|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 12 June 2001|
Almost 20 years after its initial release, ‘The Shining’ remains one mind-blowingly scary haunted house film. Director Stanley Kubrick up with one spine-freezing image after another and induces a relentless sense of dread. It’s possible to feel that stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are overdoing things a bit and still get completely sucked into the film’s tension and terror.
In adapting Stephen King’s novel for the screen, Kubrick and co-screenwriter Diane Johnson have taken a number of liberties with the source material (King is said to prefer the recent and more faithful ABC-TV miniseries version). The alterations make the tale more enigmatic and in some ways keep us at a distance (the characters are less easy to identify with and the mythology makes less sense), but at the same time, they make the proceedings even weirder than in the book.
The following elements remain the same: Reformed alcoholic and would-be writer Jack Torrance (Nicholson) accepts a job as winter caretaker at the vast, isolated Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains. The hotel is closed for the season, so it’s just Jack, his wife Wendy (Duvall) and their eight-year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Although his preoccupied parents aren’t aware of it, Danny has "the shining," which is to say, he’s sensitive to the supernatural. Unhappily for the Torrance family, the Overlook is overflowing with a malevolent presence that manifests itself in some very nasty, sanity-twisting ways.
Some of the setpieces in Kubrick’s ‘Shining’ have become cinematic icons since the film’s release, and they retain their full impact today: the blood-spewing elevator doors in Chapter 4 and Nicholson’s maniacal "Here’s Johnny!" entrance in Chapter 33 being two of the most indelible. Kubrick’s use of expanses of primary colors and vast white walls and snowscapes even match the décor of our nightmares, where the slightest change in banal surroundings can signal impending doom.
Sound is also used to effectively rattle us. In Chapter 11, a tricycle rattling over hardwood floors, gliding silently over carpet only to resume its ominous drumming is enough to give us the creeps.
The DVD of ‘The Shining’ comes with an entertaining "making of" short by Vivian Kubrick, which is refreshingly different than the ‘First Look’-style documentaries that accompany many home theatre releases. There are a few interviews (young Lloyd, speculating on what he’s getting paid for his performance, is particularly amusing), but mostly it looks like a home movie, following a bemused Nicholson and Kubrick around the dressing rooms and sets.
On the downside, the aspect ratio has been cropped to 1:3:3, which interferes with shot composition and cross-frame movement. There are also a number of film-to-DVD transfer glitches, particularly in the early sections. Chapters 2 and 3 are plagued with white spots and Chapter 1 actually has what looks like a hair across several frames marring the magnificent helicopter tracking shot that follows the Torrances’ cross-country trek to the Overlook.
The verdict is: if you can get ‘The Shining’ in letterboxed form, do so. Otherwise, flaws and all, this DVD is a must-have for any fans of modern horror.