Nine Weeks of Kubrick, Week Two: Andy Burns on The Shining

As I mentioned last week here in this spot, I recently picked up the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Blu-Ray collection. My plan was to go through each film in reverse chronological order, but as it turned out, The Queen was interested in watching what was supposed to be next on my list, 1987’s Full Metal Jacket, but because if our schedule this week we didn’t have time to sit and watch it together. So instead, I jumped ahead (or backwards, if you like) to watch what stands as my favorite horror film of all time.


What the film is about: Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) move in to The Overlook Hotel, where Jack has been hired as the winter caretaker. Removed from society for five months, and with Danny’s ability to see things that may or may not be there, Jack begins a rapid descent into madness.

Why I like The Shining so much: What’s not to love? Kubrick’s 1979 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is one of the creepiest films ever made, and features an incredibly frightening performance by Jack Nicholson. Virtually every piece of the film, from the performances and scenery, to the great Wendy Carlos score and hypnotic use of the Steadicam (the first time in a Kubrick movie), is perfect. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen The Shining, but what I do know is that with every viewing I manage to find something new – this time out, it was the way the cigarette burns beside Jack’s typewriter when he’s throwing the tennis ball against the wall. Not only does the film necessitate repeat viewings, it rewards them. Something to keep in mind, as well – while The Shining is one of the scariest films ever made,  there’s minimal violence, unlike so many of today’s hack and slash releases.

Some things I didn’t enjoy this time out: If I’m being honest, the only criticism I can level at The Shining is one made by many, and it’s simply that Nicholson’s Jack Torrance seems ready to crack when we first meet him. There’s minimal build-up to him going completely unhinged; we see it coming within the first five minutes. a few more minutes of Jack as a tender family man would have made his undoing that much more powerful. On the technical front, I would have liked a more immersive surround sound experience from the soundtrack on the Blu-Ray. Everything seems to happen via the upfront speakers. which was a little disappointing.

Should you watch it?: If you have even a remote interest in horror films and haven’t yet seen The Shining, I’d suggest stopping whatever it is you are doing and find yourself a copy, stat. If you can find one on Blu-Ray, all the better, because I’ve never seen the film look better. As well, the Blu-Ray features a ton of great bonus features, including the great fly-on-the-wall documentary Stanley Kubrick’s 17 year old daughter Vivian made while The Shining was being shot in England. You get to the witness Jack Nicholson prepare for the penultimate “Here’s Johnny” scene and the genuine friction between Kubrick and Shelley Duvall on set. It’s riveting stuff and shows a couple of masters at work.

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