The Shining (1980)

(Release Date: May 23, 1980)

The human ROACH Motel?!The human ROACH Motel?!The human ROACH Motel?!The human ROACH Motel?!

Take care of the place all winter... but OVERLOOK the Living Nightmares!

The World's Greatest Critic... Would check in with the RIGHT roommate!
J.C. Macek III

The Shining is one of a few films that I watched over and over, relentlessly, week by week over several years as I grew from a pre-teen to an adult. Alien and Young Frankenstein were two more that kept popping up.

The film helped make me a fan of Stephen King, which had the adverse affect of me wanting to read the book, the complexities of which and differences from the film caused me to reject the movie for quite some time. By the time that happened, I'd probably seen the film about 20 times so this was far from an uninformed decision.

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Part of the 2009 Summer of Horror!
I actually rather find Shelley attractive here!!!

What can I say, I'm a literary purist. Looking at this favorite film after a time, however, it's easy to separate this film from its source material and enjoy both. While The Shining is most certainly a Stephen King Novel, the book's filmed adaptation (which followed only three years after its 1977 publication) is nothing less than a Stanley Kubrick film, in all its glory, visual amazements and agonizingly perfect timing. There are so many amazing things in this movie and the ultimate result is such a fine Kubrick film that it's infinitely worth seeing, regardless of how you feel about the novel.

To be sure, this isn't the novel... to the point that when something matches perfectly, it becomes a big surprise for the attentive audience. However, from the very beginning, Kubrick intended to use King's Haunted Hotel novel as a framework, not as a screenplay in and of itself, to the point that King's own faithful screenplay was rejected and replaced by one Kubrick wrote himself with novelist Diane Johnson! The differences are manifold and have been commented on more than enough times by better writers than me... but that hasn't stopped me so far, has it?

Kubrick brings us the story of Jack Torrance (coldly portrayed by Jack Nicholson), a down on his luck teacher who is desperate to land a job as a caretaker at Colorado's Overlook Hotel to advance his life and take care of his family! He is finally hired by Officious Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson), possibly because Jack has the good sense not to say "Dude, aren't you James Bond?" Let's face it, that's what I'd have done!

As we meet his wife Wendy (the excellent Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny Danny Lloyd) we learn a little more about Jack's dark past of drinking and mild abuse! We also learn of Danny's "Imaginary Friend" Tony, who lives in Danny's mouth, talks through is finger and knows things that Danny could not possibly know... and is always right!

While Wendy is optimistically excited to go to the Overlook, Danny is more concerned about the idea, as is Tony. There is a bit of comfort that comes from the seasonal Chef of the Overlook, a man named Dick Hallorann (the perfectly cast Scatman Crothers), who has the self-same psychic abilities that Danny does. Dick tells Danny (or "Doc", as he's nicknamed) that it's called "The Shining" and that only select people have this ability.

But the ability isn't limited to just people... but places and things as Dick warns Danny. The Overlook has its own Psychic Residue that keeps the place "Alive", whether guests are there or not. Dick is especially cautious about a certain Room 237, which he advises Danny to steer clear of, if at all possible! It's after Dick, the staff and all the guests leave the Torrance family alone that Danny begins to realize just how terrifying the place really is!

Kubrick shows us this as well, with a stark and cold surreality, similar to that which he employed in 2001: A Space Odyssey! He also employs the latest in camera tricks, such as the then-new invention of the Steadicam and the cinematography of Steadicam inventor John Alcott. As Danny rides his big wheel through the vast hallways of the Overlook, Kubrick stays with him and the expansive set opens up with dark colors and symbolic imagery, with natural sounds and a steady pace. It is in these more impressive, yet quiet, moments that Kubrick prepares the thrills. Appropriately for Kubrick, even his more horrific moments are done with an artistic flair and grace, never with a mind toward startling the audience. The still frame and unflinching point of view shots during these events forces the audience to see what is very hard to look at and makes the horror all the more terrifying. There is no quick jump, no orchestra hit to remind the viewer to be scared. The discomposure comes from the fact that it is so unconventional in its plain presentation and these scenes feel so real because of this, in spite of how surreal they really are.

Of course, at first, it is only Danny that sees these things. Jack keeps writing what he hopes will be the great American Novel and Wendy is concerned that Danny isn't adjusting well and that Jack is becoming more and more distant to the point of cruelty.

