After thirty two years, finally, I get to see my favourite film of all time on the silver screen. And, for the first time in Britain, it's the original 'Directors Cut' of "The Shining" that he released in the US. : To say that Kubrick was hampered is a fallacy, he repaced the film for a shorter running time and took 32 brutal minutes out for the European release, which only now has officially been seen in the UK.
Not that I haven't seen it. The Kubrick fan would have been stunned in 1993, when Central Television in the Midlands - where I was living at the time - broadcast, unannounced, the full 144 minute version of the film in the middle of the night. I was sat there at the time, goofing off in my summer holidays, jaw aghast at the new scenes I'd never seen before, that I never knew existed, that quickly became part of the fabric of my world.: no longer did the conversation end when Wendy entered the Ballroom, it carried on long past. No longer did the momentary confusion at the climax seem so brief, but became longer and more intricate. The whole film was richer and stronger and more luxariant, and it was only in 2001, with the advent of DVD, I managed to own a non-grainy, non off-air broadcast. The first DVD I bought was an unrated US import - and I bought a special hacked DVD player to watch it : a poorly transferred 4:3 DVD with the barest of transfer, and visible, noticable hairs, pops, and crackles on the print. And it still looked amazing.
Looking at the European version now, Kubricks cuts seem arbitrary, graceless, and obvious. Scenes where transitions, fades, and rich dialogue were paced are castrated. The dialogue cuts mid sentence. Introductions are removed, the discussion of Jack's alcoholism, Danny's invisible friend, dislocated shoulders, and small pieces of dialogue that removed plotholes are excised. The European version seems abrupt, rude even, and the hotel doesn't have quite so much menace : the luxurious toying the Hotel takes with the Torrances (it has all the time in the world, after all), is telescoped, and instead of a slow, vicious torture the Hotel seems to spend much less time getting to business.
Seeing it on the big screen allows me to see the film in a way I haven't seen it in twenty years. I was able to absorb the details, watch the backgrounds, see the film, and not just follow the plot and dialogue. I was following the movement between shots of ties, appearing and reappearing chairs, subtle visual clues ("EXIT" signs at incongruous places), paper refilling itself in the typewriter and changing colour, the bizarre, impossible geography, the reflections in the mirrors (and the absence of them), the way that parts of the building move in relation to each other ; for example the garden maze appears, reappears, the entrance moves nearer the building, the maze changes shape, and so forth. Despite protestations of the crew, I am fairly sure that Kubrick meant at least most of this.
"The Shining" is a blank canvas to some : to others a rich tapestry of complex, interweaving signals and meanings. To me, it a luxurious, epic horror film that presents a tale of, as Kubrick put it "One family going insane together", but also, and more than that, it is one of the finest horror films of all time, because it respects itself. It takes the genre, and turns it inside out, making the "Monster" so much more than a physical beast, exploring the darkness of the psyche with psychological disembowelment instead of mere physical dismemberment. It treats a horror film as a tale as worthy of being told, and as epic and carefully constructed as any obvious Oscarbait. The Characters are well sketched (albeit, not always well rounded), and the acting somewhat lacking in obvious hamming up : aside from Jack's possessed character, who is ham on toast with cheese, as he unravels. Even the obvious jump scares - the visions of murdered people, skeletons, and so on and so forth - are designed more to make the participants collapse than to scare the audience, as the hotel itself is terrorising and playing with the Torrences, in the same way that Kubrick is playing with the audience. Ultimately, it is, to me at least, the finest film I have seen ; one that pits ordinary people in an mundane environment against a foe that may not even exist and is so far beyond their comprehension that they only perceive it in the way that most people perceive a black hole ; by inference and guesswork. The true monster in the dark is all around them, utterly normal on the surface, and hidden within the walls, which is both themselves and to an extent within their own minds. The Hotel is never seen 'attacking' anyone explictly - even the shower room sequence is portrayed ambigiously as a dream vision which may, like Lloyd, like Grady, like the packed Gold Room and the unlocked door, be a projection inside Jack's mind. Pictures in a book, that's all it is. Pictures in a book. Or on a screen.
At times Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining feels like Home Alone with jokes (Macauley Culkin's "Oh no!" expression even originates in young Danny Lloyd's reaction to seeing the caretaker's twins), with Jack Nicholson doing the screen's most prolonged Bruce Dern impersonation while a helpless little boy outthinks him and lures him to his own destruction. Nicholson's constant clowning certainly does the film few favors and makes Jack Torrence more standup comedian than fearsome killer, setting the scene for three decades of comedy improv slashers. Many of the film's most effective moments, such as the conversation with the dead caretaker in the men's' room or the conversations with Joseph Turkel's ghostly barman, tend to work in spite of the star's grandstanding rather than because of it. He's at his best in the early scenes or his the genuinely unnerving moment where the sleep deprived Torrence unemotionally and less than reassuringly promises his son he'd never hurt him, but by the time he's broken out the fire axe all that's missing is the hockey mask and the striped sweater. It doesn't help that child actor Danny Lloyd isn't terribly good either (his croaking "redrum" scene makes you glad Warners turned down Kubrick's offer to direct The Exorcist), but he isn't quite disastrous either.
