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Basic Instinct

Basic Instinct is an American thriller/neo-noir film, directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas, starring Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn and George Dzundza. It was released in 1992.

The film centres around police detective Nick Curran (Douglas), who is put in charge of the investigation of a brutal murder of a wealthy former singer. Beautiful, seductive and wealthy writer Catherine Tramell (Stone) could be involved, and the detective's karma leads him into a torrid and intense relationship with the mysterious woman, who also turns out to be very dangerous.

Controversy surrounded Basic Instinct before it was even released. Gay rights activists strongly criticized the film and its depiction of homosexual relationships, especially the depiction of lesbian and bisexual women as psychopathic serial killers. In addition, the film reawakened arguments about censorship in the United States. It was initially given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA for its graphic content. However, the 1992 theatrical release was cut by about one minute in order to gain an R rating. The film was subsequently re-released in its uncut format on video and later on DVD.

Despite, or because of, its controversy, Basic Instinct was a major hit and became one of the best box office performers of 1992, collecting nearly $353 million worldwide and becoming one of the most well-known films of the 1990s. While receiving major commercial attention, it was also critically commended, receiving two Academy Award and two Golden Globe nominations—Jerry Goldsmith, the composer, was nominated for both awards for his original score, while Frank Urioste was nominated for an Academy Award for his editing and Sharon Stone was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress. The success of the film was followed by a long-awaited release of a sequel, Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction (2006), which was poorly received critically and commercially. Multiple versions of the film have been released including a director's cut, the most recent release being in 2006.

Plot

In San Francisco, a down-and-out, recovering alcoholic detective, Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), has been involved in a turbulent relationship with Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a psychiatrist whose work for the police department includes reviewing Nick's own case.

When a wealthy former rock star named Johnny Boz is brutally stabbed to death with an ice pick while having sex with a blond woman, Nick is sent to investigate. The only suspect they have is Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a crime novelist last seen with Boz on the night he died.

Nick and his partner, Gus Moran (George Dzundza), visit a Pacific Heights mansion, but there they find only Tramell's lesbian lover, Roxy, at home. Roxy sends them to Tramell's Stinson Beach beach house, where they find her on a deckchair by the ocean. They ask about her dating relationship with Boz, and she replies, "I wasn't dating him, I was fucking him." She shows very little remorse at hearing he is dead. (Curran: "Are you sorry he's dead?" Tramell: "Yeah, I liked fucking him.")

Nick and Gus, along with their superiors, discover that Catherine Tramell has written a novel about a former rock star who was killed in the exact same way -- tied to the bed with a white scarf and murdered with an ice pick. Catherine agrees to go to police headquarters for questioning. During this interview, she refuses to extinguish a cigarette ("What are you going to do, charge me with smoking?") and uncrosses her legs, revealing she is not wearing underwear. This brings discomfort to the interrogators in the room, especially Nick, whom she continuously addresses by his first name or his nickname, "Shooter."

Later that night Nick goes to a bar with several of his co-workers and gets into a heated argument with Officer Nielsen (Daniel von Bargen), an Internal Affairs officer who has been a major source of problems for Nick throughout his career. Beth Garner then arrives and she and Nick leave together. At Beth's apartment, the two engage in violent sex. Beth is turned on by his aggressive behavior. She is also embarrassed because he essentially raped her, either out of stress or from a possible attraction to Catherine Tramell.

Nick learns that Catherine's parents were killed in a boat explosion when she was an adolescent, leaving her with an inheritance of $110 million. He also discovers that Catherine makes a habit out of befriending vicious murderers, such as a woman who stabbed her husband and children to death for no apparent reason.

On a visit to Catherine's house, the detective discovers that she knows things about him that should be strictly confidential. When Nick confronts Beth about this (because she is the only person with access to that private information), she reluctantly admits that, because Nielsen perceived that she was biased in favor of Nick, she decided to give Nick's file to Nielsen in order to allow him and other IA investigators to evaluate Nick directly (IA was seriously considering discharging Nick from the police force). Upon learning this information, Nick assaults Nielsen in his office, accusing him of having sold his psychological profile to Catherine Tramell. Nielsen screams back, "You're through!"

