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BASIC ($28) is the kind of movie that is entertaining and entertaining while you are watching it, but falls apart in your mind afterward, if you think about it too much. There are plot holes in this military murder mystery, but the performances, John Travoltaís in particular, really make BASIC fun to watch. Travolta stars as Tom Hardy, a DEA agent with career and drinking problems, who is requested to do a favor for an old friend in the military. After a training exercise in the Panamanian rainforest goes horribly awry, Colonel Bill Styles (Timothy Daly) calls on former Army Ranger Hardy to "unofficially" help out with the investigation.

The mystery involves six potential Army Rangers and their drill sergeant that were deposited in the jungle- and only two of the trainees making it out alive. With one of the survivors unconscious and the not talking, it falls to Hardy to assist the official investigator, Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen), to get at the truth. What follows is a series of conflicting stories (and flashbacks) concerning the death of Sergeant Nathan West (Samuel L. Jackson) and why the group of trainee Rangers seemingly turned on one another during a fierce storm in the jungle. To say any more about BASIC would spoil the filmís surprises, and there are a number of them, as the story twists and turns in, around and on itself. The cast of BASIC also includes Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt, Taye Diggs, Dash Mihok, CristiŠn de la Fuente, Roselyn Sanchez and Harry Connick Jr..

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made BASIC available on DVD in a 2.40:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is a very good transfer of very dark and difficult material. Most of BASIC takes place at night or in very darkly lit interiors, which is compensated for by excellent shadow detail throughout the majority of the film. Some shots are a bit lacking in definition, but the picture never appears soft or muddy. In general, the image comes across as sharp and very nicely detailed. Colors are hemmed in by the filmís lighting design- one cannot see bright colors, if there isnít any light shining on them. Anytime the lighting allows, colors do become stronger and better saturated, but for the most part hues come across in a restrained manner. Blacks appear very inky, whites are strong and the image provides a good grayscale during darker scenes. Digital compression artifacts never offer a major cause for concern.

BASIC comes with a great sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The sound designers would seem to be having a field day on this movie, pumping up all of the filmís action sequences and those involving the violent storm that occurs during the flashbacks. All of the discrete channels are aggressively utilized for sound effects, as well as creating strong atmospherics. Sound effects are distinct and pan in various direction across the soundstage in a very convincing manner. Dialogue is always crisply and cleanly rendered; maintaining intelligibility, even when sound effects are at their most ferocious. Fidelity is excellent, which benefits Klaus Badeltís fine musical score. The bass channel is highly potent, which adds weight and percussive impact to the filmís explosions and gunfire. A French 5.1 track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as well as the DVDís supplement materials. Director John McTiernan is on hand for a running audio commentary that proves to be informative, but a bit slow moving. Basic: A Director's Design is a twenty three minute program that proves to be more in depth than the typical behind-the-scenes featurette, without the expected emphasis on John McTiernan. Basic Ingredients: A Writer's Perspective runs seventeen-minutes and features screenwriter James Vanderbilt, who discusses his screenplay, as well as offing a look at deleted scenes. A theatrical trailer for BASIC, as well as bonus trailers for BAD BOYS II, FORMULA 51, IDENTITY, TEARS OF THE SUN, S.W.A.T. and XXX close out the supplements.

Thanks to John Travoltaís presence, BASIC remains entertaining for its ninety-nine minute running time, even if the story doesnít hold up under careful scrutiny. What does hold up, is Columbia TriStarís fine DVD presentation, which looks quite good and sounds even better. If you are interested in checking out BASIC at home, there is no better way than the DVD.



Basic (2003)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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