Basic Instinct (UK Import) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jul 28, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Basic Instinct (UK Import) (4K UHD Review)

Director

Paul Verhoeven

Release Date(s)

1992 (June 14, 2021)

Studio(s)

Carolco Pictures/TriStar Pictures (StudioCanal)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A

Basic Instinct (4K-UHD Disc)

Buy it Here!

Review

[Editor’s Note: This is a UK Import. The Ultra HD disc is Region Free while the two Blu-ray discs are Region B locked.]

Director Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct was responsible for bringing the world of direct-to-video erotic thrillers to the big screen in 1992, with controversial results. The film managed to parlay that controversy into an impressive box office performance, ending up being the year’s fourth-highest grossing film despite its hard R rating. It was a huge success for all concerned, though it both helped and hindered Sharon Stone’s career. When rock star Johnny Boz is brutally murdered with an ice pick, Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is assigned the task of investigating Boz’s girlfriend Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone). The more that the clues point to her, the more that Nick finds himself drawn into her web, and the two play a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with each other—but one of them is playing at a much higher level.

The script by Joe Eszterhas sparked a bidding war before finally selling for a record-breaking $3 million, which guaranteed that critics were going to be skeptical. Of course, in this case that skepticism wasn’t entirely unfair, as Eszterhas had tossed off the script in a mere 13 days, failing to address basic facts like DNA evidence. When parts of the script were leaked during production, it started a backlash from members of the LGBTQ community due to the way it depicted lesbian and bisexual characters. Protesters even tried to disrupt filming, but there’s little doubt that the press attention they generated actually helped the film at the box office.

It’s important to note that Basic Instinct is neither a procedural nor a whodunit, so the mistakes that Eszterhas made are mostly irrelevant. Similarly, while Hollywood has had an unfortunate history with negative portrayals of LGBTQ characters, that fact misses the point of Catherine Trammell who is one of the most strikingly potent female characters in the history of cinema. While hardly a feminist icon (though Camille Paglia may disagree), she’s a genuine force of nature, out of the league of every other character in the film—especially the males. That’s why the interrogation scene is so important; it shows the ease with which she can completely overwhelm men. Stone later accused Verhoeven of tricking her to create the film’s most infamous moment. If that’s true, then he’s a despicable human being, yet right or wrong the moment works on multiple levels. It isn’t just the male characters in the film who end up under her sway, but male viewers of the film as well—the male gaze becomes completely subservient to the female sex.

In one sense, Trammell’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant. She’s a far stronger character than Nick regardless of whether or not she committed the murders. It certainly isn’t uncommon in noir stories for male characters to be led astray by femme fatales, but rarely are they manipulated as easily as Nick. He consistently proves how much of an amateur he is compared to her—this is no mere amour fou, but rather an animal being led by its nose to the slaughter. That’s why the identity of the killer at the conclusion isn’t as important as is the fact that Nick has belatedly grasped reality. While various pieces of evidence are being trotted past him, he sits quietly and meekly for the first time in the entire film, no longer questioning anything. He finally accepts his own powerlessness, as well as whatever fate his weakness may bring to him. His play is the tragedy, “Man,” and its hero, the Conqueror Woman.

Basic Instinct was shot on 35 mm photochemical film by cinematographer Jan de Bont using Panavision Panaflex Platinum cameras with Panavision Primo anamorphic lenses. It was then finished photochemically and framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. For this new restoration, Hiventy Laboratory in Joinville-le-Pont scanned the original camera negative at native 4K resolution. But since this neg had been conformed to the R-rated version released in the United States, the missing Director’s Edition footage had to be scanned in 4K from an internegative instead. (Only the Director’s Edition is included on this disc, at Verhoeven’s insistence.) Stains, dust, scratches, and instabilities were removed digitally with Diamant film software, though some filtering was applied. The overal restoration and color grading for both SDR and HDR was approved by Verhoeven. (This StudioCanal UHD release offers both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options.)