Later, Officer Nielsen is found dead in his car with a single gunshot to the head. Most of the department detectives consider Nick to be the prime suspect, due to his recent altercation with Nielsen. A torrid sexual affair then begins between Nick and Catherine Tramell, with an initial air of a cat-and-mouse game. Roxy, Catherine's jealous female lover, attempts to kill Nick by running him over with Catherine's car, but she ends up being killed in a car accident while being chased by Nick.

Nick, now on forced leave from the police department, continues to investigate on his own and discovers several facts that make Catherine seem more and more like the killer. However, he also uncovers facts at a hospital in Salinas, Calif., about Beth's deceased husband, Dr. Joseph Garner, who was shot to death with an unrecovered .38 revolver (the same weapon used to murder Nielsen) several years earlier and that the case had no leads and still remains unsolved. Also, it turns out Catherine and Beth had a sexual encounter while in college and each accuses the other of being obsessed with her. In addition, Nick learns that a psychology professor was murdered with an ice pick while both of the women were attending college and majoring in psychology.

Nick's partner, Gus, is lured to a building and murdered by someone wearing a hood, in the same way described in Catherine's new book. Nick, who was left waiting in the car, figures out there is trouble brewing and runs into the building but arrives too late to help his partner. Hearing the floor creak, Nick grabs Gus' gun and turns to find Beth standing in the hallway. She claims she received a message from Gus to meet him there. However, Nick believes she murdered his partner and suspects she has a weapon in her jacket pocket. When she refuses to remove her hand from her pocket quickly enough, he fatally shoots her. With her final breath, she tells Nick that she loves him. When he checks her pocket, he discovers that she had only her keys in her hand. In the stairway, the detectives find a blond wig, a raincoat with "SFPD" on it and an icepick, the weapon used to murder Gus. To most detectives, it appears that Beth ditched the items when she heard Nick coming up the stairs. A subsequent examination of Beth's apartment supplies the incriminating evidence needed to brand her as the killer of Boz, Gus and presumably her husband (a .38 revolver, photos of the victims and of Catherine, an ice pick and Catherine's novels).

In the final scene of the film, Catherine and Nick make love. The conversation soon turns towards their possible future as a couple, with Nick bringing up the issue of marriage and the two having children. While talking, Nick turns his back on Catherine as she slowly reaches for something underneath the bed. But Catherine stops when Nick turns around and tells Catherine that he doesn't want children nor does he want to pressure Catherine into marriage. The two resume making love, as the camera slowly pans down to show the underside of the bed, an ice pick can be seen lying on the floor.

Production

The script and screenplay was written sometime in the 1980s, and the popularity of the screenplay began a bidding war. It was eventually purchased by Carolco, for a reported USD$3 million. Joe Eszterhas, who wrote the film in 13 days, and who had been the creative source for several other blockbusters, including Flashdance (1983) and Jagged Edge (1987), was replaced by Gary Goldman as the writer; as Eszterhas and producer Irwin Winkler walked off the picture after failing to reach agreement with Verhoeven over how the film should be tackled. Verhoeven promptly hired Total Recall (1990) writer Goldman to come up with some new scenes, most of which butched up Douglas's character and made him less weak and self-destructive as a person. These changes were largely made at the behest of Michael Douglas. It was during this stage that Verhoeven realized his changes weren't going to work so he had to publicly make up with Eszterhas. Problems recurred later when Eszterhas wanted to make more changes to appease the gay and lesbian communities. Verhoeven point-blank refused to incorporate these changes. However, after 5 months of rewrites, Verhoeven went back to the original script. Original drafts included the concept of the love scene between Nick and Catherine in Catherine's apartment; the scene would have been even longer and more explicit than the version finally shot and included in the movie. The stars and director thought the sexual acrobatics were too long and overtly extreme to be believed and the scene was scaled back to the existing version.

Director Paul Verhoeven derived much inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)—most notably the iconic score, the setting (San Francisco) and Tramell's outfits mirror, in the same order, the dresses that Kim Novak wears throughout most of Vertigo. The initial production title Love Hurts was quickly changed to Basic Instinct, but was later re-used as the name of Tramell's murder novel. Tri-Star Pictures (which had the United States distribution deal with Carolco at that time) became the United States distributor of this film. Warner Brothers Pictures acquired help during the production, including building the Johnny Boz Club. Adjusted for inflation, the budget of the film was an estimated USD$49,000,000.

