Basic Instinct 
DVD Mystery-Suspense
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 16 December 2003

Basic Instinct

Live Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn
release year: 1992
film rating: Three-and-a-half stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

There are a lot of really annoying things about 'Basic Instinct,' but for a reviewer, the most irksome is this: it's an instance of genuinely stylish, smart technique put in the service of a truly silly story. Director Paul Verhoeven has snappy, breathless pacing and visual style to burn, aided by cinematographer Jan De Bont (who went on to direct the equally good-looking 'Speed' and 'Twister'). However, cinematic flair stretches only so far.

In 'Basic Instinct,' Michael Douglas plays San Francisco homicide detective Nick Curran, who crosses paths with gorgeous and wealthy murder suspect Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone). Catherine loves to have sex with men and women and may or may not be a serial killer who describes her crimes in the novels she writes. Nick falls under her spell, but will he meet a bloody end?

So far, so good for classic film noir. The problem is largely in Joe Eszterhas' script. The dialogue, the characterizations, the motivations and the plot developments all make one question how much time he's spent observing actual human beings. A number of gay media watchdog groups were disturbed by 'Basic Instinct' at the time of its theatrical release, but in fairness to the filmmakers, heterosexual men are depicted as being equally dangerous, irrational and infinitely dumber than the bisexual women they encounter here.

This in turn brings us to the film's second problem. 'Basic Instinct' has been sold on the basis of its sexiness, or, more specifically, the novelty of having the female lead in a big-budget thriller flash her genitalia at the camera. If you want to go directly to the big moment, skip ahead to Chapter 12. Yes, it's a nice bit of naughtiness, but it's not substantial enough to build a whole 129-minute film around.

While Douglas makes his slightly bent cop seem convincingly obsessed by Stone's temptress, he's so grim about it that the seduction scenes between them are all but drained of fun--they're sexual without being really sexy. As the implausibilities mount up (to go into what they are would give away most of the twists--suffice to say that nearly all of the professional characters in the story are both inept and unethical), it's harder and harder to care about the outcome, not exactly the feeling a suspense thriller ought to engender.

One very interesting aspect of the DVD release is the inclusion of descriptive video service for the vision-impaired. This audio option (along with regular English or Spanish dialogue tracks) provides a friendly, passionate-sounding female voice who describes all the action for us, along with the physical appearance and behavior of the characters. When she talks about their emotions, the narrator frequently (literally) reads a lot more into the inner lives of these people than is evident onscreen; it would have been edifying to see the movie she's telling us about.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1; Spanish Dolby Stereo
aspect ratio(s):
Widescreen 2.35:1 & Standard Aspect Ratio: 1:3:3
special features: Digital Mastering; Descriptive Video Service (Narration) for the Visually Impaired; Interactive Menus; Scene Access; Cast and Crew Biographies; Theatrical Trailer
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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