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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Shining (1980)

If you listen to "Film Reviews From the Basement," on Friday night (07 Oct 2011), you will have heard my verbal review of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film, "The Shining".  If you're a regular reader of my blog, then you would've read my review of Stephen King's book- which this movie is based on.  To round things out properly, I'm going to do a bit of a recap and expansion of my movie review today... simply because I can.

I just want it known right off the bat that I DON'T hate Kubrick's films.  In fact, there are a few that I actually enjoy:

  • "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb" (1964);
  • "A Clockwork Orange" (1971); and
  • "Full Metal Jacket" (1987)
As you can probably guess (if you didn't hear the radio show Friday night) from its absence, "The Shining" is not one of the ones I liked.  Now, before I get lynched by Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson fans, allow me to explaing exactly why it's not on the list above.

It's a technically beautifully shot film.  Each shot is excellent composed, framed, and lit like a piece of artwork almost.  The opening scene itself was scenic, gorgeous and just breathtaking to watch, though I'll admit that the rolling credits detracted from things a bit.  The wide angel shots and high angle showing the small car traveling the long winding road set up the scene beautifully and expressed the isolation of the location excellently.  The are also other great shots too- such as the scene shown at the top of this post where Danny has a vision of the previous caretakers dead daughters.  It's a gruesome, but well put together shot.  The hedge maze chase was also beautiful to watch, great lighting, interesting angles and decent editing.

So, what problem did I have with such beautiful work?  It's very clinically detached from the emotions that they expected to pull from the viewer.  A scene can be perfect from a technical aspect, but bland and lifeless from a emotional point of view.  It felt like everything was staged and planned down to the minutest detail, rather than flowing naturally with the emotions of the characters.

Which brings me to the characters and the actors themselves.  As much as I enjoyed watching Jack Nicholson go nuts, I felt he was the wrong actor for the role.  By the time he made "The Shining," he was well known for characters that were highly unstable on a mental level.  Right from the start, you could tell that his character, Jack Torrence, was lacking a few screws in his machinery... and that took away from the impact of his eventual insanity.  I'm really not sure what to say about Shelly Duvall as his wife, Wendy.  She did a decent job portraying a submissive, meek housewife, but I kept getting distracted by the size of her teeth, and memories of her playing Olive Oyl in "Popeye" with Robin Williams.  While she did a decent job in the role, the character was still rather bland and boring.  I really didn't care whether she lived or died, to be honest.  I got annoyed with her meekness, and wanted her to become determined and face her fears.

I was greatly disappointed in the character of Dick Hallorann- who was played by Scatman Crothers.  The acting wasn't bad- what screen time Crothers actually got that is.  What disappointed me was the fact that a character who plays a fairly big part in the book is reduced to a plot device.  He was essentially introduced simply so he can announce the concept of "shining," and to be killed.  Danny Lloyd actually did a really good job as Danny Torrence- the boy with psychic abilities.  I came to actually like the kid that used his finger to talk as his "imaginary friend" Tony.  The voice he used was excellent... the sound of him repeating "redrum" over and over in that scratchy voice was creepy.  Even though a few of the close-up shots of his terrified face were a little over the top, in general, he made me believe that he was a smart little kid that "saw things," and was scared of them.  Great work by him.

The biggest flaw in the movie is the story... and how it relates to the story from the book.  When a movie is adapted from a book, I have only one real big consideration- are the themes from the book carried over into the movie.  I hate to say it, but the main theme of Stephen King's book is missing from the movie.  In the book, Jack- who is a recovering alcoholic, discovers some papers about the hotel's less than savory history.  He soon becomes obsessed with researching the hotel's history for a book.  This addiction gives the hotel to get a foothold inside of Jack, with essentially the same results of alcoholism... and leading to Jack's downfall.  This them is completely missing from the movie.  Without this theme, the movie lacks depth and becomes simply a movie about a guy suffering from cabin fever and going after his family.

There is one scene that would've helped add some depth to the character of Jack as well that was missing in the movie.  In the book, as Jack is about to bash in Danny's head with a mallet, he stops himself and warns Danny to run for his life... before the hotel possesses him fully and forces Jack to bash in his own face.  A scene like this would've added depth, and allowed the viewer to connect with Jack a bit more, since in the book, Jack really was a loving husband and father, who just happened to let his addiction get out of control.

Because the biggest flaw of this movie surrounds the theme, I'm going to have to give "The Shining" a spot in "The Bad".  I freely admit it's a beautiful and influencial film... but not one I'd sit through more than once.

If you want to hear the radio edition of this review, check out the "Film Reviews From the Basement" podcast!


  1. Your review of this film is excellent, it hits all the main problems with Kubrick's adaptation. But I personally still like it, despite being an awful interpretation of King's work. I've always held the works separately because they work on two different levels of horror, IMO. In a way they really aren't even the same story, Kubrick's is so different from King's, and I'm sure as you know the most they have in common is the characters names. Either way great review.

  2. You're right, they are essentially two different stories. If Kubrick had invest some of his own feelings into his direction of the film, it probably would've been able to connect with viewers on a more personal level. Since it lacks that connection, it's not a film I could watch more than once.