Coming on thirty years, Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct remains a brilliantly engaging crime classic starring a still iconic Sharon Stone in a masterful piece of filmmaking with astutely understated themes. In Europe, StudioCanal celebrates the neo-noir thriller on 4K Ultra HD as a three-disc Collector's Edition box set. The UHD features a gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR video, a satisfying DTS-HD track and a great collection of bonus goodies. Overall, the UHD package of this Verhoeven classic is a Highly Recommended addition to the library.
Thirty years later, it still seems as though Basic Instinct endures mostly underappreciated. Granted, Paul Verhoeven's erotic thriller has garnered a strong and devoted cult following in the course of those three decades. But, at best, it continues to be remembered primarily for its erotic subject matter and the controversy it stirred during its initial theatrical run. Mention the film and most will likely think back to Sharon Stone's unforgettable performance as crime novelist Catherine Tramell and the iconic leg-crossing scene where she revealed more than she was reportedly led to believe. Others might also reminisce on her explicitly sexual scenes with Michael Douglas's homicide detective Nick Curran as he investigates the murder of a retired rock star. And others still will probably recall the unsurprising twist ending in Joe Eszterhas's mystery plot and continue seeing it as the film's major flaw.
Lost in many of these conversations, however, is an appreciation for how well-crafted and thoughtful the production truly is, which in my estimation makes this neo-noir thriller with Hitchcockian sensibilities an ingeniously brilliant piece of filmmaking. From Stone's archetypal femme fatale to Jan de Bont's gorgeous cinematography bathing interior conversations in the smoky shadows of vertical blinds, the film is at once a venerating love letter to the highly stylized genre. But true to Verhoeven form, the story hides a shrewdly understated social commentary about the thin line between sex and violence, as well as how the obsession of one could lead to the other. This also comes intertwined with the deeper theme about modern society's repression of our baser instincts resulting in more violence and confusion, as seen in both Douglas's Nick and police psychologist Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn).
It's no coincidence that Stone's Catherine is very much open about her sexuality, brutally honest to everyone including herself and at the same time, seems the most psychologically healthy — except of course, for her unique fetish with dangerous people. In truth, this is no more abnormal or unusual from the world's current fixation with true crime dramas. Nevertheless, she is seen as the most likely murder suspect largely because she's also an aberration to the status quo, an anomaly of cultural norms and society's accepted conventions. At first glance, Catherine may be a familiar archetype entangled in a world trapped by standard genre tropes, but she's far from allowing anyone to confine or define her by those trappings. She is a strong, powerful female character who throws a monkey wrench into society's rules, values and expectations, making Basic Instinct all the more genius.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of the 2007 Blu-ray HERE.
2021 Ultra HD
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Imported from the United Kingdom, Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct scandalizes on 4K Ultra HD as a three-disc Collector's Edition box set, courtesy of StudioCanal. A Region Free, triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a pair of Region B locked Blu-rays: a BD50 disc copy of the film and a BD25 disc containing more supplements. All three discs are housed inside an attractive gatefold plastic tray with images of the three central protagonists beneath each disc. Also inside, the tray contains a folded poster with new artwork, a set of five black-and-white photo postcards and a 20-page booklet featuring an exhaustive history on its production, reception and restoration. The entire package comes inside a sturdy, side-sliding cardboard slipcover showing the same newly-comissioned artwork as the poster. At startup, the disc goes straight to an animated menu screen with music playing in the background and the usual options along the bottom.
2021 Ultra HD
Just shy of its 30th anniversary, the neo-noir thriller takes a stab at Ultra HD with a fresh restoration and remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, courtesy of StudioCanal. According to the notes in the booklet, the producers also restored the film to its complete unrated version using about forty seconds of previously deleted footage from a recently discovered internegative, and the brand-new 4K digital intermediate was made under the supervision and approval of Paul Verhoeven. The end result is a stunningly gorgeous HEVC H.265 encode flaunting a remarkable upgrade over its HD predecessors, including the new accompanying Blu-ray made from the same remaster. Yet, it will very likely be the source of minor controversy due to some perceived revisionism by the director and the producers of this UHD edition because of how drastically different it looks from previous home video versions.
On the positive, the native 4K transfer is significantly sharper and cleaner throughout, exposing every nook and cranny inside the character's homes. Even in the many wide shots of San Francisco, the leaves of trees, the shingles of roofs, the rock formations along the coastline and the windows of buildings are far more distinct. The lettering in signs and doors is more legible while the stitching and fabric of the clothing are better defined, and the individual hairs of actors are striking. In fact, most impressive is the lifelike and highly revealing details in the faces of the entire cast, making every pore, tiny wrinkle and the most negligible blemish unmistakable. We can even plainly make out the wee freckles hiding beneath Sharon Stone's makeup.
Every now and then, some very mild aliasing can be seen along the windows and blinds, or the sharpest edges of buildings and roofs waver a bit. There are some instances of very minor posterization as well. However, these issues are very far and few in between and are, in fact, very easy to overlook while in motion, making them arguably trivial since they don't take away from the film's overall enjoyment. More noticeable are the few sequences dipping every so slightly in resolution quality and looking softer than its best moments. And such instances only occur during a few of the poorly lit interiors where the grain structure is also a bit denser and more pronounced, making those scenes seem as though somewhat noisy, but it's inherent to the original elements. Aside from that though, the photography is pretty stable and awash in a consistent fine layer of natural grain, making for a lovely film-like picture.