And by the time things become more plain and we reach our requisite "For God's Sake Get Out" point, the Torrance family is already snowed in, the phone lines are down and the malevolent spirits within the hotel are doing everything in their considerable power to keep this new family within the walls of the Overlook forever. They can only rely on each other, right? Well, not if Jack is already in the thrall of the Overlook and not if the ghosts plan an all-out attack on the family, taking away their means of escape and even communication. Well, that is... all communication except for... The Shining itself. Hey, Mind-Calling Dick in Miami must be cheaper for Danny than a 1-800-Collect dial up, am I right?

Yes, Yes I am!

The truth is that from a storytelling perspective, King's excellent haunted hotel novel is better. Big surprise, huh? "The Book is Better". However, Kubrick isn't filming a book. He's filming a movie in ways that only he has been able to really do. As a skilled still photographer Kubrick is amazing with his talent for framing shots, for filling every inch of screen with something to see, top to bottom, left to right. From the opening Helicopter Shots to the rides through the hotel halls to the Amazing Hedge Maze outside to the choice of color and lighting in the snow scenes to the very most frightening moments that build each successive moment of discomfort to the point that even in Kubrick's subtlety we are shocked and disturbed and left in a state of suspended discomfort.

This is the magic of Kubrick as a director. And to be sure, as a writer as well. Without his quality screenplay, written with Johnson, the film wouldn't hold up very well at all as more than a montage of impressive visual images. However, the screenplay is good... if a little disjointed and dense. Kubrick fills in certain plot holes with imagery that may or may not mean the same thing to each viewer. The use of Native American imagery has led some to believe that Kubrick's version is a rewritten allegory and others to believe that this all began with an Indian Burial Ground (which isn't a factor in the novel). Other areas are unexplained, probably intentionally, to keep many things ambiguous. In fact, a few plot threads seem to fizzle or even die out of convenience or shock in ways that don't quite happen in the novel. Many audiences were left scratching their heads at the maintained mystery of the film which lasts, literally until the final still frame... then through the credits and into the sounds after the credit sequence has finished rolling. Perhaps these same things have led to The Shining being revered as a true Kubrick Classic, as different audiences will have divergent opinions on what the film really means.

It can be an amazing film in all ways... but it certainly helps that the cast that Kubrick hired is as good as they are (though often very, very different from their textual counterparts). Jack looks like someone you might not ask for change from even when he's at his most polite. When he goes into his mean spells he's frightening and in his rage he is an absolute nightmare. And that goes especially for his psychotically sarcastic moments that can be as funny as they are chilling. (The Adlibbed line "Here's Johnny!" springs to mind.) Meanwhile Danny Lloyd does a great job as the frightened kid with the hard-to-fathom abilities. He plays Tony and Danny as two different characters, often in a conversation with each other. Shelley Duvall is fantastic as the tender-hearted and waifish wife and mother who has so little malice within her, but soon has to fight for her life against things she can't understand and an arch enemy she knows all too well. Supporting characters like Grady (Philip Stone), Lloyd (Joe Turkel), and the impressively fully frontally naked bathing woman (Lia Beldam) are all well played and enhance the cast quite well.

The real key here is, of course, the visual sense and timing that this beyond talented director has managed to gift to us all. This is especially true in Blu-Ray where The Shining, well... Shines! The colors are deeper, the wide shots more astounding and the images are clear down to the minutiae. It's an amazing way to view an incredible picture from a true master.

The master stroke in Kubrick's vision is how very real he made all of his films, whether the story is about a futuristic Monolith that advances primitive societies or a surreal comedy about Nuclear Annihilation or a disturbing Vietnam War flick or, in this case, a haunted hotel filled with strange ghosts and memories that prey upon an innocent family. Kubrick takes his time and lends his camera eye to make this feel both surreal and realistic at the same time. He blends cold landscapes with colorful, warm sets, with falls of blood in elevator shafts with still shots that might feel at home in any Haunted House story.

Okay, it's not quite perfect. King purists might fault me for this rating as too high, Kubrick fans may condemn me because it's too low, but taken for all with all, I'm giving Four Stars out of Five to The Shining! Much of the time it might not make the MOST sense. Other times it might feel nothing short of brilliant. Other times, it might even contradict itself or its source from time to time and there may be continuity errors here and there. But this is Kubrick and it's hard not to think that somehow all of this might have been part of his plan. See you in the next Big Wheel... I mean... Reel!

Then I clicked his link for More Reviews
And I found two creepy girls waiting
For me in matching clothes
and they made fun of my hair.

The Shining (1980) reviewed by J.C. Macek III
Who is solely responsible for the content of this site
And for the fact that he is really burned out right now.
And could use a vacation in the Mountains.
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I want to come visit, but I have to figure myself out first.
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