The level of fine detail is significantly improved—for a clear example, check out the scene where Nick and Gus first visit Catherine Trammell’s seaside property in Chapter 2. There’s now far more detail to the landscaping around her house, and the minute fibers at the edges of her sweater are more cleanly delineated. A few shots appear too smooth due to the application of digital noise reduction, but for the most part DNR has been used judiciously. The HDR grade generally improves the contrast range and black levels, but there are still a few shots that look a bit flat, such as one of the interior car scenes with Nick and Gus driving at night. (There’s very limited lighting on them, so the reduced contrast was probably unavoidable.) While the color timing is warmer than on previous releases, the timing on the previous Blu-ray was varied, meaning that this is a more consistent grade that looks warmer by default. That’s not to say this timing is perfect, however, and there’s at least one major color shift in the background during the middle of the shot where Trammell meets Nick at his apartment in Chapter 7. (It’s clearly an HDR issue, as it’s not present in the SDR grade on the remastered Blu-ray.) Flesh tones can look quite bronzed at times, and there’s a teal push in some of the backgrounds. Overall, this transfer may be a bit revisionary, but it still looks great aside from a few minor flaws.

Audio is offered in English, French, and German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and German 2.0 PCM. Subtitle options include English for the hearing impaired, French, and German. While this is essentialy the same 5.1 mix as previous editions, it’s been restored here and thus has a bit more dynamics to it. This has never been a particularly aggressive surround mix, nor does it need to be. The dialogue and the music are the primary focus, with limited ambience and occasional directional effects in the surrounds. The score is the biggest selling point, with Jerry Goldsmith heavily channeling Bernard Hermann—appropriately so, given the Hitchcockian nature of the film.

Studio Canal’s Ultra HD release of Basic Instinct is a 3-disc set with the film and all of the extras on the UHD. Two Blu-rays are also included, both Region B locked. The first Blu-ray contains the remastered version of the film and a few extras, while the rest are included on the second Blu-ray. This set also includes a fold-out poster, four lobby cards, and a 20-page booklet featuring production history and detailed restoration notes. Everything is contained within a hardbound case. The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE: FILM (UHD)

  • Audio Commentary by Camille Paglia
  • Audio Commentary by Paul Verhoeven and Jan de Bont
  • Basic Instinct: Sex, Death, & Stone (HD – 53:10)
  • An Unending Story – Scoring Basic Instinct (HD – 16:16)
  • Trailer (UHD – 1:29)
  • Blonde Poison: The Making Of (Upscaled SD – 24:38)
  • Cast & Crew Interviews (Upscaled SD – 6:29)
  • Storyboard Comparison: Love Scene (Upscaled SD – 6:29)
  • Storyboard Comparison: Car Chase (Upscaled SD – 1:15)
  • Storyboard Comparison: Elevator Murder (Upscaled SD – 2:47)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Interrogation (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:40/1:57)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Lie Detector (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:08/1:41)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Shooter (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:33/3:18)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Believe Me (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:16)
  • Jeanne Tripplehorn Screen Tests: About Catherine (Upscaled SD and HD – 3:02/2:17)

DISC TWO: FILM (BD)

  • Audio Commentary by Camille Paglia
  • Audio Commentary by Paul Verhoeven and Jan de Bont
  • Basic Instinct: Sex, Death, & Stone (HD – 53:10)

DISC THREE: EXTRAS (BD)

  • An Unending Story – Scoring Basic Instinct (HD – 16:16)
  • Blonde Poison: The Making Of (Upscaled SD – 24:38)
  • Cast & Crew Interviews (Upscaled SD – 6:29)
  • Storyboard Comparison: Love Scene (Upscaled SD – 6:29)
  • Storyboard Comparison: Car Chase (Upscaled SD – 1:15)
  • Storyboard Comparison: Elevator Murder (Upscaled SD – 2:47)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Interrogation (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:40/1:57)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Lie Detector (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:08/1:41)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Shooter (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:33/3:18)
  • Sharon Stone Screen Tests: Believe Me (Upscaled SD and HD – 1:16)
  • Jeanne Tripplehorn Screen Tests: About Catherine (Upscaled SD and HD – 3:02/2:17)

