Directed by Adrian Lyne and co-written by the late, great Zalman King, 1986's 9 ½ Weeks definitely stands out as one of the more controversial major studio releases of the decade in which it was born. The film follows a beautiful young blonde woman named Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) who, completely by chance, meets a man named John (Mickey Rourke) while shopping in a Manhattan Chinese grocery store. Elizabeth is an assistant at an affluent art gallery while John makes a very good living on Wall Street - but they after a few knowing glances in that store, they're intrinsically pulled into one another's lives and she can't help but watch him walk down the street after they leave the store.
When they ever so coincidentally meet again shortly after their first chance encounter, they can't help but talk and soon enough he's basically talked her into joining him on a sexual adventure. They don't go through the normal courting process that most relationships set out on, but instead he blindfolds her and she lets him have his way with her. We learn very early on and in no uncertain terms that he has this need to be on control while she has absolutely no problem giving her body over to him, and as such, they're a good fit in that department. As they become more obsessed with one another he calls her at all hours of the day and instructs her to meet him for a rendezvous wherever he sees fit, and she obliges. All of this intersects with their respective personal lives and with their respective careers and in this regard the film does a very good job of contrasting its blatant and unrepentant carnality with the mundane day to day activities of those who would live out their sexual exploits so brazenly. Soon though, Elizabeth starts to wonder if John's games aren't games at all and as she's asked to take things to considerably more degrading levels, she starts to question their master and servant relationship and wonder to herself where she should draw the line.
Presented here in its original uncut version and clocking in at three minutes shy of a two hour running time, 9 ½ Weeks holds up, at least in terms of its erotic value. The infamous scene in which Rourke blindfolds Basinger and uses various different foods on her, probably the most instantly identifiable sequence from the film, holds up as not only sexy but suspenseful and the scene in which Basinger's character becomes so turned on that she has to take matters into her own hands is just as steamy now as it was in 1986. What's interesting about the film, however, isn't the graphic sex scenes but the way that it toys with viewer expectations and with Elizabeth's willingness to let herself be taken over. Tensions is derived from the later sex scenes in which we know she's starting to question her willingness to be John's 'plaything' - but will she find it inside herself to stand up to him or will she continue to go along with his wants so long as it fulfills her own fantasies?
On the flipside of the emotional gamut that Liz goes through, there's John, always in control and well aware that Liz is enjoying what he's doing to her. His need for control is not uncommon and completely believable but what he wants isn't so much to degrade Liz but to let her know that he knows she likes it. This is key to what he's getting out of this relationship, and both Rourke and Basinger play their characters well here. Of course, the film isn't always too concerned with staying within the realms of believability, the most obvious example being the scene in which our lovers are chased through Manhattan by thugs only to take solace in a grungy New York City alleyway where they simply can't control themselves and must go at it right then and there, water pouring over them as they rip off one another's clothes. Danger can be a turn on, sure, but this scene stretches things quite a bit. The film toys around with the ideas of manipulation and subservience, keeping us interested so that we'll finally find out who will give and how much they'll give - and this keeps the movie fairly tense, because if we ultimately know the answer going in, we don't necessarily know how the film is going to get us there.
The film's soundtrack will deliver a pretty serious dose of eighties nostalgia to those who were around to remember it, as will some of the fashions and the set decoration. In this regard the film is very much a product of the decade in which it was made, a decade, appropriately enough, known for its excess. If this one winds up as at least partially an exercise in style over substance, it's still an interesting and through provoking movie. Flawed, yes, definitely so but it ends on a pretty thought provoking note that has more to do with the concepts of power and control than it does with nudity and sex.
9 ½ Weeks debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85.1. Those with an aversion to heavy grain will probably be turned off here but if you like grainy, film-like presentations you'll be pleased with Warner's high definition representation of the film on this disc. While detail isn't reference quality it is considerably improved over the DVD release of the film, as is color reproduction and as are black levels. Skin looks like skin, there's no evidence of noise reduction or heavy filtering here, while contrast levels look accurate. Print damage is relegated to the occasional white speck that pops up here and there, but otherwise this is a solid transfer of some often times gritty looking source material.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix on the Blu-ray sounds quite good, particularly in regards to how it spreads out the eighties soundtrack. Dialogue is clean and crisp and always easy to decipher, even with Rourke and Basinger are speaking in hushed, sexy whispers. Levels are properly balanced throughout the movie and bass response, if not particularly bombastic, is as strong as the movie asks it to be. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion of note and Jack Nitzsche's score sounds most impressive and can be heard here with a fair bit more range than it had on DVD. Dubbed Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks are provided in French and Spanish with optional subtitles provided in English SDH, French and Spanish.
Extras on this disc are limited to some basic menus and the film's original theatrical trailer (2:37, in HD). It would have been great to get a commentary track or some interviews here but that didn't happen.
9 ½ Weeks hasn't aged particularly well and it comes off now as more superficial than anything else but as far as exercises in style over substance go, it's entertaining enough and periodically genuinely sexy. Warner's Blu-ray release is, as the DVD was, devoid of any substantial extras and that is a shame but if you like the movie enough to want to own it, the upgrade in audio and video quality on this disc makes it worthwhile. Otherwise, if you haven't seen it before, you'll want to rent it first.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.