Do we need a restoration of Basic Instinct? Absolutely. A quick history lesson is in order. Back in 1992, a widescreen tv was a novelty. The likes of Stanley Kubrick shot in Academy radio (ie square) because he imagined that the future viewers of his film would generally see it on video or tv. Yet few films were issued in widescreen format outside of Laserdisc, and the result was films like Basic Instinct which looked amazing in the cinema, yet awful when panned and scanned for tv, often missing out half the picture. And when a film pushed the envelope in terms of sex, violence and swearing, as Paul Verhoeven liked to do, then you had one shot of seeing the film as intended, and that was in the cinema.
It’s 2021, and a restored version of Basic Instinct hits shops and mail order, giving you the chance to enjoy this adult thriller as nature intended. And before you get all offended about gender and feminist issues, there’s a full commentary track praising the film by no less august an authority that Camille Paglia to set your mind at rest. With a fresh 52 minute documentary Basic Instinct: Sex, Death & Stone with new interviews with Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, plus a directors commentary, and a featurette on Jerry Goldsmith’s hypnotic score, this is the full package of material that Basic Instinct deserves. The film caused a sensation back in the day, but also was a massive public blockbuster in the old style, a rare example of a blockbuster that’s not aimed at family audiences, but made by a provocateur hoping to shake up attitudes to sex.
Working from a script by Joe Eszterhas, Verhoeven was just the man for the job. He’d pushed the envelope with massive Hollywood hits like Robocop and Total Recall, but also has a track record of sexually progressive Dutch movies in the 70’s including Turkish Delight. With Jan de Bont on cinematography duties in sunny San Francisco, Verhoeven was able to make the kind of sexually explicit thriller that Alfred Hitchcock had publically mulled in the late 70’s, but seemed afraid to make; the phrase Hitchockian is bandied around a lot, but this if one of the few films that deserve the label. Sharon Stone is a hypnotic presence as author Catherine Tramell, whose books seem to mirror real life murders; has she written them as an alibi? Bull-headed cop Nick “Shooter’ Curran (Michael Douglas) suspects her of a brutal murder of a night-club boss, but when the cops pull in the author, she’s several moves ahead of them and humiliates Curran in the interrogation room. A torrid romance follows, but Tramell’s strategies awaken something primal and dangerous in Nick, who starts to emulate her provocative behaviour with violent results…
Basic Instinct is a beautiful film to look at; this new version highlights the way that rain-on-windows and swimming pool reflections are ingeniously used to create emotions on the faces of the two central characters. But it’s also a nasty film, with gruesome killings, rough sex, and a feeling that everyone in the film has something to hide. That sense of suspicion hit a raw nerve in 1992, and still works today; it’s a similar notion to that mined in Verhoeven’s Elle in 2016. It’s a real shame that adult cinema is increasingly rare, but Basic Instinct turns sexual archetypes on their heads; Nick Curran’s posse of macho dudes are ripped to pieces, some of them literally, by Tramell’s smarts, and the result is something of a battle of the sexes, with the winner only confirmed in the final shot, one that elicited gasps when I saw this at the cinema. Perhaps a hard film to love, Basic Instinct is peak Douglas, Stone and Verhoeven, and for these reasons alone, is a must see film in the history of thrillers. As the sequel proved, it’s not easy to get this kind of story right, and Basic Instinct has all the answers hidden in plain sight.
BASIC INSTINCT IS AVAILABLE ON 4K UHD COLLECTOR’S EDITION, STEELBOOK, BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL JUNE 14TH.
Amazon Prime Link and 4K trailer below. Thanks to Studio Canal for access.