Movie: There really isn't much that can be said about popular classics released repeatedly on DVD these days that hasn't been covered numerous times in the past. Other than detailed analysis of the edits and typically newly added extras, the basics are usually the same. Such was the case with Basic Instinct: Ultimate Edition, the erotic thriller starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, released way back in 1992. With a sequel coming out in a couple of weeks starring Stone, I can understand why this version is coming out now but the lack of significant new material seems like a wasted effort, especially in light of the coming format wars for high definition DVD where even more versions of the movie are going to come out soon. I've seen at least four versions of this one on DVD and if you include all the variations, as well as the varied releases from other region codes, I suspect that the movie competes with Evil Dead for the number of versions on the market.
Okay, the movie is story about a police homicide investigator Nick Curran, played by Michael Douglas, who is recovering from a series of hard luck events in his life. His career is in the crapper thanks to an accidental shooting that caused him to lose his wife, his self respect, and his confidence in himself as well as that of his colleagues on the San Francisco Police Department. His job is on the line as his emotional stability is questioned, causing him to be under psychiatric evaluation by his former lover, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, the department shrink. Counterbalancing his character is that of Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone), a wealthy author that has little regard for social conventions as she freely enjoys her own pursuit of physical pleasure. The two cross paths during the investigation of a politically connected man brutally murdered in bed by an ice pick. Nick "knows" Trammell did it and her cold, calculating mannerisms put him on edge very quickly as the two become engaged in a deadly game of cat and mouse as she makes him the lead character of her newest novel, seducing him along the way.
I'm not going to ruin the story for those of you who haven't seen the movie but the rabbit trails where a variety of other suspects come into the spotlight and the unease at which Nick confronts his darker desires for a woman absolutely wrong for him, regardless of her possible homicidal tendencies. His flawed character contrasts greatly to those he had played prior to this (particularly in his cop series The Streets of San Francisco) although he had expanded his darker roles a few years previously as the flawed guy unwilling to accept the consequences of letting a femme fatale into his life. Worldwide, the movie had long been one of the most successful in history, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars over the years; while that isn't the most definitive measure of success, it is an objective one that no group can deny (a number of gay activists were upset at the portrayal of gay, bisexual, and lesbian characters in less than pleasant light; doing all they could to stop it or at least capitalize on it, helping to make it an even bigger success, much to their chagrin). If you've never seen the movie before, it's well worth picking up as a near classic of its type yet if you've bought the last special edition version released in 2002, there isn't any reason to pick it up.
Picture: The picture was presented in the same 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen color as the 2002 version of the release. If there was anything else cleaned up, it wasn't obvious at first glance to me with the same limitations of source material showing up (the occasional print scratch being the most ready thing to compare) though it once again looked much better than the original DVD or laserdisc releases I've seen in the past. For those of you that missed out on previous versions, let me tell you that Verhoeven has a keen eye for detail and crafted this film much more carefully than some of his other works. If you look, or listen, closely enough, you'll find additional information included in just about every scene (many of which have been thoroughly documented elsewhere). I saw the movie in the theatre and based on my admittedly sketchy memory from the time, the DVD looked better than the projected version on the big screen.
Sound: For an erotic thriller such as Basic Instinct, the audio is an area that is very important in order to convey the foreboding sense of dread and other moods the movie calls for. Thankfully, the wonderfully rich score by Jerry Goldsmith added in several layers of depth that elevated the movie considerably compared to the vast number of copycats and similar flicks made over the years. There were two versions of audio offered up here, a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track in English or the more conventional 2.0 Dolby track; both with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, or French. The subtitles were in white block form at the bottom of the screen and were easily readable for those who care, also provided during the audio commentary. The separation between the channels was a rich mix on the surround version, employing some directionality though not as much as a newer modern flick would include given the availability of home theatre equipment since the movie was released. In all, the audio was on par with the visual elements here, proving Verhoeven's vision to include it on all levels of the original production.
Extras: One of the primary reasons to buy a double (or triple, quadruple or otherwise re-re-released title) is for the new extras the newer version almost always has. Basic Instinct: Ultimate Edition is not different in this regard although there is good news and bad news in this regard. First off, it was missing some of the extras from the last release (the 2002 10th anniversary version that initially came out with a miniature pen in the shape of an ice pick), most obvious of which was an interesting audio commentary by Feminazi Camille Paglia. Thankfully, the original commentary track by director Paul Verhoeven and his director of photography Jan De Bont. I would've preferred a newer commentary that included Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, and others involved in the making of the movie but the logistics alone prevented that from happening (not to mention some of the hard feelings by people like Stone at the director). The two bounced back and forth with Jan discussing technical matters more and Paul going into a variety of layers on the overall story and production. It wasn't the best commentary I've heard but it held up in large part due to the way the pair contrasted one another. There was also the featurette from the past Cleaning Up Basic Instinct, where the words and visuals were reworked in order to make a broadcastable version of the movie for airing on prime time television. There were short screen tests by Sharon Stone and Jeanne Tripplehorn, reportedly available previously only in shortened versions as Easter Eggs. The feature Blonde Poison: The Making of Basic Instinct was included (again) in its uncut version. There were also the previously released storyboard comparisons of the Car Chase, Love Scene, and Elevator Murder scenes though I think it would've been nicer if the boards were followed by clips from the scenes.
The new extras for this version included a very brief introduction by Sharon Stone and a short featurette A Conversation with Sharon Stone where she fusses about the infamous crotch shot in the interrogation room, discusses how the movie succeeded thanks to her acting ability more than the mentioned scene, and a wide range of other things that were more of interest. So, aside from losing some extras and adding in a transparent plastic slipcase, there really wasn't a lot of reason to get this one over the last version that was released in terms of extras.
Final Thoughts: Basic Instinct: Ultimate Edition was certainly not the "ultimate edition" in that it looked, sounded, and otherwise had fewer extras than the last version released on DVD but it was still a great flick to enjoy and as close, when it came out at least, to a full sex scene shown in a mainstream release with well known actors. I'm kind of on the fence about rating it since either a Skip It or a Highly Recommended presume a state relating to a previous edition of the movie; if you have the Special Edition version from 2002, you'll want to pass on this one and if you don't, it's well worth adding to your collection. In short, there really isn't much middle ground to the new DVD so Basic Instinct: Ultimate Edition is another mystery for fans of the show. The movie is a great tribute to past psychological thrillers as updated with openly erotic material though possessing much more depth to explore if you look past the obvious. If you'd like to see a strong woman in charge of herself and those around her at all times, there are virtually no better characters to select than Catherine Trammell but the true interest of the movie is the flawed detective and how he attempts to make sense of someone so alien to his sensibilities in a "moth to the flame" type of manner.