Douglas took the role after several popular A-list actors at the time turned it down including Peter Weller. Douglas did extensive preparation for his character; he reportedly drove up the steps on Kearney Street in San Francisco for four nights by himself in preparation for the car chase scene. When residents complained, $25,000 was donated to their community center. Douglas had an active part in cast choices; and recommended Kim Basinger for the role of Catherine Tramell, however Basinger declined. Other critically acclaimed actresses who turned down the role of Catherine included Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Nicole Kidman, Ellen Barkin, Jodie Foster, Mariel Hemingway, Geena Davis, Greta Scacchi and Verhoeven considered Demi Moore. Michelle Pfeiffer also turned the part down because she felt offended by the graphic sexual scenes and the nudity Stone was a relative unknown until the success of this movie; she was paid a minimal amount of $500,000 for her role as Catherine Tramell, considering the film's extensive production budget. Stone was later paid $13.6 million for Basic Instinct 2, in 2006. Stone was mainly cast by Verhoeven because he was extremely fond of her performance in his Total Recall, a film in which Stone played a manipulative, sexually provocative character, not dissimilar to Tramell. In addition, according to IMDB, Brooke Shields turned down the role of Roxy, in fear that it called for nudity.

Many fans have speculated who the unidentified blonde in the opening scenes of the movie is, believing it to be one of the several actresses who turned down the role of Catherine. It was later revealed to be Stone, who refuses to use a body double in films. She was identified by name by Verhoeven in the audio commentary track of the 1997 DVD release of Basic Instinct. Douglas also later expressed dispute and complained of the excessive attention to Stone and her performance; saying "Catherine Tramell got too many good lines; that he was the star, yet she outsmarts him in almost every scene. He also stated, "All the focus was on Sharon, although I was in almost every scene".

Filming commenced on April 5, 1991 and concluded on September 10, 1991. Filming in San Francisco was attended by demonstrations by gay and lesbian rights activists, and San Francisco Police Department riot police had to be present at every location every day to deal exclusively with the crowd. See Portrayal of homosexuals below.

Also, Stone continued to pass out while filming the notorious sex and murder scenes, as she had real problems with the fact that her character killed someone on screen. When filming this sequence, a paramedic had to be on standby as she kept passing out, and frequently suffered nightmares.

In addition, Verhoeven initially fought during the production and filming for a lesbian love scene to be added to the script over the objection of Eszterhas, who thought such a scene would be far too gratuitous. Verhoeven eventually agreed with Eszterhas and apologized to him for forcing the issue. Following the success of Basic Instinct, Ezsterhas and Verhoeven went on to collaborate on the cult classic Showgirls (1995).

Reception

Critical reception

The film's critical reaction was widely mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a score of 60%, verifies that Basic Instinct was "fresh", with 60 percent of critical approvement out of 100. The major Los Angeles premier screening was full of hype from the crowd, mostly speculated about the film and its plot, as well as the controversy which had surrounded the film before during and after production. Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the film, saying "Basic Instinct transfers Mr. Verhoeven's flair for action-oriented material to the realm of Hitchcockian intrigue, and the results are viscerally effective even when they don't make sense". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine also praised the film, saying it was a guilty pleasure film, he also expressed admiration for Verhoeven's direction, saying "his [Paul Verhoven] cinematic wet dream delivers the goods, especially when Sharon Stone struts on with enough come-on carnality to singe the screen", and praised Stone's performance: "Stone, a former model, is a knockout; she even got a rise out of Ah-nold in Verhoeven's Total Recall. But being the bright spot in too many dull movies (He Said, She Said; Irreconcilable Differences) stalled her career. Though Basic Instinct establishes Stone as a bombshell for the Nineties, it also shows she can nail a laugh or shade an emotion with equal aplomb".

Nonetheless, the film was not without its detractors; Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times dismissed the film: giving it two out of four stars, stating that the film is considerably good and well crafted, yet dies down in the last half hour: "The film is like a crossword puzzle. It keeps your interest until you solve it, by the ending. Then it's just a worthless scrap with the spaces filled in". The international critical reception was favorable, with Australian critic Shannon J. Harvey of the Sunday Times calling it one of the "1990s finest productions, doing more for female empowerment than any feminist rally. Stone - in her star-making performance - is as hot and sexy as she is ice-pick cold".

