The Shining (1980)
By: Julian on March 10, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Warner Bros (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, German DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1. English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Croatian, Turkish, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Hebrew, Polish, Finnish, Greek, English (FHI), German (FHI) Subtitles. 116 mins
The Movie
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Country: UK/USA
I've seen many horror films. From the seminal likes of The Exorcist and Dawn of the Dead, to the classic exploitationers Cannibal Holocaust and Maniac, horror is most definitely my preferred genre.

And The Shining is my favourite horror film of all time.

A bold claim to make, sure – especially given the names 'Kubrick' and 'Nicholson' don't ring true in the genre, But not only does The Shining chop off the neck and piss down the trunk of its source material, the deliciously pulpy Stephen King novel of the same name, but it stands head-and-shoulders above every other horror film ever made.

The Shining introduces Jack Torrance, who is played by Jack Nicholson in one of the best performances I have ever seen from any actor ever. Torrance, a recovering alcoholic and struggling writer, applies for the job of winter caretaker for the remote Overlook Hotel, which remains totally snowbound for the duration of the season. The hotel's manager tells Torrance of the past caretaker who, after suffering from a particularly nasty bout of cabin fever, killed his wife and two young daughters, before putting his shotgun into his own mouth. This doesn't deter Torrance and, eager to cure his writer's block, packs up his own wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and eight-year-old son Danny (Lloyd). However before the move, Danny has a horrific vision of murder and mayhem. This is caused by Danny's ability to 'shine', a vague blend of seeing into the past and into the future. Wendy tells Jack that Danny has an imaginary friend 'Tony', and that the change of environment may act to the family's detriment, but Torrance pays no attention.

At the Overlook, the Torrance's are welcomed by the head chef Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers). Halloran possesses a similar intuitive gift as Danny and attempts to counsel the youngster, finally warning him to 'stay out of Room 237'. Ill-at-ease, Halloran nevertheless goes ahead with his plans and heads down to his Florida winter home, leaving the family. However, Danny's visions begin to become stronger and far more fearsome, with the menacing promise of destruction. Jack, too, begins to have frightening hallucinations; a ballroom filled with people and an encounter with the occupant of Room 237. With the writer's block becoming overbearing and the cabin fever creeping into him insidiously, Jack finally snaps...

Stanley Kubrick describes King's The Shining as the 'only thing ever sent to me that I ever liked', and backhandedly compliments the author by alleging that he 'doesn't seem interested in writing itself... [Invention] is his forte'. King himself expressed disdain over the film adaptation – Kubrick dismissed many of his initial ideas, including an entire screenplay, and the author later likened the completed film to 'a shiny Rolls-Royce with nothing under the hood'. So ridiculously ill-conceived were his comments that King presumably felt obligated to retract them, saying 'I used to think that books outlived movies, but I'm not sure that one's done it'.

And it hadn't. While King spun an entertaining horror yarn with his 1977 bestseller, Kubrick turned it into an absolute masterwork. The screenplay, written by Kubrick and Diane Johnson, derives superficially from King's work and adds an extra dimension of terror to it, an exploration of the psychological and psychosexual that the author has never fully achieved with any part of his oeuvre. The Shining is a phenomenal work of film, and Kubrick so intriguingly and profoundly delves into the mind of a madman that you feel implicated in his actions, from when Jack verbally abuses Wendy, to the infamous axe-through-the-door sequence that made Nicholson a cult icon (I even own the T-shirt, it's that cool). One scene in particular shows how amazing a director Kubrick is. Setting the scene – Jack finds himself at a lavish ball filled with society's upper crust; drinks are served and a waiter bumps into Torrance and makes a mess with the drink he is carrying. Jack recognises the waiter as Grady, the murderous caretaker, and confronts him on this issue. This gives birth to the immortal lines:

You were the caretaker here, Mr Grady…

I'm sorry to differ with you, Sir. But you were the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker. I ought to know. I have always been here.

