A Ranger training exercise goes horribly wrong. The instructor (Samuel L. Jackson) and halfthe cadets are missing. There are two survivors. One is injured, and the other was seen engagedin a firefight with one of the other cadets. Investigating are Connie Nielsen and John Travolta,who bounce back and forth between the two survivors as the stories they tell keep changing,Rashomon-style. The twists pile upon twists, and so few are motivated by anything in the storythat audience good will is soon exhausted, despite the decent atmosphere and performances. Bythe end, one final twist makes total nonsense of the plot, and I was hard-pressed to avoid hurlingthe remote into the TV screen.
Irritating as the film might be, it is blessed with first-rate sound. The dialogue never distorts,and remains clear even in the midst of thunderous sound effects. A case in point is the opening,where Jackson’s hectoring comes through the thick of a hurricane. The music has a great, deep,expansiveness to its base. The sound effects work is excellent as well. Returning to the previousexample, note how the sound of the helicopter comes first from the rear speakers as the aircraftflies in from the top of the screen. The sense of three dimensions is very strong, and demonstratesthe importance of motivated placement of sound effects.
A handsome 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen (thank you, Columbia, for not cheating with a1.78:1 ratio). The colours are excellent, with fine contrasts, blacks, flesh tones, and no grain. Noedge enhancement issues either. This and the contrasts are worth emphasizing, since virtuallythe entire movie takes place at night, which could easily turn into an overlit grey wash. Nosuch problem here. The disc is a pleasure on the eyes.
Principle extra is a commentary by director John McTiernan, who comes across as amusinglycrusty and deadpan. There are also two featurettes (one focuses on McTiernan, the other onwriter James Vanderbilt), which, while being essentially promo material, do provide moreinteresting information than the usual such exercise. The first (“A Director’s Design”) showsjust how that awful ending came to be. Also included are selected cast and crew filmographiesand a handful of trailers for recent action films. The menu’s main page, intro, and sometransitions are animated and scored.
Pity director John McTiernan. He’s given us some great entertainment (Die Hard, Hunt forRed October, Predator, Thomas Crown Affair). Basic, sadly, has more in common with his lasteffort: Rollerball.