Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
The power of advertising was evident to me with the release of Basic last year. I still remember the radio advert which I heard when driving to work one day. The advertisement used every compliment you could imagine to elevate John McTiernan’s latest blockbuster. With a cast including the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, the movie could hardly fail, or could it? Upon its theatrical release the movie made a paltry $37 million worldwide. A large proportion of the blame could be levied at reviews which could best be described as lukewarm. Now it’s the turn of the region two disc to try and claw back some respectability.

Basic revolves around the events surrounding the death of Sergeant Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson). The Sergeant mysteriously died during a training session in the jungles of Panama; at first it appears that the incident was an accident partly contributed to by the horrific weather. The key to West’s death lies in the hand of the two lone survivors, Kendall (Giovanni Ribisi) and Dunbar (Brian Van Holt). The investigation is headed by Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen), who fails to make any headway and has to turn to Tom Hardy (John Travolta), an ex-Ranger who is under investigation for taking bribes.

Hardy’s interrogation techniques are not exactly training manual procedures, but nevertheless they reap some rewards. As the survivors start to talk, it becomes clear that the events proceeding Sergeant West’s death are not as innocent as it first seemed. Kendall and Dunbar give conflicting stories, and this leads Hardy and Osbourne to delve deeper into the events surrounding the training exercise. As they uncover more of the truth, it becomes evident that there are sinister motives behind the death of West, and the investigation soon becomes a murder enquiry.

Director John McTiernan is responsible for movies such as Die Hard and Predator, so it came as a bit of a shock to me to find out that Basic is more of a thriller than an all-out action fest. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt penned the screenplay and has produced a plot with more twists than a bowl of Spaghetti! The first half of this movie is quite easy to follow, but from the hour mark onwards the movie introduces some twists which border on silly at times. The ending is also a little unbelievable, but strangely predictable at the same time. However, thankfully at that point the movie had done enough to keep me engrossed and therefore this didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of it.

Combining the talents of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson was bound to have fans of Pulp Fiction chomping at the bit, but unfortunately I am the bearer of bad news concerning this aspect of the movie. The pair only spend a few minutes together on screen, and therefore never have the opportunity to emulate the chemistry of Pulp Fiction. One of the stars of the movie is Connie Nielsen who comes out of it with credit. Basic is a reasonable thriller which requires your full attention throughout. If you are looking for a military yarn with a passable cast and an engrossing plot, then look no further. Basic is far from being a classic, but nevertheless it should provide you with a couple of hours entertainment.

Basic is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1, which also happens to be anamorphically enhanced. As you would expect with a relatively new Hollywood production, what we get here is a detailed transfer which suffers from very few flaws. The detail level is high and as expected the image was free of any damage. Basic is a moody film and has a colour palette to match. The colours are mostly made up of dark tones, for the most part blacks and greens. Even so, the palette seemed to deal with this expertly and skin tones appeared realistic as well. Grain levels were kept to an absolute minimum and for the most part grain was hardly noticeable. The same can be said for edge enhancements which were nowhere to be seen. Compression artefacts failed to raise their ugly head and overall there are very few grounds to criticise this transfer.

There is just the one soundtrack included with this release, but I am loathe to be too critical as the track supplied is impressive. As you have probably guessed, the soundtrack included is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort and it is surprisingly aggressive. It is evident from early on that the surrounds are in for some action, and wherever possible that philosophy is maintained. Basic is not the type of film where action scenes flow one after another, but when the gunshots and helicopter are in full flow, the soundtrack deals with everything aggressively but at the same time realistically. The dialogue is never drowned out during the combat scenes, and ambience noise is also reproduced well. The musical score is portrayed efficiently as well. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with this track. Support in other languages is pretty poor and we only get subtitles which are provided in English and English Hard of Hearing.

The region one release of Basic was criticised by many people for its mediocre extras. Unfortunately the extended wait for region two fans wasn’t really worth it. What we get are exactly the same features, minus a filmography!

The first extra you will come across on this disc is called A Writer’s Perspective. This documentary consists of an interview with the screenwriter, who spends most of the time talking about where his ideas for the movie came from. The featurette also shows plenty of clips from the movie. If you want to know more about the film, and in particular aspects such as interrogating techniques, military issues and character backgrounds, then you should check out this extra. This is a very thorough extra and lasts for over sixteen minutes. Next up, we get to hear from the director and cast in the aptly named Director’s Design Featurette. This featurette starts off in traditional fashion and focuses on the characters involved in the movie; this also involves each cast member giving an insight into their role in the film. Then there is an interesting discussion about what genre the movie falls into, which seems open for debate. The featurette ends with the usual backslapping for the director, who in this case seems to receive praise from all quarters. This featurette lasts for twenty minutes.

Next up is a Director’s Commentary, which is full of useful information, while at the same time being quite disjointed. John McTiernan starts the commentary by apologising for not knowing what to say about the movie. Although he is not withholding with information, he also leaves long periods during the commentary where nothing is said. His tone is such that you will be intrigued by what he has to say, but will probably wish he talked more. Fans of the movie should find enough here to keep them happy.

The final three extras on this disc can be tagged as promotional. First up is the Theatrical Trailer, which is cleverly constructed. It is full of suspense and portrays a deep rooted thriller. Some trailers can give away too much detail, but that is not the case here and most people who watch this trailer should be intrigued. Next are 2 TV Spots which last for around ten seconds each. The final extras on this disc are 2 Radio Spots which are played while the menu is shown. There are two spots in total, lasting for around twenty seconds each.

In my experience military thrillers are very much hit and miss; they are either farfetched, completely miss the mark or are brilliant. Basic actually comes somewhere in between, in that it promises a lot but ultimately fails to live up to expectations. That’s not to say that it’s a bad film, in fact there are plenty of reasons to give it a try, but I doubt you will go back for repeat viewings. The disc follows in the same vein; the transfer is first class and the soundtrack exceeded expectations, but unfortunately the extras could have done with some padding out. Whether you purchase this disc will come down one of two factors, namely either the fact that you like the film or that you think it warrants an impulse purchase. Either way, the film should provide you with a reasonable couple of hours.