|Written by Bill Warren|
|Friday, 01 February 2008|
The story has become familiar: writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is hired to be the winter caretaker of a Rocky Mountain hotel, The Overlook; it’s very isolated in an area unsuited to winter sports. (King based the Overlook on the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.) While Torrance is being introduced to the hotel by its unctuous manager, Ullman (Barry Nelson), the story cuts to his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd), down in Colorado Springs. The script by Kubrick and Diane Johnson economically reveals details: Jack has had a serious drinking problem, and in a drunken rage, once injured young Danny. But Danny also has an imaginary friend who “lives” in his mouth and talks through Danny’s index finger. But is the friend so imaginary?
When the family arrives at the hotel on the day it’s closing for the season, Danny is befriended by the hotel’s cook, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). Danny’s stunned when Dick reveals that he, too, has psychic powers like Danny—they can communicate telepathically. Dick explains that his grandmother also had these abilities, which she called “the shining.” He makes Danny promise to contact him (he’s on his way to Florida) if anything goes wrong. And it might—he reluctantly admits there are strange things about the hotel.
After the Torrances are alone, things seem to go smoothly for a while. Jack takes over a large lounge in the hotel, where he busily pounds away on a typewriter, accumulating a stack of pages. Danny likes to ride his small tricycle around the tiled/carpeted halls of the Overlook, while Wendy is content fixing meals for them and doing the other small maintenance tasks the hotel requires. She occasionally chats with rangers in the Rocky Mountain park via radio.
But this idyll soon begins turning very sour. Jack becomes increasingly distant, frequently bursting into angry contempt at his puzzled, concerned wife. Danny begins seeing odd things—a croquet ball that comes from nowhere, two little girls who bid him to join them “forever and ever and ever.” Wendy and Danny check out the huge maze adjoining the hotel, but it’s too creepy for fun. And Jack’s mind continues to deteriorate…
Neither the book nor the movie of “The Shining” has a strong plot; once the Torrances are at the hotel, they have a series of increasingly frightening experiences, building to a powerful climax as a madman with an axe runs amok in the hotel corridors. Partly, adapting the book to the movie was a matter of removing some sequences, retaining others.
“The Shining” definitely does not look like a conventional horror movie, until the very last sequence in the snowbound maze. It’s brightly lit with attractive Western-style sets (the exterior of the Overlook was modeled on Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, the interior on the Ahwanee in Yosemite Valley); there are no spooky, darkened hallways, no dank cellars, no cobwebby attics. It’s bright and crisp and open almost to the very end—but Kubrick still terrified audiences. He knows how to gradually escalate tension, he was a master of composition—and of using that composition to unnerving ends. These formal, stately scenes can be interrupted by a literal cascade of blood—one of the most shocking scenes of the 1980s, as blood gushes from the edges of the elevators, so powerfully it washes furniture away. Just because this is probably not literal doesn’t reduce the intense power of its impact.
Some have complained that Nicholson looks part-way nuts when he shows up for the job interview in the opening scenes—but that was Kubrick’s idea. He had to remove a lot of King’s careful buildup to Jack Torrance’s derangement; he wanted to jump-start things just a bit, so Nicholson is already a little eerie, a little irritated by his situation even as he drives his family to the hotel. (The opening mountainous shots are among the most stunning footage in any American movie.) This helps make even the earliest scenes of Jack’s derangement completely convincing, as when he walks into the empty ballroom of the hotel, sits down at the vacant bar—and finds himself talking to a bartender (Kubrick favorite Joe Turkel) who seems already to know him. And now the shelves are lined with bottles of liquor. The movie returns several times to this partly ghostly, partly real ballroom; once it’s in the midst of a stylish ball. But this exists only to “introduce” Jack to Delbert Grady (Philip Stone), a previous winter caretaker who’d killed his daughters (the girls Danny sees) and wife before committing suicide. But Grady calmly assures his visitor that it’s Jack who has “always” been the caretaker at the Overlook….
As events get more and more tense, as Jack goes more and more insane, Danny finally issues a “shining” shriek to Hallorann, off in Florida. The aging caretaker begins making his way back to the Overlook. What happens to him is the biggest change from the novel, but a moment’s thought offers a reasonable explanation: we had to see that Jack Torrance was fully capable of murder.
