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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Basic
Basic
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // July 8, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted June 26, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


"Basic" is nothing new in the mystery or military genre and its twists circle around themselves to the point of potential audience indifference, but it does have one thing going for it - a very good performance from John Travolta. Travolta stars as Tom Hardy, an ex-Ranger and current DEA agent, called in by Colonel Bill Styles (Tim Daly) to investigate a a squad of Special Forces trainees who have seemingly vanished in the middle of a rain-soaked jungle. Assisted by the reluctant Lt. Osborne (Connie Nielsen), Hardy begins the interrogation of survivors Dunbar (Brian Van Holt) and Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi).

The film then starts going into flashbacks, showing the audience glimpses of what happened during the training exercise lead by Sergeant West (Samuel L. Jackson), Hardy's former commander. From there, we get misdirections, surprises and twists and then some. Although I enjoy a film with the occasional twist, every scene in "Basic" pretty much has the movie spinning in another direction; the movie seems more interested in turns and misdirections than anything else. It's all not hard to follow, but the movie could have made these surprises more effective and involving had they been spaced out a bit throughout the picture. I will admit that the ending had a goofy (which seemed even odder, given the seriousness of the rest of the picture), absurd charm.

However, Travolta carries the movie fairly well. I haven't really liked anything that Travolta has done since "Broken Arrow" (one of Travolta's lines in "Basic" seems to be a nod to that earlier performance), and shades of that performance return here. Although more subtle, Travolta at least seems to be having more fun being smug and arrogant. Connie Nielsen is decent as Osborne (although her toughness isn't particularly believable), while supporting performances from Ribisi, Jackson and others are fair, but nothing memorable.

Obviously, this is quite the important film for director John McTiernan. Despite a series of hits in the 80's and early 90's, McTiernan recently helmed the potentially career-ending remake of "Rollerball". Although "Basic" doesn't nearly hit the highs of the director's former hits, its certainly an improvement over his last couple. Depsite a rather poor screenplay from James Vanderbuilt ("Darkness Falls"), McTiernan pulls together satisfactory performances and a decent, if inconsistent, amount of suspense. At 95 minutes, pacing isn't much of a problem, as the movie zips along fairly efficently. I certainly didn't love "Basic", but enough of it worked for me to find consider it passable entertainment.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Basic" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's image quality is generally good, but rather inconsistent at times. The first thirty minutes of the picture appears noticably soft and even a tad hazy; while sharpness does seem to improve somewhat afterwards, there are still moments when the film offers somewhat lackluster/inconsistent definition.

While the picture does suffer from some softness, it thankfully doesn't show to many other concerns. Edge enhancement isn't spotted, aside from a few very slight instances. Pixelation isn't an issue, either, nor are print flaws. Colors are fairly subdued for the most part, but more vivid/bright colors occasionally check in.

SOUND: "Basic" sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation that's anything but basic. Although not an official EX soundtrack, engaging the back surround channel effectively extended the envelopment of the soundtrack, letting, for example, the frequent rolls of thunder that are heard throughout the picture, sound particularly convincing and immersive. Surrounds are aggressive and effective, with ambient sounds, more noticable sound effects and reinforcement of Klaus Badelt's score all coming from the rear speakers. Sound effects are fierce and dynamic, while Badelt's score has strong depth and presence. Dialogue remained clear throughout, while occasional deep bass was also present. The trailer for production company Intermedia before the picture - which features a tidal wave - also boasts some pretty forceful audio itself.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: Despite continuing to sound like the least energetic person ever, director John McTiernan once again offers a feature-length audio commentary for one of his films. Despite the fact that the director occasionally has some interesting stories to share about the production and issues like location and casting, one must sit through a considerable amount of silence and the occasional stretches of McTiernan simply narrating the story.

Basic Ingredients: A Writer's Perspective: This 17-minute featurette focuses on screenwriter James Vanderbuilt, who shares some interesting tidbits about changes to the script and the research that he did (good) and also actually spends time during the featurette reading lines from his own script (bad, not to mention pointless). The writer also introduces a couple of deleted scenes, one of which adds to the Nielsen character's backstory.

A Director's Design: This 23-minute piece isn't much about McTiernan, but serves instead as a general "making of". We find out more about characters, casting, story, development and other aspects of the production. Despite some moments where some rather surface bits of information are offered and the participants spend too much time praising others involved, this is a decent piece that provides a respectable overview of the making of the feature.

Also: filmographies and trailers for "Basic", "Formula 51", "Tears of the Sun", "Bad Boys II", "XXX", "S.W.A.T." and "Identity".

Final Thoughts: Good twists are involving, but "Basic" might have been even more effective and tense had it been more straightforward. Travolta is better than he's been in a while in the lead role, but there are some supporting efforts that are iffy. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides excellent audio and generally good video, as well as a few decent supplements. Those in the mood for a thriller/mystery might want to try the film as a rental.

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