Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 144 Minutes
Release Date: October 23, 2007
"Mr. Halloran, is there something bad here?"
The Shining has always been a subject of controversy between those who loved the book and those who loved the film. It's true that Stanley Kubrick took much creative license with this project, filming more of a recreation than an adaptation of Stephen King's popular novel. But the results are extraordinary. Kubrick's vision is a fascinatingly horrifying one, filled with strong visual images that aren't soon forgotten. This is one of maybe three movies total that actually and honestly scared me the first time I saw it.
But over the years, I've found much more in this film to appreciate than a few good frights. Technically, this is one of the most well constructed films I've seen. After you've enjoyed the film the first time, go back and view it again. Watch the camera work--it's breathtaking, from the carefully crafted static shots using mirrors and natural lights to create pictorial images, to the way the camera moves in and out, and stalks through doors, around corners, up stairways, and so on. It's masterful. Notice how most of the shots of the hotel interior include the floor and ceiling simultaneously. Not only does it create a profound sense of spatial relations, and even a little claustrophobia at the right moments, but consider the technical marvel of said shots...with the ceiling and floor in view, where are the lights? Where are the microphones? Where are the cables and wires?
Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who along with his wife Wendy (Duvall) and son Danny (Lloyd) find themselves alone and snowed in as winter caretakers of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel is big, and so beautiful, it's hard to image that some years back another caretaker went mad and killed his wife and children with an axe.
But there's something genuinely not right about the hotel...and it may take a few viewings to really piece it altogether. But Danny can sense it with his extrasensory gift called "shining", and so can the cook, Mr. Halloran (Crothers, who's always a treat to watch), who finds himself on the road back to the hotel when things start to go awry.
Kubrick has many ways of subtly invading your psyche and playing around with the knobs. Sometimes he does this by establishing, then breaking, a specific pattern. You may not consciously recognize something is wrong, but something in your mind tells you things have gone off track. Take, for example, the shots of young Danny on his toy bike. The camera follows behind him, keeping him centered in the frame as he goes from room to room. Our point of view is low and directly behind him as he goes, and we move at the same speed as the boy. This is established in the first sequence, a marvel of a tracking shot. A little later is a similar shot: same angle, same speed...we have fallen in to a particular pattern.
But notice the third sequence of Danny on his bike. Something amiss? He is way, way ahead of the camera, and our point of view is far back. The camera is following him, but at a much slower speed, like a nightmare where you can't run. Before, the cross hairs of the camera were always on Danny. In this shot, he's far ahead, and disappears around the corner, leaving us looking at...nothing, but still moving forward blankly at a slow speed. This is followed by a cut, where Danny turns another corner and sees the image of the two girls. By the time we see them, we're already unsettled by the unfamiliar stylistic intrusion on our safe, established pattern. We are at Kubrick's mercy.
And what of those twin girls? What is it about them that is so strange and unsettling? I wondered this for years myself, until one day, I finally read the amazingly easy answer. The girls were NOT twins. Nowhere in the film's exposition are they referred to as twins, and the actresses who portrayed them were not even related to each other. What did Kubrick do? He simply selected two different girls, with similar but not duplicate features (one even a little taller than the other) and dressed them identically. Just enough for our minds to sound the alarm that something here is very wrong, even if we don't identify it immediately.
I'll cite one more example: the scene that begins with an overhead shot of Danny playing with his toy cars in one of the hotel's hallways. A ball comes rolling towards him from the front, stopping at his legs. Pay attention to the pattern on the carpet! The shot switches to one from behind Danny as he stands up and begins to call "Mom?". A second switch takes our point of view to in front of Danny. But again, something has bent the rules of this universe. The camera is still showing us the same shot of the hallway as before...look at the pattern on the carpet: they've reversed, even though Danny's toys are meticulously in the same position as they were from the shot before! Again, it was a subtle, almost undetectable cue for the audience's subconscious to be disturbed. The presentation was obviously deliberate: to shoot the scene from the back, then the front, would have been an easy task. However, Danny's position and the position of his toys were re-set in the opposite direction. Storywise, we may not notice, but that deliberate carpet pattern is a definite psychological manipulation from Kubrick.
Jack Nicholson was already a superstar when he appeared in this film, but his performance here really made him a legend. Shelley Duvall is not as strong, but when Jack starts to unravel, he takes her with him.
Kubrick tackled many genres over the course of his stellar career, and this movie showed that he could create a frightening and unforgettable horror film as well or better than anyone, and to this day it remains a staple of cinematic terror.
It's hard to believe how bad The Shining once looked on DVD...we've come a long way. This Blu-ray edition is incredible; the Overlook Hotel has never looked so alive or so menacing. The level of detail is striking, right from the opening helicopter shots, which really make you feel like you're soaring over the mountains. The rooms, kitchens, and storage areas are just filled with little things that you'll discover for the first time. My girlfriend and I have both seen this movie dozens of times, so we had fun picking out all the products on the shelves in the background, which we could easily identify thanks to this transfer. Colors are bright, crisp and natural looking throughout. Even an occasional lens flare makes the movie seem more ghostly now than ever before!
And yes, once upon a time, this movie was in DVD in mono...remember the days? Well, forget them. The Blu-ray 5.1 offering is more immersive and expansive than ever, with more dynamic range, more ambient effects, and more liveliness for Wendy Carlos' disturbing musical score. The synthesizers drone with fury, the cacophony of voices come alive and surround you, and the percussion cuts through with startling clarity. Back in the day, I never would have believed this movie would ever look or sound so good...excellent job at Warner!
Thanks to Blu-ray spacing capabilities, you only need one disc to hold the extras. It contains the original trailer and a new commentary by Steadicam inventor and operator Garrett Brown with historian John Baxter, plus three new featurettes on the crafting of the film, the visions of Kubrick, and one on Wendy Carlos' music, which features a few pieces she composed for The Shining and A Clockwork Orange that haven't been heard before. Vivian Kubrick's documentary on the making of the film is included, with optional commentary from her.
The Shining is a visually rich and chilling masterpiece of horror, done as only the vision of Stanley Kubrick could make. It's also a disc that shows how far the movie has come on home video. It was a long road from the initial lackluster DVD to this stunning Blu-ray edition, but it was well worth the journey.