In the new documentary, which accompanies this excellent new 4K release from Studiocanal, Michael Douglas talks about how in 1992 he felt Hollywood was becoming increasingly conservative, and he wanted to make something that would shake things up. Well, if the early 90s were conservative, the early 20s we are living in today are positively puritanical. It is almost unthinkable to imagine a mainstream film as horny, sexy, violent, problematic, and as controversial as ‘Basic Instinct’, not just being made today, but going on to be one of the biggest movies of the decade.
Dismissed by critics at the time as trash, and regarded as nothing more than director Paul Verhoeven doing an impression of Brian De Palma doing an impression of Alfred Hitchcock (as if that’s a bad thing!) ‘Basic Instinct’ has a lot more going for it than just THAT scene. A lurid and kinky neo-noir, full of brutal murder and beautiful blondes. If Hitch had been making movies in the 90s, he would have snapped up Joe Eszterhas’s script before anyone else in Hollywood had even heard of it.
Verhoeven sets out his stall from the opening frames. An explicit sex scene morphs into an even more explicit murder scene, as retired rock star Johnny Boz is brutally stabbed to death with an ice pick by a mysterious blonde woman. Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) investigates the case, and learns that Boz’s girlfriend, novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) had written a book which eerily mirrors Boz’s demise. Does this make her the prime suspect, or is someone trying to frame her?
Having passed a polygraph test, and with a rock-solid alibi, Catherine is in the clear, but Nick can’t get her out of his head. He recently returned to the force following a tragic accidental shooting, and is in a fragile state. It will only take the slightest nudge for him to be back on the booze and drugs, and his obsession with Catherine is beginning to spiral out of control. When he learns that she is making him the inspiration for her next novel, just like Boz was for her last, he is—to put it bluntly—literally fucked.
One of the great things about ‘Basic Instinct’ is that nothing about it is subtle. Everything is done in big brash strokes. From Verhoeven’s expressionistic flourishes, and the melodramatic performances, to Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning score, everything is done to excess. Which is perhaps why it runs out of steam in the final act. All that sex and death and intrigue is exhausting to maintain, but the build-up—no matter how bonkers and sensationalised—is endlessly entertaining.
The one thing that doesn’t run out of steam however is Sharon Stone, in her phenomenal star-making turn. It’s one of the most underrated performances in modern cinema, and that is largely because all people think about when they think about ‘Basic Instinct’ is Sharon Stone crossing her legs without wearing underwear. Now, would the film have been as notorious without that scene? Would it have been as big a hit, and it would have propelled her to international stardom without that scene?
We’ll never know, but it’s a shame that one of the all-time great femme fatale performances has been reduced to a two-second flash of flesh. Playful, sinister, vulnerable, and as icy cool as any Hitchcock blonde, when she is on screen you can practically hear the film sizzling. Perhaps this terrific new release will provide a platform for a more than justified critical re-evaluation.
Speaking of this new release, the highlight of the special features is a brand-new documentary, entitled ‘Basic Instinct: Sex, Death & Stone’. This nearly hour-long programme has brought all the main players from both sides of the camera back to talk about their experiences of making the film. Jeanne Tripplehorn being the notable exception. Presented as a series of interviews, this is an honest and insightful look back at the film, which most importantly doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Not everyone comes off all that great here.
Stone is excellent however, and comes across brilliantly as she honestly lays bare her side of the story. Elsewhere, the documentary goes into great detail on the development of the film, and the infamous auction to snap up the script. There are discussions on the casting, what the film meant to both Stone and Douglas who were at very different points in their career, and also detailed breakdowns of the film’s most famous scenes.
There are two audio commentary choices for the film. the first is with academic Camille Paglia, who was one of the fiercest proponents of the film in the face of all the controversy it stoked. The second is with director Paul Verhoeven and cinematographer Jan de Bont.
On disc two there is another new featurette, ‘An Unending Story – Scoring Basic Instinct’ which goes behind the scenes of the brilliant Jerry Goldsmith score. ‘Blonde Poison’ is a 25-minute documentary from the archives about the making of the film. Also included is the trailer for the new 4K restoration.
Also from the archives are a selection of cast and crew interviews, filmed around the film’s original release. There are storyboard comparisons for three of the key scenes in the film. And finally, screen tests for Sharon Stone and Jeanne Tripplehorn presented alongside the final scenes in the film. If you only watch one of these, make it the Shooter scene, where Stone acts alongside Verhoeven reading Curran’s lines. If you were tweeting about it you would be using multiple fire emojis.
Cast: Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn, George Dzundza Director: Paul Verhoeven Writer: Joe Eszterhas Released By: Studiocanal Certificate: 18 Duration: 128 mins Release Date: 14th June 2021