy. 'Lolita,' 'Last Tango in Paris,' 'Fatal Attraction,' and Madonna's 'Justify My Love' video all come to mind -- each may seem tame now, but that's only because they were so successful in smashing the customs and taboos that preceded them.
Add Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven's 'Basic Instinct' to that list. The plot is likely familiar even to those who haven't seen the film. Sharon Stone stars as Catherine Tramell, a famous novelist of pulp mystery thrillers who also happens to be a brilliant psychotic with a penchant for handcuffs and ice picks. After the murder of her most recent beau, the quick-tempered Det. Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is called in to investigate. In the grand Hitchcockian tradition, Tramell proves to be a devious femme fatale, manipulating Curran and all around him into an elaborate game of murder, drugs, and ridiculously over-the-top, acrobatic sex.
The script by Joe Eszterhas gets more and more ludicrous as the film goes on, yet because it is so tightly plotted and well-paced it can't be dismissed as incompetent. As written, Catherine is the Albert Einstein of psychotic murderers, able to anticipate everyone's move ten steps ahead, and to somehow control events to such an extent that her lurid fiction becomes violent fact. Yes, the movie asks us to accept some pretty incredible coincidences along the way, but to Eszterhas's credit, at least all the puzzle pieces fit together by the film's end.
What really separated 'Basic Instinct' from the more routine thrillers of its era was the unabashed glee with which it broke cinematic taboos. Originally given an NC-17 rating for sex and nudity, it was eventually edited down to receive an R-rating. (Lionsgate presents the film here on Blu-ray in its original "Director's Cut" form.) Equally as controversial, the film was widely criticized for its perceived misogyny and homophobia. Inarguably, Verhoeven revels in transforming Catherine into some sort of sexual Olympian -- the much-ballyhooed erotic scenes between Stone and Douglas should have included a trapeze. Yet what pushes the movie over the edge beyond mere Showtime soft-core is that it doesn't provide any sort of moral comeuppance for Catherine's supposed sexual transgressions. I won't spoil the film's now-famous ending, but for once in a mainstream film, crime may just pay, after all.
Interestingly, the thing that makes 'Basic Instinct' such great camp entertainment is also the same attribute that raised the hackles of so many, which is the is the fact that Verhoeven and Eszterhas don't even attempt to imagine their female characters with a sensibility even approaching realism. Instead, this is a horny old man's version of sexuality -- all the women are either knife-wielding bisexuals intent on manipulating men, or ice pick-wielding psychotics who find murder a form of foreplay. In the Verhoeven/Eszterhas universe, sex and death aren't even metaphors for each other -- they're one and the same.
Of course, that makes the lurid excesses of 'Basic Instinct' either incredibly offensive or incredibly hilarious, depending on your point of view. I'm of the latter persuasion -- I unabashedly enjoy every trashy minute of this film, no matter how politically incorrect it may be. And to their great credit, Verhoeven and Eszterhas never hide behind the shield of art-school pretension the way so many other filmmakers do when they are trying to pass exploitation off as "Cinema." Verhoeven and Eszterhas may be chauvinists, but at least they don't pretend to be gentlemen.
For all of its notoriety, 'Basic Instinct' is probably still best remembered as the film that made Sharon Stone a star, and she arguably gives the best performance of her career here (save perhaps her Oscar-nominated turn in Martin Scorsese's 'Casino'), managing to perfectly synthesize the classic Hitchcockian icy blonde with a modern, '90s vulgarity, while never seeming like a victim of Verhoeven and Eszterhas' misogyny. One need look no further than the film's infamous "police interrogation" scene to see the exact moment when Stone cunningly took what was trash on the page and -- with a simple uncrossing of her legs -- ushered in an entirely new cinematic paradigm of female empowerment. When Catherine turns the tables on her male oppressors, it's really Stone completely disarming any leering male who has ever objectified a woman and thought it was a compliment. Stone wields more than just her literal ice pick in 'Basic Instinct' -- she slowly and slyly decimates the myth of patriarchy, one stab at a time.
'Basic Instinct' is already available on high-def in the United States courtesy of Lionsgate, who issued the film domestically in 2007 on Blu-ray only.
The Lionsgate Blu-ray boasts a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, which is definitely superior to any of the myriad of previous DVD releases. Minted from what is obviously the same master, this 1080p/VC-1 encode from Studio Canal is comparable. As with the Blu-ray, it offers a nice -- though not an incredible -- upgrade over the standard-def releases.
Most improved is the source. I've found most of previous versions lacking in terms of deep blacks and the quality of the print. The clean-up job here is quite good, with only the dodgy opening credit sequence displaying any overt dirt or blemishes. Grain is also leaner than before, and no longer distracting, even in the dark scenes. Blacks seem purer, and contrast has at least some oomph to it. Colors, however, still leave something to be desired. On the plus side, subtle accents are now much more prominent -- the many shots of San Francisco exteriors now have a nice blue wash to them, and green foliage in particular seems richer. Still, overall, hues appear slightly muted. Sharpness, too, is not up there with the best high-def catalog transfers I've seen. Nor is there a tremendous amount of depth -- the presentation is still somewhat flat. All things considered, this is a strong remaster of a title that probably isn't ever going to look much better than this.
For the Blu-ray, Lionsgate upgraded 'Basic Instinct's audio to DTS-HD High-Resolution. This HD DVD goes one better, however, with a fresh DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix (at 48kHz/16-bit). The film's dated sound design is not aggressive enough to benefit greatly from the upgrade, but there are a few slight bumps (particularly in terms of bass) that make this worth considering for audiophiles.
To my ears, the real star of 'Basic Instinct' is still Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score. It often outclasses the movie, and has a wonderfully warm, brassy feel here. Surrounds only come alive during the two car chases in the film, which have some decent discrete effects in the rears (even in DTS-MA, however, pans never feel authentic or transparent). The entire back soundstage is also flatter than the front, and only the infamous nightclub scene (with its fabulously tacky euro-techno music) offers much heft.
The only truly noticeable boost the DTS-MA offered for me is in terms of bass. No, the subwoofer still never really pounds, but at least it has a bit of a stronger presence here, and the highs also feel a tad more expansive. Are these upgrades monumental? Hardly. But an improvement is still an improvement.
Sadly, Studio Canal has not ported over any of the many entertaining bonus features on the Lionsgate Blu-ray. What a bummer.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD)
- The only "extra" is the film's trailer, presented in middling-quality 480i/MPEG-2 standard-def.
There are no high-def exclusives.
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I don't care what the critics say -- 'Basic Instinct' is a hilarious, highly-entertaining trash-fest that ranks up there with Paul Verhoeven's best (and most lurid) epics. And how can you argue with Sharon Stone wielding an ice pick? This HD DVD import does a good job of representing the film on high-def, with a transfer comparable to the Lionsgate domestic Blu-ray and offering even better audio. Sadly, the supplements are notable only for their total absence. Since it's highly unlikely we'll see 'Basic Instinct' on HD DVD in the US, despite the lack of extras, this one is still worth a look.
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