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes. Jerry Goldsmith, the composer, was nominated for both awards for his original score. Frank Urioste was nominated for an Academy Award for his film editing skills and Sharon Stone was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress, for her performance as Tramell.

MPAA Rating

Basic Instinct is Rated R for strong violence and sexuality, and for drug use and language.

Box office performance

Basic Instinct opened in theatres in the United States and was one of the highest grossing films of 1992, after its March 29 release. In its opening week, the film grossed $15 million. Its final gross was estimated to be $117.7 million in the United States and $235 million overseas, making $352.7 million overall worldwide. It was the ninth highest-grossing film of 1992, adjusted for inflation. According to IMDB, the film is 273rd highest grossing film of all time.

Controversy

Portrayal of homosexuals

The film's popularity can partly be attributed to the storm of controversy that surrounded it in 1992. Mainly due to its overt sexuality and graphic depiction of violence—a characteristic found in many of Verhoeven's movies—and was protested by gay rights activists who felt that the film followed a pattern of negative depiction of gay and lesbian people in the film industry. An April 29, 1991 Los Angeles Times article documents activists' protests, and the book Family Values: Two Moms and Their Son by Phyllis Burke (New York: Random House, 1993. ISBN 0-679-42188-2) covers the protests over several chapters. Members of the lesbian and bisexual activist group LABIA protested against the film on its opening night. The group GLAAD released a statement protesting the film's stereotypical and homophobic portrayal of gays and lesbians.

Basic Instinct also received criticism from those who feel it portrays bisexuals as insatiable, untrustworthy, and homicidal (in the film, Tramell is an openly bisexual woman). Outspoken bisexual writer Camille Paglia, however, has not only defended Basic Instinct, but called it her "favorite film", even providing an audio commentary track on the various special edition DVD releases of Basic Instinct. Author and feminist movement figure Naomi Wolf has also defended the film, saying the film is "only minorly about homesexuality and lesbianism".

NC-17 rating

The film was nearly assigned an NC-17 rating by the MPAA; this was again because of the nudity, overt sexuality and graphic violence. One scene in particular was cited as the reason for the rating. At one point in the film, Sharon Stone's character is interrogated by a panel of police officers, all of them male. During the scene, Stone uncrosses and then re-crosses her legs. The camera angle allowed the audience to briefly get a glimpse up Stone's skirt, showing that she was not wearing any underwear. The lighting setup allowed the audience to get a reasonably clear view of Stone's genitalia.

The movie was eventually edited to receive an "R" rating for its U.S. release with other sex scenes in the film also edited to reduce the level of explicitness. In the end, 42 seconds were cut to earn the film its R rating. The unedited version was released in the rest of the world. Years later, the "Unrated" edition of the film was released in VHS and Laserdisc, then later on DVD in the U.S., with the removed images restored. Stone complained during an interview for Playboy Magazine that American censorship was more complacent about violent content than sexual content, a common criticism towards the MPAA. Controversy followed in many other countries also, the uncut version was not released theatrically in Australia, having to be heavily trimmed. The uncut version was released on VHS in 1993. Despite this, in South Africa, this was the direct opposite reaction, the uncut version partly led to the total relaxation of censorship in that country — a complete turn-around in its existing censorship law. In the UK the BBFC have always been more relaxed towards sexual content and the unrated cut was released as an 18 in UK cinemas in 1993.

Soundtrack

Apart from the film score – professionally released music did not play a major part in Basic Instinct. The prominent music scene occurs during the club scene; Curran, Tramell and Roxy are seen at in Downtown San Francisco. It features Blue by Chicago singer LaTour and Rave the Rhythm performed by the group Channel X. It also features Movin’ On Up by Jeff Barry and Janet DuBois. The soundtrack also contains excerpts of dialogue, including the interrogation scene.

The soundtrack was released on March 17, 1992.