2021 Ultra HD
The Dolby Vision HDR presentation is also the result of a new color correction, which some are likely to take issue with since this new remaster displays a very notable shift from previous home video releases. Most striking in this UHD edition is the orange-teal palette being made more apparent and unmistakable, which is a significant change from the colder bluish look seen on Blu-ray, DVD and Laserdisc. On the one hand, this appears to benefit Jan de Bont's cinematography, showing more accurately saturated primaries, particularly the juniper greens of the foliage and the deeper cherry reds of the lipsticks. Likewise, secondary hues boast fuller values with better variation, specifically the fiery amber oranges and warm golden yellows of various interior scenes. This is especially true of the explicitly erotic moments the film is notoriously known for, and interestingly, this actually complements the erotic neo-noir aesthetic the filmmakers intended.
On the other hand, the new grading has noticeably affected other areas of the photography. Most notably, facial complexions waver between the healthy peachy-reddish tones that are accurate to the climate and an unappealing orange sunburnt look that can be fairly distracting and off-putting in some spots. Also, the cerulean blue sky occasionally looks more cyan, but the ocean water now has a more natural greenish-teal quality that is truer to reality and accurate to look of the Pacific Coast, making for a gorgeous picturesque view from Catherine's house. Moreover, contrast balance is an improvement overall, giving the film a fresher, more lively and more vibrant appeal than its HD SDR counterparts. Unfortunately, whites occasionally have a warmer yellow feel to them, making for a slightly flat picture, while at other times, they are spot-on and brilliantly vivid, furnishing the video with an energetic pop.
The strongest aspects of this 4K HDR presentation are the specular highlights, which are comparatively crisper and narrower but also supply the visuals with a nuanced, subtle beauty. While we can better make out the finer details within the hottest areas, such as light fixtures, headlights and the edges of fluffy clouds, metallic objects like eyeglasses and icepicks enjoy a realistic sheen, and the bright rays of the sun bounce off various surfaces, such as foreheads and the ocean water, with a tighter glow and glisten without ever blooming. On the opposite end of the spectrum, black levels are richer and inkier with outstanding gradational differences between various shades, from Catherine's Lotus Esprit car to the city's skyline at night, providing the 2.39:1 image with a stunning cinematic quality. Shadow details remain strong with excellent visibility within the darkest corners of the frame.
In the end, there is no denying this UHD edition of the neo-noir classic delivers a marked improvement over previous versions, looking the best it ever has looked on any format. However, the color correction and the strong orange-teal palette admittedly introduce a few minor concerns worth noting, and they're enough to knock a few points off the overall score. The presentation could potentially be unappealing to some viewers while others might find it plenty satisfying and faithful to the filmmakers' original vision since Verhoeven oversaw the new 4K remaster. All things considered, the video is nonetheless quite stunning and beautiful to watch on the big screen, but to be perfectly honest, it will ultimately come down to personal preference and subjective tastes. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 84/100)
2021 Ultra HD
Like the video, StudioCanal appears to have also remastered the original audio design and equipped this 4K UHD with three DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks — English, French and German. Compared to its BD predecessor, this is not a leaps and bounds upgrade from previous versions, but it does offer some notable improvements, starting with a better, more dynamic mid-range. This is best appreciated in Jerry Goldsmith's score, which exhibits clean separation and outstanding acoustical balance in the orchestration while the loudest segments maintain superb definition and clarity in the upper frequencies. Imaging feels broad and spacious with background activity convincingly moving across the screen and into the off-screen space. All the while, dialogue remains precise and distinct at all times.
The low-end isn't particularly memorable or stand out, but it is plenty suitable to provide the action and music with some appreciable weight and an engaging sense of presence. The same could be said for the surrounds, which are relatively silent although a few atmospherics manage to bleed into the sides to widen the soundfield with satisfying effectiveness. The audio track also does splendidly well when applying the receiver's Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality, effortlessly and subtly spreading many of those atmospherics and music into the overheads. While an object-based audio option would have been a much-welcomed upgrade, this lossless mix nonetheless makes for a great and satisfying listen. (Audio Rating: 82/100)
2021 Ultra HD
For this UHD edition, the same set of bonus features are shared with the accompanying pair of Blu-rays but spread across those two discs.
Ultra HD Disc
Blu-ray Disc 1
Blu-ray Disc 2
Thirty years later, Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct remains a terrifically entertaining crime thriller best remembered for Sharon Stone's iconic performance and the plot's luridly erotic scenes. But for me, the neo-noir thriller is also a phenomenal, masterful piece of filmmaking with an astutely understated commentary about the destructiveness of repressive, conservative values. In Europe, the Verhoeven classic takes a stab at 4K Ultra HD courtesy of StudioCanal with a stunningly gorgeous if also somewhat controversial Dolby Vision HDR presentation that nonetheless delivers a significant upgrade over its HD SDR predecessors. The new 4K transfer is joined by a trio of highly satisfying DTS-HD MA soundtracks and some familiar supplements mixed with a couple of welcomed surprises. The three-disc UHD Collector's Edition also includes a booklet, postcards and a poster, making this box set a highly recommended import for devoted fans and a lovely addition to the 4K library.