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Stanley Kubrick's Home Alone
on 22 December 2007
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).