The Shining

As a fan of Stephen King, I must admit that I was not thrilled with “The Shining” when it first came out. As an admirer of director Stanley Kubrick, I understood his need to make the film his own, yet I felt betrayed that some of my favorite scenes in the book didn’t make it into Kubrick’s screenplay (co-written with Diane Johnson). It wasn’t until several years later that I began to appreciate what Kubrick had done with King’s words. King wrote a horror story, Kubrick created a psychological journey into madness.

The ShiningThe malevolence in King’s novel was created by the fact that the hotel in question was built on an old Indian burial ground. Kubrick and Johnson stocked the hotel with ghosts from its past. Welcome to the Overlook Hotel, a sprawling Colorado retreat that closes down during the winter months. Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance, a husband and father so desperate for work that he’s willing to take on the job of off- season caretaker for the hotel. Torrance is a decent man, even though his temper and drinking sometimes get the best of him. His wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), a meek, almost mousy woman, is happy taking care of their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd). It isn’t until this tight knit family unit arrives at the Overlook that their seemingly perfect life starts to fall apart. Jack starts drinking again, while Danny begins having violent visions of the hotel’s past.

Wendy tries to keep the family from going over the deep end, but she’s just one step away from falling over the precipice herself. Cabin fever starts to get the best of everyone, including Jack, who begins associating with the spirits that haunt the hotel. While there’s nothing wrong with getting someone’s ghosts, these spirits have something more evil in mind. They want Jack to kill his family and join their ranks. Hey, it’s their hotel. So, is Jack going mad or is he being guided by the evil spirits? Is Danny really experiencing visions or are they just the hallucinations of a troubled child? Kubrick and Johnson slowly build the film to a nerve racking finale that finds Wendy and Danny on the wrong side of Jack’s very sharp axe. What makes the film work in my opinion is Kubrick’s deliberate pacing, which allows the actors plenty of opportunity to explore their psychosis. Even though the film is filled with horrific moments (blood pouring out of an elevator, dead twin girls haunting the hallways, a corpse that rises up from the bathtub), the real horror comes in watching this family unit disintegrate. How terrifying to be trapped in an isolated location with someone you love who is trying to kill you.

That is much more shocking than some madman running around in a hockey mask in the woods killing unknown victims. Even though the actors tend to go over the top on occasion, the performances are authentic and chilling. Nicholson was born to play Jack Torrance, and embodies the character with relish. Duvall’s role is a little tougher. She’s mostly relegated to reactions, but she manages to make each and everyone memorable. Danny Lloyd does a fine job as Danny, finding just the right balance between innocence and awareness. The kid looks absolutely terrified when he’s supposed to. Scatman Crothers has come nice moments as the hotel handyman who understands Danny’s power of Shining and tries to save the kid not only from his father, but himself. The film looks appropriately creepy, while Wendy Carlos’ music is filled with ominous chords. While I still miss the passages from the novel, over time I have come to appreciate Kubrick’s vision.


Delivered in full-frame (at the request of Kubrick), the DVD digital transfer is okay but not sensational. The original negative is top heavy with wear and tear, including obvious reel change cues and flecks. The rest of the transfer presents a conundrum. Some of the images are absolutely breathtaking, with warm colors and good depth of field. Others look flat and lack any kind of depth. Flesh tones are okay but no big deal, while the less-than-pristine negative doesn’t allow for pure whites and shadows. Surprisingly, the blacks hold up quite well with no fading.

HEARING: Minor Hearing Loss
Functional but hardly enthusiastic Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack.

ORAL: Good
Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing, subtitles in French.

The best part of the DVD is Vivian Kubrick’s behind-the-scenes documentary “The Making of the Shining,” which is one of the rawest and most personal featurettes I have watched on DVD. Being the daughter of a brilliant filmmaker provides Vivian with the kind of access that is not normally granted to documentary filmmakers. I found this 35-minute featurette most compelling as it not only takes us behind- the-scenes of the film, but allows the actors and filmmaker to express themselves freely. It’s easy to ascertain that the shoot was not an easy or pleasant one. Shelley Duvall expresses her dismay over certain filming situations, while Nicholson is at his most candid and flamboyant. Watch in awe as Nicholson prepares for the infamous “Here’s Johnny” sequence by pumping himself up. Even the usually elusive Kubrick makes himself available for the camera, and it’s fascinating to see how he operates. I’d buy the DVD just for this feature alone. The interactive menus are handsome and easy to navigate, plus the DVD also features the film’s original theatrical trailer.

“The Shining” is a classic film that deserves better treatment on DVD.

Comments are closed.