RETRO REVIEW – ‘The Shining’

Written by J.T. Johnson

4-12-stars

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: May 23, 1980
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick
CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Alcott
WRITERS: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
MUSIC: Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind

Stephen King released the novel for “The Shining” in 1977. Director Stanley Kubrick decided to adapt the film for the big screen. Unfortunately, he decided to deviate from the novel quite a bit, causing King to view the film as one of the worst adaptations of one of his books.

The biggest difference from the novel to the film is the bigger focus on the father, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), and the ambiguity of the supernatural forces that haunt the Overlook Hotel.  For most of the movie, you are meant to wonder whether the hotel is truly haunted or if it is all in Jack’s mind. Kubrick presents you with a mystery and then chooses not to answer all of your questions, leaving you the viewer to interpret what exactly happened.

This is nothing new from Kubrick. He also did this in “2001: A Space Odyssey” when he left the interpretations of the ending up to the audience. That story was also adapted from a novel that provided way more definitive answers than Kubrick’s film adaptation.

This ambiguity is actually one of the reasons that I like the movie. It is almost a practical, down-to-earth look at ghosts rather than just throwing something “scary” in your face every ten seconds. The unique look at the supernatural through a naturally skeptic director’s eye makes “The Shining” stand above plenty of other horror films that came before or since the movie’s release.

The pacing of the movie is admittedly slow. If you come in expecting a fast-paced thriller, that’s not what Kubrick wishes to provide. For my money, though, this is another aspect of the film that works for me. While watching Jack seemingly lose his mind, we get to feel the slow crawl of time that could be the cause of the potential cabin fever that Jack is going through.

The story’s three main leads are pretty good. Shelley Duvall’s Wendy is a little aloof and her line delivery is damn near emotionless. Still, when she has to turn on the fear in the final act, it works and I’m left hoping that she’ll get out of her seeming hopeless situation with her potentially possessed husband.

Danny Lloyd is the young child actor that played Danny Torrance. The casting department did a good job at casting a young actor who can pull off the scripts heavier moments. He is a withdrawn kid who has a secret psychic connection. Child actors are some of the hardest to cast and if the casting director had gotten anyone but Lloyd, the role could have fallen apart.

Finally, there is Nicholson as the potentially possessed or just insane Jack. This is the best Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson performance you’ll ever get. The only real problem is that the film doesn’t spend too much time with the character while he is still “normal” and he pretty quickly begins to lose his mind.

This is one of Nicholson’s signature roles and for good reason because it is also one of his best as we watch his descent into madness, be it supernatural or not. I tend to love horror films that have more of an eerie tone than a series of jump scares. This movie is a testament to that way of thinking. It’s more about knowing something is wrong and building the tension.

Kubrick’s horror film is one of the classics of the genre. Like most films, certain elements have been imitated in other films but seldom have they been as successful. Even though King himself may not like the movie, Kubrick probably created the most artfully done horror film ever to be released.

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