Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd
Length: 146 minutes
It’s the time of year where lovers of cinema like to revisit classic horror films such as The Shining (1980). Warner Brothers are retailing this movie in all the usual formats, and I was able to review a copy of the recent 4K Ultra HD & Blu-Ray release.
This film has previously been reviewed on this site – see here.
My guess is many people who read the reviews on the Blueprint Review website will have either seen this film before, or at least have knowledge of its existence. As the blurb states, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes the winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions.
This film has one of the most impressive openings I have ever seen, stunning shots from a helicopter of the Sidewinder Road going up The Rocky Mountains which lead to the secluded hotel where all the action takes place. These shots are partnered with an amazing experimental soundtrack from Wendy Carlos, which mixes an orchestral and electronic sonic world to bizarre and startling effect. Stanley Kubrick is a master storyteller, which is demonstrated as the plot unfolds. We find out Jack has formally been a school teacher but wants to be a writer and wants to take the job as a caretaker for the winter months so he can focus on his writing. He doesn’t seem to think it odd to subject his wife and child to such extreme solitude, and we are immediately suspicious of his creepy grimacing gestures, of which Jack Nicholson is a clown-faced expert. But it’s not just Jack that’s got some odd personality traits, his son Danny exhibits some odd behaviours, often seen talking to ‘Tony’ his imaginary friend. Danny bends his index finger like an odd puppet and talks in a low voice, he later tells his mother that his friend Tony hides in his mouth and stomach. Jack’s wife Wendy is a curious character in her own right, submissive and passive to an alarming degree.
Jack and family head up to the Overlook Hotel to stay for winter. We learn about the tragedy that happened in room 237 in 1970, when the then caretaker killed his family with an axe and allegedly fed on their dead bodies. Other odd quirks to the hotel reveal themselves, such as the gigantic maze where a person could get lost for a whole day if they’re not careful, and that the hotel is built on an Indian burial ground. All this, and Kubrick has hardly begun his story.
The film is shot in a dazzling manner, not only the landscapes and bold colours, but the well-documented use of the steadicam, which follow the actors around in a flowing motion, from sinister low angles, and whirling perspectives to masterfully capture we the audience in the all the horrific action. One iconic sequence in the film is where there is rhythmic cut between Wendy pushing a tea trolley with her husband’s dinner through the vast dining areas of the hotel, contrasted with the low angle trailing of Danny in his Go-Cart, peddling the hotel’s corridors. We wonder what explosion of action is waiting to greet us, our anticipation somehow magnified by the hotels bright red sofas and bright red walls.
I won’t give away all that is great about this film. It’s an hallucinatory film, where characters have mind-bending sights and visions, the most acute psychosis that visits each member of the cast and explodes the solitude of the mountain retreat into a hideous vision of mental collapse. Jack Nicholson delivers his masterclass as an unhinged axe-wielding psychopath, that will have all but the most hardened viewer clutching their hands in anticipation.
The Shining is a clever collection of labyrinthine tropes; mirrors reversing the true reality, the literal maze in the hotel grounds, and the confused maze of the mind. Much of the story is unclear, there is no observable whole, and each of the characters is subject to their own version of insanity. However, there is one character, Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) who we meet before the family enter their solitude, and even though situated a thousand miles away at his Miami apartment, he is able to sense the crazy happenings at the Overlook Hotel. He is the benevolent head of the vast kitchens at the hotel, and is able to tap in to Danny’s unique psychic powers, what Halloran terms ‘shiny conversations’ that not everyone can see. Halloran acts as a protecting force throughout the film, a moral force, perhaps a representation of the native innocence rich white America has exploited.
Other than coming in the 4K Ultra HD format, the special features remain the same as previous extended releases, including:
– Commentary by Garrett Brown and John Baxter
– Vivian Kubrick’s documentary “The Making of the Shining” with optional commentary
– View from the Outlook: Crafting the Shining
– The Visions of Stanley Kubrick
– Wendy Carlos, Composer
These are great additions. It would be nice to get the addition of the 2012 documentary, Room 237 which is a documentary about perceptions and perceived meanings of the film The Shining, but I guess that would be a bit of an ask. That is another film I will be seeking out.
This film is an absolute cinema and horror classic. Watching the film on Blu-ray was for me a stunning experience. This is an immaculately composed and produced piece of cinema. Every scene, every shot, every aspect of the actors’ performances achieve a level of excellence that sets an example to all filmmakers that have come after.
This is a special release of a classic title by The Warner Bros Shop for October 2019.