No matter how many times I see this sequence, the scene sends shivers down my spine– not only is it an amazing display of Kubrick's showmanship, but these eighty or ninety seconds are definitely the zenith of Jack Nicholson's expansive career. However, this also goes to show how well The Shining has dated. For a twenty-eight year old film, Kubrick's horror swansong remains scarier than any of the tripe that has recently been made available.

The Shining also gave birth to stories of Kubrick's eccentricity – his obsessive attention to detail (to the point where supposed mistakes, in a Kubrick film, are often suspected to be intentional) resulted in this picture going down in the annals of motion picture history – the Guinness Book of World Records recognises The Shining as holding the record for the film with the most retakes per single scene, with the number standing at 127. Kubrick also gave Shelley Duvall a notorious belting for her diva-like behaviour (in her defence, she was the participant in those 127 cuts). Kubrick's rants and Duvall's pathetic, whiny bitchery can be seen in Vivian Kubrick's making-of that is reviewed in the Special Features section of this page.

In 1997, King collaborated with his cinematic partner-in-crime Mick Garris to realise his baby in more faithful form. The result was a four-part miniseries starring Steven Weber as Torrance and Rebecca De Mornay as Wendy. The entire thing was a bit of a bumble-fuck and, while it kept close to its source material, rarely did the King/Garris collaboration result in anything original and fresh. Garris lazily shambled through the proceedings, and it looks and smells cheap. This certainly hasn't stopped the cretinous King-adoring groups from lauding this as superior to Kubrick's 1980 adaptation, a claim that is nothing short of criminal.

I really can't think of anything negative to say about The Shining, as a horror film and a work of cinema. If you don't like this, there is seriously something wrong with you. And that's my objective opinion.
The Shining is presented in the 1:78:1 aspect ratio and, as far as the picture goes, it's pretty impressive – free of artefacts and crystal clear. However, it is well known that many of the shots assembled for the picture by Kubrick were intended for 1:85:1. This is really splitting hairs, though – for the average DVD viewer, the job Warner has done on this disc will more than suffice.
English, German and Spanish 5.1 Dolby soundtracks are included, and there are no complaints from this camp.
Extra Features
The picture and audio is the main improvement on Region 4's previous release, but there's an extra hour here forfans to sink their teeth into. Vivian Kubrick's thirty-four minute making-of doco appears here again, with optional commentary by Kubrick Jr. For those who want a first-hand look at how Stanley made his movies, this is the way to go – notoriously reclusive, there's barely an interview with the great man in this entire set, and he only ever really addresses the camera directly with the words, 'go away, Vivian'. It's hilarious to see Kubrick ripping the exceedingly hideous Duvall to shreds. You tend to pity her when you hear about Kubrick's megalomania, but one can't help but piss oneself when her ugly mug appears on the screen, saying totally straight-faced that 'I like attention'. This doco is a rare visual documentation of the making of a Kubrick film.

There's a seventeen-minute retrospective on the work of Kubrick, which interviews everyone from Steven Spielberg to William Friedkin. An eight-minute featurette titled 'Wendy Carlos- Composer' is included, in which Carlos talks about her role in creating the film's score. There is also an additional half hour making-of, but it interviews few cast and crew members and is more of a retrospective than anything else.

An audio commentary is also included. Involved is Garrett Brown, whose claim to fame was inventing the Steadicam and being heavily involved in The Shining's cinematography; and prominent film historian John Baxter. The commentary provides some good insight into the making of the picture, but it would've been fantastic to hear the opinions of those who were closer to the film (I'm looking at you, Joker Jack – why couldn't you be involved?).

There's a whole lotta subtitles and a very cool theatrical trailer is included.

The biggest bummer about this package is the omission of the longer US theatrical cut, which was included on the Region 1 release of this disc. The longer cut runs for 134 minutes (NTSC), versus the 116-minute (PAL) version made available to the R4 punter. This was a flat out oversight, and yet another reason to complain about Australian DVD distributors.
The Verdict
Kubrick automatically enshrined himself in the annals of horror legend with The Shining, and Jack Nicholson created an icon with 'Heeere's…Johnny!' Horror seriously does not get better than this, and you can't consider yourself a fan of the genre if you haven't seen this film.
Movie Score
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