Yet the film still manages to hold the attention, even if it is often more of a display of technique and Kubrick's visual precision and fascination with the possibilities of the constantly prowling Steadicam rather than a visceral rollercoaster ride: the polite and accommodating Joseph Turkel is easily one of the most memorable spectres in screen history while the ever so formal Philip Stone as the late caretaker with distinct ideas on disciplining children is an almost equally intriguing creation. And with the novel's original ending that saw the various animals carved out of the maze's hedges coming to life impractical with the special effects of the day, Kubrick's solution is very satisfying even if he does steal one shot wholesale from The Last Hunt. One striking thing about two of the Overlook's permanent residents, however: if the place does still contain echoes of all the bad things that have happened there over the years, that must mean that one particular guest must have got the worst oral sex of all time from the guy in the Pluto costume!
Although still cut by three minutes after its premiere, the 146-minute American cut on the Region 1 NTSC DVD and Region-free Blu-ray works better than the European version that Kubrick himself cut down to two hours and which is still the only version available on DVD or Blu-ray in the UK. While many of the cuts are pure exposition, with much of the initial tour around the Overlook and all of Anne Jackson's part hitting the cutting room floor, as did part of one of Turkel's scenes, the longer first half of the film means it takes longer for Nicholson to go whacko (in the European version they've barely had time to unpack before he starts slicing up the ham in extra-thick slices). Unfortunately the stereo remix on the DVD tends to dull some of the film's best sound effects, such as the memorable sound of Danny's tricycle as it passes over carpet onto hardwood floor, and the new letterboxed transfer loses detail from the previous fullframe version that Kubrick approved (the overhead shot of the maze in particular).
on 30 November 2007
If hell exists, the shining envisions it.
Bleak - this is the best word to describe this film. The weather is bleak, the setting is bleak and cavernous, the ghosts and hallucinations are chilling, devoid of feeling, manipulative, bleak.
Is Torrance simply going mad, or being influenced? What's driving him? Is it the ghosts of past events, or his own consciousness filling the void of isolation, or a bit of both?
Despite the supernatural visitations you never quite know, and this is what makes this film so chilling and unbelievably bleak - Jack could simply be a victim of his own insane consciousness.
Without ever resorting to extreme gore or shocks, Kubrick creates a vision of hell, a vision of the void that will sear itself onto your mind.
Unlike many horror flicks, this one becomes more disturbing the older you get.
A true horror, a real vision of hell. Watch it, but if you're sensitive, don't watch it too often!
on 23 August 2004
'The Shining' on DVD is essential viewing, not only because the film itself is one of the most beautifully shot horror classics of all time, but also because it comes accompanied by a wonderful documentary. 'The Making of The Shining' provides a rare insight into director Stanley Kubrick ('A Clockwork Orange') and also features actors Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall at work on set, both in and out of character. From this invaluable footage, you will learn to admire those who do the business behind the scenes and gain a good appreciation for what it takes to create a masterpiece.
As a movie, The Shining is thoroughly watchable from start to finish. Jack Nicholson steals the show as the ex-alcoholic, ex-teacher who is looking for solitude for a 'writing project', and the Overlook Hotel appears to be just what he is looking for as he pitches in as caretaker during the snowbound winter months. Joining him at the Overlook are his wife Wendy (Duvall) and his talented son Danny (Lloyd), whose special ability to 'shine' causes him to fear (and rightly so) the dark secrets of the hotels past.
With The Shining, director Stanley Kubrick has thankfully created an intellectual horror movie rather than merely played it for shocks. His superb pacing builds the tension up gradually, and with so many memorable scenes here, there is enough to make you return time and again, where you will always find something new.
I cannot recommend this film enough; if you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?
In spite of author Stephen King not being happy with Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his novel, The Shining (1980) has proved to be a critical and commercial darling.
It may not be in the spirit that King wanted, but it's undeniably a skillful piece of film making, a mixture of beauty and terror, of bravura techniques and simple but effective scares. With quality acting performances to match as well. The story unfolds at a deliberately slow pace, claustrophobia oozes from practically every frame, while the narrative smarts brings to bear the ghosts of the human and supernatural kind, all bone chillingly rendered for great effect by the vast spaces - the cold winter grounds outside - of the Overlook Hotel.
It's not all perfect, the screenplay is very average, which makes Kubrick's work even more impressive, but with that comes the wave of feeling about style over substance. A churlish gripe? Maybe? But with Jack Nicholson on scenery chewing overdrive and Kubrick pulling the strings, The Shining still represents a highlight in horror. A horror movie that all horror fans should see at least once - and in the best format available as well! 8/10