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John McTiernan
John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen, Giovanni Ribisi
Writing Credits:
James Vanderbilt

Deception is their most dangerous weapon.

A DEA officer (Travolta) is recruited to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a famed U.S. Army drill instructor (Jackson) and a group of cadets on a routine military exercise in the jungles of Panama. But the journey to uncover the truth leads to some dangerous and unexpected places when two rescued survivors tell dramatically different versions of what transpired.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$11.511 million on 2876 screens.
Domestic Gross
$26.536 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $27.94
Release Date: 7/8/2003

Disc One
• Commentary with Director John McTiernan
• Basic: A Director's Design
• Basic Ingredients: A Writer's Perspective
• Filmographies
• Trailers

Search Titles:

TV - Mitsubishi CS-32310 32"; Subwoofer - JBL PB12; DVD Player - Toshiba SD-4700; Receiver - Sony STR-DE845; Center - Polk Audio CS175i; Front Channels - Polk Audio; Rear Channels - Polk Audio.


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Basic (2003)

Reviewed by David Williams (July 25, 2003)

A reunion of Pulp Fiction graduates John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson seems like a great idea – no matter what the film. Unfortunately, anyone who has seen a Travolta film of late knows that Pulp Fiction was an anomaly in the actor’s career over the last 15 or so years and that John Travolta pretty much has the acting range of a piece of driftwood. Sam Jackson – well, he’s hit or miss in his theatrical choices, but he at least can make the best of a crummy role and act his way through it – something Travolta seemingly cannot do. The saving grace of this potential train wreck (by way of Travolta) was John McTiernan, director of such films as Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. Unfortunately, this is also the same John McTiernan who directed the dirtloafs known as The Last Action Hero and Rollerball, so the film’s basically a toss-up … and the bad news here is, we lose. Inspired by Rashomon (Kurosawa must be tuning back flips in his grave), Basic layers twist upon twist and lie upon lie and attempts to get the truth from the various and sundry stories told by a bunch of liars covering their own backs.

At its core, Basic deals with the investigation of several deaths of soldiers that were on an Army training exercise in the jungles of Panama - all under the command of Sergeant West (Samuel L. Jackson). It seems that seven soldiers, including West, went into the jungle and only two came out alive. Because of conflicting stories from the survivors, Dunbar and Kendall (Brian Van Holt and Giovanni Ribisi respectively), Colonel Bill Styles (Tim Daly) decides to call on his old buddy, Tom Hardy (John Travolta), a DEA agent and former special forces commando, who has a knack for interrogation. Paired with a by-the-book Lieutenant, Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen with a horrible Southern accent), Hardy begins to question and cross-examine the witnesses in order to get to the truth behind West’s murder and the demise of the other soldiers in the unit. With only six hours to question the two suspects, Hardy and Osborne race against the clock and try to make sense of the conflicting stories coming from the soldiers.

Basic shows Travolta reprising his role from Battlefield Earth, only this time, with better hair. It’s obvious that Travolta loves being … well, Travolta and he spends that vast majority of Basic mugging and strutting for the audience, reminding us the entire time that he’s much, much cooler than any one of us. Don’t get me wrong – I really think Travolta’s a cool guy, seriously – I’m just tired of watching him play the same role over and over for the past 10+ years. Samuel L. Jackson does a good job with what he’s given, but those expecting to see him play a major role in Basic with major face time are going to be disappointed, as he’s mostly seen in flashbacks. However, he plays an extravagantly bastardly part no matter who’s telling the story and it becomes quite obvious that most soldiers in the film aren’t too upset that he has “assumed room temperature”.

Vanderbilt’s script teamed with McTiernan’s direction provide us with nothing more than a decent military thriller that thinks it’s a lot more clever than it really is. There are some many plot twists, holes, and red herrings that Basic gets bogged down in its own story and supposed cleverness. Unfortunately, the payoff is ridiculously confusing and illogical and most viewers will find themselves feeling cheated. The end of Basic reminded me of what a filmgoer said at the end of The Blair Witch Project in a local theater years ago – “What the fu*&?!? That’s it?!?” My sentiments exactly …

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A/ Bonus B-

Basic is presented in a well done, anamorphically enhanced widescreen presentation in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film remained pretty sharp and detailed throughout, with only the occasional flaw noted to slightly misrepresent the film.

