Today sees the release of a sequel which has been in the pipeline for well over a decade now, which gives me cause to wonder, amongst other things, what the point is. Basic Instinct 2, previously going by the working title appendage of Risk Addiction, has already been unanimously panned by critics prior to its big screen release today in both the UK and US. But is this a case of the critics having a love-in on the bandwagon, or do they know something I think we all suspect?
Paul Verhoeven's 1992 original, which enraged the gay community with what it saw as an offensively negative portrayal of homosexuality, brought us some of the most enduringingly sexy scenes in cinema, and raised Sharon Stone's profile from star in limbo to fully fledged A-lister. With a worldwide gross of $350m, Basic Instinct rightfully cashed-in on its seductive formula, that of the highly eroticised femme fatale. Though, plot wise, it was flawed and sensationalist, the world was introduced to the irresistible character of Stone's Catherine Tramell, who embodied all that was dark cinema's 'fatal woman', but with a delicious modern spin. She was highly intelligent, dangerous, beautiful, sexy, complicated, mysterious, manipulative, aloof and wealthy, but she was also bi-sexual, highly sexual, wore no knickers and liked to be watched.
Though the Thriller is, like the Comedy, or Romance, cinematically a pretty steady genre, Basic Instinct was, like all cinema, a product of its era. Like 1987's Fatal Attraction, and 1992's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Verhoeven's thriller made good use of the single white female. A new breed of predatory woman was stalking the urban streets and this meant danger for all concerned.
Cinema is one of the most widely accessible and exemplary forms of enforcing, questioning, and documenting changing social norms and values, and the sexual woman is no different. Post-sexual revolution where corporate dreams were thriving, 80's cinema reflected the worries the implications of this. 1987's Baby Boom, for example, is now an almost quaintly transparent big screen representation of the Daily Mail ideology - former career gal obtains baby and finds what really matters in life - which is very blatant in its message that, in an age where women were, rather worryingly it would seem, choosing careers over settling down, this spelled social catastrophe. It's ok, though, because Diane Keaton was on hand to show you the error of your ways, that true female fulfilment lies in domesticity, and anything else makes you look like a cold, materialistic bitch. You may have success and sex for pleasure only, but you're not really a 'woman'.
The knock-on effect of this came with this new trend in Thrillers – the threat of the independent, attractive, single, working woman. What did she want and why wasn't she conforming? Of course it wasn’t just women who were cinematically reprimanded, men had the moral lesson, too. And what was the lesson? Unattached women who like sex and are willing to use it are deadly in society, and guys need to keep it in their pants or else very bad things indeed will happen. Yes, these women were loose and libidinous on the streets and coming to a scene of domestic bliss very near you.
And so what does this all mean for Michael Caton-Jones risky sequel all these years later? Clearly, this film is riding on one thing and one thing only: that Sharon Stone is still fucking sexy at the age of 48. However, I think we've moved on and accepted female sexuality enough to feel less threatened by it now. The implications of this type of female figure are not what they used to be. Where Tramell liked sex and liked it with men or women, this is no longer as threatening or titillating as it once was. Basic Instinct 2 is clearly treading the same tracks as the original, or at least attempting to, with, apparently, no consideration of what it means to have 14 years pass between them. In this case, and without yet seeing the film, I'd have to at this point put my faith in the critics. I'm sure this film will function passably enough as a watchable film in its own right, but not as a sequel. It just cannot pack the sexual punch of the original.