Like “2001” and “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining” has blended into world culture; images from the film, such as the torrent of blood, or Jack’s manically grinning “Here’s Johnny!” to his trapped wife, or the shot of Nicholson rising slowly into the frame just having killed someone, now a complete and convincing image of murderous insanity. Kubrick’s mastery of images and the moods they convey makes “The Shining” disturbing to watch; not all of it works as he intended (the old woman in the bath is a fumble), but so much is so vivid, so impressive, that the virtues not only outweigh the failings, but they make them of no importance at all. Of movie directors, only Alfred Hitchcock has had such a strong visual impact on our society.
This Blu-Ray DVD presents a superb packaging of movie and extras. First, the movie itself is ideal for high definition presentation. The cinematography by John Alcott (with great SteadiCam work by Garrett Brown) is sharp, brightly lit—the lounge windows are so blazingly bright all detail outside is washed out, exactly Kubrick’s intention—and in handsome but subdued colors. Even the blood is comfortably dark red. Only other Kubrick movies look like Kubrick movies, and “The Shining” is one of his handsomest films. The increase in detail simply makes everything work better, from the very high shot of the maze (one of the movie’s few opticals—and it’s absolutely perfect), to the vast lounges and endless hallways of the hotel, to the beautiful but ominous hedge maze, even to the highway scenes of Hallorann rushing back to the Overlook.
When Kubrick died, he ordered his heirs to burn all outtakes and other remaining footage from his movies. They were HIS movies, and he had the right to do this, but I wish he hadn’t. Particularly regarding “The Shining:” like “2001,” it was longer when it first opened; I was fortunate enough to see both films in their longer editions. The extra scenes in “The Shining” were illuminating, in a sense; there were other removed scenes (Jack examining the hotel’s collection of news clippings, for example) that it would be wonderful for Kubrickphiles and other movie researchers and historians to see. But they’re gone.
However, this disc, as did the earlier standard-def DVD, includes something remarkable: a documentary on the making of the movie, filmed and directed by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian (as a child, she played Heywood Floyd’s daughter in “2001”). This is the only extensive footage of Kubrick at work, so for those who want to know more, it’s a treasure trove. It’s also very good for seeing Jack Nicholson at work; at one point, he’s marking his lines in a script—a trick he learned from Boris Karloff. Being Kubrick’s daughter gave Vivian unusual access to the sets and the set workers; her father rarely addresses her, and seems somewhat uncomfortable that she’s even there, but he perseveres. And she did too—she provides an interesting commentary track.
The film itself also has a commentary track. Garrett Brown, Steadicam inventor and operator, was very observant about Kubrick, and provides extremely interesting information and insights. Kubrick biographer John Baxter alternates with Brown, again with sharp, intelligent insights and comments.
In addition to Vivian Kubrick’s documentary, there are two other featurettes of interest. “View from the Overlook: Crafting ‘The Shining’” also features Brown and Baxter, but also Sydney Pollack (ordinarily a director, he did act in Kubrick’s last movie, “Eyes Wide Shut”), cowriter Diane Johnson, critic Charles Champlin, executive producer Jan Harlan, production designer Roy Walker, costume designer Milena Canonero, Jack Nicholson, William Friedkin, Ernest Dickerson, former Warner Bros. executive Ry Walker, and many others. This documentary is a little choppy, but there’s a great deal of very good commentary, often illustrated with scenes from the film, even some rare behind-the-scenes footage, probably shot by Vivian Kubrick.
“The Visions of Stanley Kubrick” isn’t as far-ranging as the title suggests; it’s composed of footage clearly shot for the “View from the Outlook” featurette, as most of the same people appear, in the same settings. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Pollack again, Nicholson, too, and cinematogrpahers Janusz Kasinzki, Caleb Deschanel, many others. There are some clips from other Kubrick movies, but the primary focus is on “The Shining.”
There’s also a brief featurette on Wendy Carlos, seated amidst keyboards, computer screens and Siamese cats, as she plays some cues written for “The Shining” and “A Clockwork Orange,” but not used in those films.
For those who admire Kubrick and his films, this Blu-Ray set is THE ideal way to see “The Shining.” Like all Kubrick movies, it will only increase in value and importance as time passes—beyond those already out, there are, regrettably, no more Kubrick movies to add to the collection.