The majority of Basic takes place at night and in dimly lot areas and thankfully, Columbia has provided the film with excellent black levels and depth. Grain occasionally intrudes, but the film maintains nice shadow detail and delineation. There were some spots in the film that were a tad soft, but it definitely wasn’t anything to overly concern yourself with as it was non-distracting. Colors were quite pleasing – although non-specific – and the entire picture remained properly balanced and contrasted throughout. Bleeding and smearing definitely weren’t an issue and everything from fleshtones on down remained natural and accurate.

As stated before in my review, the image was a tad soft because of some grain in the print, but it was nothing worthy of alarm and although it was the single biggest flaw in Basic, it definitely didn’t take the film down to sub-par levels. There was some slight edge enhancement and shimmer, but again, they were quick instances that disappeared as quickly as they were noted.

While not the best transfer in Columbia’s stable, Basic manages to remain quite pleasing. Fans of the film should be happy with Columbia’s results.

As impressive as the video is, the audio follows the same game plan as Columbia’s Dolby Digital 5.1 transfer was quite impressive. Impressively enveloping the viewer throughout the film, Basic was a real treat and authored quite well.

From the opening Intermedia scroll to the end of the film – and all points in between - Basic assaulted the viewer with a sonic blast that not many films can. From gunshots to helicopter rotors to an impressively authored thunderstorm, your surrounds are effectively engaged and extremely active during the proper portions of the film. Split surround usage was quite impressive – especially in the front - and discrete effects were noted throughout the film in all of the surround channels.

LFE was quite bombastic during Basic as well and it offered some nice reinforcement for the many effects in the film, as well as Klaus Badelt’s score. There were some very deep and profound moments of cavernous bass and Columbia really did an excellent job of strengthening and supporting the entire soundtrack with the .1 channel. As mentioned before, Klaus Badelt’s score was very full and rich and received reinforcement from all of the surrounds at some point during the film. Dialogue was front, center, and crystal clear throughout.

Columbia has given Basic quite an impressive mix and have also included a French 5.1 track, as well as subtitles in French and English. Well done and an absolute joy to listen to.

Basic, while not loaded down with an immense plethora of extras, had quite a few decent supplements that fans of the film could sit back and enjoy.

The major extra on the Basic DVD is the Audio Commentary by Director John McTiernan. Providing a rather bland dissection of his film, you can’t help but wonder where the Die Hard / Hunt for Red October John McTiernan went … because you really don’t care what the Rollerball / Basic John McTiernan has to say. Between the long stretches of silence and the simple screen narration, McTiernan tries to impress us with how smart he, Travolta, and Jackson were in confusing … I mean, manipulating the audience with their clever little tale. McTiernan discusses various topics in his commentary including casting, story and script changes, location shoots, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and other directorial issues, but ultimately, it all remains rather dry and tasteless. It’s a decent enough listen, but casual fans of the film won’t be missing much by skipping it.

There are two documentaries on Columbia’s DVD with the first being Basic: A Director's Design (22:29), a rather generic behind-the-scenes look at the film that tends to concentrate heavily on the details of the shoot and how the main players saw themselves in the overall scope of the big picture. Decent enough to merit a look, but definitely nothing special.

Next up is Basic Ingredients: A Writer's Perspective (17:17) and here, the emphasis is on … you guessed it … James Vanderbilt, the screenwriter of this confusing mess. He discusses the evolution of the script and the processes he used to bring it to the big screen. He attempts to dissect some of the film for us while explaining his methods of development to us, but ultimately, you find yourself wondering why he simply doesn’t explain the inconsistencies and glossed-over plot points in a script of his own making – namely, Basic.

Finishing off the disc are Filmographies for John McTiernan, James Vanderbilt, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen, Giovanni Ribisi, and Brian Van Holt, as well as Trailers for other Columbia offerings which include, Basic, Tears of the Sun, Identity, xXx, Formula 51, Bad Boys II (can’t wait to see it!), and S.W.A.T. (really can’t wait to see it!).

Check reality, as well as your brain, at the door and prepare yourself for another bland Travolta “thriller”. Rashomon or The Usual Suspects this ain’t and while Basic does provide a decent “who done it?”, it’s far from a provocative thriller. With excellent audio and above average video, Paramount has provided viewers a great DVD for a sub-standard film and I would only recommend a purchase for hardcore John Travolta/Sam Jackson fans only.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0322 Stars Number of Votes: 31
5 3:
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