Both of the commentary tracks were originally recorded for the Special Limited Edition DVD in 2001. The track with Sexual Personae author Camille Paglia isn’t just a vintage commentary—it’s vintage Paglia. She talks energetically throughout the first third of the track, but loses steam and increasingly lapses into silence. She spends some of her time describing what’s happening on screen, but she does so as more of a color commentator than as a play caller—not simply describing the action, but also interpreting and amplifying it. While the lengthy gaps are disappointing, especially coming from someone who rarely seems at a loss for words, it’s an essential track for anyone wanting to examine the complex sexual politics of the film in greater depth. The second commentary with Paul Verhoeven and Jan de Bont focuses more on technical details such as the camerawork, which they admit was inspired by Hitchcock. They talk about the stylized nature of the lighting—de Bont placed his lights in unusual positions such as the floor of the interrogation room, and he also used gels to alter the color. They cover some of the thematic elements as well, but they also occasionally lapse into silence.

Basic Instinct: Sex, Death, & Stone is a new making-of documentary featuring new and archival interviews with Stone, Douglas, Verhoeven, Eszterhas, de Bont, and editor Frank J. Urioste. It covers how the script was created, why the project interested Verhoeven, casting Catherine Trammell, how Stone cracked the character, shooting the sex scenes, the controversy over the interrogation scene, the battles with the MPAA, the protests during shooting, and the reception that the film received. Stone also talks about the long-term impact that playing the character has had on her personally. An Unending Story – Scoring Basic Instinct is a new look at Jerry Goldsmith’s process of composing the score, featuring historians Daniel Schweiger, Robert Townson, Lukas Kendall, and Jeff Bond. They discuss the connections with Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann, Goldsmith’s relationship with Verhoeven, their struggle to find the perfect main theme, and the way the score combines orchestral and electronic elements. Blonde Poison is an older documentary featuring interviews with Urioste, Verhoeven, producer Alan Marshall, script consultant Gary Goldman, de Bont, Goldsmith, and Queer Nation activists Jonathan Katz and Annette Gaudino. It covers the development process, the sale of the script, casting Catherine Trammell, the Hitchcock influence, the stylized nature of the lighting, and Goldsmith’s score. Surprisingly, many of them disagree about whether or not Trammell is guilty. Katz and Gaudino talk about why they chose Basic Instinct as a target for protests—it wasn’t necessarily the film itself, but rather the way that it exemplified their issues with Hollywood’s treatment of LGBTQ characters in general. Cast & Crew Interviews is a vintage EPK promotional feature, and it’s mostly fluff. The Storyboard Comparisons are split screen juxtapositions of the original storyboards with the final scenes from the film. The Screen Tests contain footage from various tests for both Stone and Tripplehorn, with the option to watch the scenes from the film for comparison purposes (except for Believe Me, which was not used in the final cut). Also included is the film’s trailer, and it’s the only extra presented in Ultra HD. Overall, it’s a nice collection of extras despite some inevitable repetition.

Basic Instinct is far from a perfect film, but it’s a significant one for many reasons. Catherine Trammell may not be a positive female role model, but characters don’t need to be positive to be potent. Regardless of her guilt or innocence, she exhibits a dominance over the opposite sex that would make James Bond jealous. Hollywood in 1992 still deserved criticism for the way that it represented female and LGBTQ characters, but Basic Instinct is far too complex of a text to dismiss so easily. Arguably, it displays more misandry than it does misogyny—there’s not a single sympathetic male character in the film (even Nick’s otherwise likable partner Gus is too much of a boor). One confident woman brings all of them to their knees. There were few mainstream films prior to Basic Instinct which were so thoroughly dominated by a single female character, and positive or not, that’s still noteworthy. For those reasons and more, StudioCanal’s 4K restoration is well worth a look for fans.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)

 

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