Track listing

  1. "Main Title" 2:13
  2. "Crossed Legs" 4:49
  3. "Night Life" 6:03
  4. "Kitchen Help" 3:58
  5. "Pillow Talk" 4:59
  6. "Morning After" 2:29
  7. "The Games Are Over" 5:53
  8. "Catherine's Sorrow" 2:41
  9. "Roxy Loses" 3:37
  10. "Unending Story / End Credits" 9:23

Releases and versions

Following the theatrical version, the film was first released in its uncut format onto video in 1992, running at 129 minutes. This was followed by a DVD release in 1997, in a bare-bones format. A "Collector's Edition" setup was released on DVD in 2001, containing the Special Edition of the DVD and an ice-pick pen (the villain's weapon of choice). This version of the film, running 127 minutes, was re-released twice: in 2003 and 2006.

In March of 2006 an unrated director's cut version was released on DVD and labeled "Ultimate Edition." In 2007, the film was released in Blu-Ray and HD DVD format with the "Director's Cut" label as well. All three of these director's cut versions have a stated run time of 128 minutes.

The film was heavily trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating on its theatrical release in 1992, and violence and sexuality explicit content was removed. The missing or censored material (later released on video and DVD as the directors cut) included:

  • The murder of Johnny Boz in the opening scene. Instead, we see the killer stabbing him in his neck, stabbing him repeatedly in the chest, in the face and we see the icepick passing through his nose.
  • The scene where Nick almost rapes Beth is severely cut in the US theatrical version (we see him ripping off her underwear and forcing her over the couch, then there's a cut to the two of them lying on the floor). In the uncut version Nick pulls down his pants, exposing his rear, penetrates Beth from behind as she reaches orgasm.
  • The scene where Nick and Catherine make love after going to the club is longer and much more explicit in the uncut version (Nick is seen burying his face between her legs).
  • The death of Nick's partner, Gus, in the elevator is more graphic. The US version omits shots of Gus being repeatedly stabbed in the neck with blood and gore flying at the camera.

Sequel

After many years of false starts and legal battles, in April 2005, production began in London, England on a long-awaited sequel to Basic Instinct. The film had little to do with the original; plot wise and cast (abandoning Michael Douglas' character), although Stone reprised her role as Catherine Tramell and Mario Kassar returned. The film follows Tramell, now living in an upscale London apartment; once again in trouble with the authorities over the suspicious death of her boyfriend. Scotland Yard proceeds to appoint psychiatrist Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey) to evaluate her. Like Curran, Glass becomes a victim of Tramell's seductive games—and a sexual affair begins between the two. Verhoeven expressed no interest in directing the sequel, as he thought the script and situation needed more work.

This film was released on March 31, 2006, to critical disdain and bombed at the box office. The film made a small debut and in its first weekend of release in the United States, accumulating (USD) $3,201,420, placing it 10th in top grossing movies of the weekend. Many considered this to fall very short of expectations, though the film did have a lot of competition with Ice Age: The Meltdown opening the same weekend, as well as films like V for Vendetta and Inside Man which were still in their first few weeks of their release.

Although failing in the United States, the film was a success internationally, earning over 32 million dollars, giving Basic Instinct 2 a worldwide theatrical gross of nearly $39 million. It was released onto DVD and Blu-Ray and became a significant seller, collecting $21.1 million in rentals in the United States.

Pop culture references

On The Simpsons episode in which it gets revealed who shot Mr. Burns, the police interrogate Groundskeeper Willie in one scene. Willie, while wearing a kilt, uncrosses his legs like Sharon Stone does in Basic Instinct, followed by Eddie giving him his last warning at gunpoint to stop doing that. Also in Beyonce's 2006 video for Ring The Alarm she uses the interrogation scene. It is parodied in 2005 during WWE's WrestleMania Goes Hollywood advertising campaign, featuring Stacy Keibler in the role made famous by Sharon Stone. In The Sopranos Jackie Aprile Jr is watching the film stating that the leg crossing scene is his favourite part. In Loaded Weapon 1, a girl is interrogated and did the same thing.

In Scrubs season 1, episode 15 "My Bed Banter and Beyond," Elliot asks J.D. if he has ever felt more uncomfortable in his entire life. J.D. drifts off into a flashback, where he is sitting on a couch with an elderly woman watching the television. The elderly woman asks J.D. what movie they are watching, to which J.D. replies "It's Basic Instinct, Grandma." The flashback ends, and J.D. answers Elliot's question with "Yeah, once."

References

External links

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