It's an age old story; talented and uncompromising director has huge critical and commercial success in his (or her) own country, are then tempted by the glitter of the Hollywood machine only to become a shadow of their former self. How many great names can we add to that list? Few seem able to buck the trend, though one name does spring to mind, Paul Verhoeven, he has managed to work within the Hollywood framework and still retain that edge of his earlier work (except Showgirls, 1995). With a background of intelligent, sex, violence but tolerant films to his name and the run away success of Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990), Verhoeven was the natural choice to helm a new erotic thriller whodunit from Joe Eszterhas the writer who penned Jagged Edge (1985) and Flash Dance (1983). That film was Basic Instinct, never before or since has there been such an erotically charged film out of mainstream Hollywood, it created a megastar out of its lead actress and much to the chagrin of the avid protesters became the top grossing film of 1992, the year of its release.
The story, by now, is probably known by everyone, but briefly we follow Nick Curren (Michael Douglas) a homicide detective cleared of shooting two tourists and on his recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse as he is pulled into a ritualistic type murder. It turns out his murder is a copycat direct from one Catherine Tramell's (Sharon Stone) book, she therefore becomes the prime suspect. As Nick follows this lead, Tramell herself studied Nick's background for a new character in her book; this complex interwoven seduction forms the backbone of the investigation of into the murderer, though it is a bumpy road with more murder, sex and a sudden twist in direction for a new suspect that has Nick reeling in his loyalties.
Verhoeven was the only director that could pull this film off; his upbringing in liberalism and tolerance as well as his understanding of the complexities of human desire raised this film from the cheap exploitation it could so easily have become. Yes the film does contain three explicit sex scenes, leading to the 'erotic' name of the film, but each scene in itself is not erotic in the 'sexy' sense of the word. Sure there is plenty of T&A but each has a very dark underscoring; the first ends in a frenzied murder, the second a possible date rape, the third a charged atmosphere of fear; these are not the making of erotica. Of course all this is helped by Jerry Goldsmith's morose scoring, that picks out the tragedy and darkness of the scenes. In fact the most erotic part of the film is “that scene”. Helped by the lighting and camera position, Verhoeven places Stone centre stage, she controls the scene from beginning to end with a characterisation of the cold calculating manipulative 'black widow' in Catherine. Incredible, then, to be upstaged by one's own genitals. However, no matter how you look at it, that two second flash hold's the attention of the audience, is good for the film and the impact of the entire scene would have been significantly less had it been excised. Whether of not you believe Stone's insistence she was tricked, or Vehoeven's statement she was aware and happy for the character, it raised the impact of the film and raised it's actress into a star! If we take that scene as a metaphor for the whole film Verhoeven manages to keep the eroticism bubbling just under the surface, but all the while keeping us just off centre and shrouding the entire ensemble in darkness.
His liberal views and tolerance were of immeasurable value when having to deal with all the protests and complaints that the film generated during its production. The Gay Rights took particular exception to the main character being a lesbian and a killer; even though Verhoeven had dealt with such subject matter sympathetically in the past with The 4th Man (1983), Basic Instinct, as a big budget high profile film was at the right time and place for the protesters to seize an opportunity to be heard. Verhoeven's views that by making it a non-issue it becomes accepted is typical of his Dutch upbringing, and as such felt that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the body of work, even though he did meet and discuss possible script changes with the protesters. In the end, as all good directors do, he made the film he wanted to make, it is a testament to his skill and the production team's dedication that that film turned out acceptable, even with all its gratuity.
Basic Instinct then is as compelling and tight now as it was fourteen years ago, it has lost none of its impact and, because of its nature, still outshines many of its contemporary 'erotic' thrillers. Even so, that doesn't explain the amount of different edition DVD's that are available for it. We in the UK were slightly better off, in that the film was never cut; our theatrical run time and DVD run time are the same. The USA was not so fortunate, several minutes of 'erotica' were removed to gain the NC-17 rating; however this has made for a number of different DVD releases, with the run times as the core difference. Still, there are collectors editions, special editions and unrated director editions, so what makes this the “ultimate edition”. I would have though 'ultimate' meant both versions of the film or even the TV edit, with all the available extras from all the various different versions in one neat package. Sadly this does not seem to be the case. As we take a look through the disc below I think you might come to feel, as I do, that this is nothing more that a marketing ploy for another film with a similar name that is bombing at the cinemas as I write this.
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