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The Visceral Form of 'Basic Instinct'

April 30, 1993|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

How base was "Basic Instinct" meant to be?

A new Pioneer Special Edition laser disc version offering the movie as director Paul Verhoeven "had originally planned it" reveals why the director's vision would have resulted in an NC-17 rating. In its theatrical-release R form, with some of the more intense aspects of the love scenes, and some violence, eliminated, it nonetheless drew plenty of attention and box office. Those fans of the film will not be disappointed in this slightly expanded video release.

This two-disc laser edition ($70, CLV on sides one, two and four, and CAV on side three) offers the "completely unabridged" version of the film in its original wide-screen ratio so that the viewer can see everything exactly the way the director wanted it. It's accompanied by a revealing second audio-track commentary on which Verhoeven, in a particularly grating voice, explains virtually every shot in detail.

There's also the usual batch of supplementary goodies, including a clumsily done and often pretentious "The Secrets of 'Basic Instinct' " series of video Q & As with stars Michael Douglas (articulate), Sharon Stone (who doesn't seem able to articulate either her character or the film), Jeanne Tripplehorn (who does seem able to articulate her character and the film), as well as one with Verhoeven, who reiterates and expands on much of what he has to say on the audio track.

"Basic Instinct" is a "movie about manipulation and about the devil," Verhoeven says. Douglas sees it as "the struggle of sin" and the fight to redeem yourself or "sink further into hell." Stone views it as a "very odd sort of love story, a tale about what happens when you dally in the darkness." Tripplehorn calls it plainly about "just evil."

(Do not confuse this laser edition with the special-edition $50 LIVE videotape release. The director's cut is the same, but the video interview is a different one, just with Verhoeven, focusing primarily on the plot and his interpretation of it. Both special editions, however are in widescreen formats, not pan and scan.)

As has now become de rigeur for special-edition lasers, we're offered interesting video footage of the storyboards and behind-the-scenes production stills, but this time around no trailer. There is an alternate music track for the final scene by composer Jerry Goldsmith on an analog channel, however.

And, should you want to compare the highly charged sex scenes in their theatrical release R-rated form and the unrated director's cut offered here, there's a clever bonus: They're offered on a split screen on side three, which is CAV, making crisp freeze frames, slow motion and other laser features readily accessible.

If there was ever any doubt in any viewer's mind over just who the ice-pick killer is in this erotic psychological thriller, Verhoeven quickly dispatches it. The red herrings, Hitchcockian MacGuffins and false leads are all analyzed and dissected as we watch the carnage and clues unfold. If you missed them the first time around, you won't now.

Nothing in the costly, controversial Joe Eszterhas script was left to chance. As he had done previously with violent scenes in "RoboCop" and "Total Recall," Verhoeven choreographed each sex scene down to the last detail.

"When the scenes were written by Eszterhas, they were written more elliptically," Verhoeven says. "I felt it was interesting to show exactly what was going on."

"I storyboarded all the scenes very precisely. Then I showed everything" to stars Douglas, Stone and Tripplehorn, he says. "Nothing that I had proposed was refused. After their initial shock, they ultimately agreed to do it as far as I wanted to go."

Which, for a mainstream Hollywood movie, was pretty far. "I think all three of them went further than I had ever seen people go in a movie--even my European films. I think at this point in my career I wanted to do something sensational," the director notes.

And he clearly wanted to pay some sort of homage to Alfred Hitchcock, a director whose way with a camera and a thriller he clearly admires, and makes no secret of as he points to scenes inspired by "Vertigo," in particular.

For Douglas, a onetime racer, the most harrowing scenes weren't the sex scenes but the car chase spiraling around a San Francisco mountain with no guard rails and a 500-foot drop. But both Douglas and Verhoeven acknowledge that it was a stunt Douglas insisted on doing himself. "I like the freedom of physicality," Douglas explains, the freedom to "go instinctively," of "just being there." How the director or producers could just be there and watch their star cutting in and out of oncoming traffic is another question.

There's one key element missing from all the analysis and explanation, however: the scriptwriter. We get a pretty clear idea of why Verhoeven, Douglas, Stone and novice Tripplehorn wanted to make this film. But never do we find out why Eszterhas wanted to write it. Just for the money--which was considerable? Or did he have something he really wanted to say?

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