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The Shining

1980 horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick

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"Heere's Johnny!"

  • Nov 8, 2009
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Over the years Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" has become one of his most well known films, but only because either won't shut up about how it isn't close to the book at all (we hear you, and would invite you to stop reminding us now) or because people are often quick to jump up and say just how much the movie frightens them.  The "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny!" moment is perhaps one of the most quoted lines in Hollywood.  As I've said before, when it comes to movies being adapted from books or being remade from other films etc... I just don't care about whether or not they get it "right."  Those who keep complaining, "The Shining is nothing like the book!" and whine whine whine whine whine whine... well, granted you ARE right, but if I really wanted the book that badly... I'd read the book.  No, instead I like looking at the film as well... a film.  So no, it is nothing like the book.  But let me be the first to tell you that I don't care one way or the other.  We're looking at this as a film and in spite of some of its problems it is still a well done film.  The idea that a movie based off a book is bad just because it doesn't follow the book closely seems relatively dumb to me (even dumber is the idea that a movie that follows the book closely is good... have you guys seen Pet Sematary?). 

You'll probably need no reminder for me what the movie is about.  Kubrick's film as well as King's novel, have become so iconic that just merely hearing the name almost everyone knows it.  Jack Torrance is the winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel during the off season, and while he's there he is compelled by outside forces (primarily ghost) to kill his wife and child.  The book was a complex beast that couldn't have been easy to adapt.  Kubrick on the other hand, for those wondering, has NEVER given a damn about what the author thinks.  Once the rights of the book have been sold, Kubrick understands that it's HIS project now.  Nicholas Sparks often tells authors, "If you don't want your book being messed with you shouldn't sell the rights."  With Kubrick this is definitely true.  It's not the first time Kubrick didn't care much about what the original author thought.  With a A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey you can find that Kubrick had clashes with those authors over their works as well (the clash over A Clockwork Orange caused a lot of controversy).  So when it came to The Shining and hearing about the artistic differences between Kubrick and King, I was not at all surprised.

Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance.  If there was anything that did grate on my nerves a little bit about Kubrick's interpretation of The Shining... this would be it.  Admittedly, I'm not even a big Jack Nicholson fan to begin with.  The man goes a little overboard in his acting and with The Shining there's no difference here.  We get that Jack Torrance will go crazy... and when he does Nicholson does a brilliant job.  Before Jack loses his mind?  Well, for some reason Jack Nicholson has this creepy, "I'm going to go apeshit crazy," look on his face the ENTIRE film.  If his facial expression changes it is only to smile maniacally.  It actually pulls you out of the film at some points if only because his decent into madness isn't gradual (as the film wants you to believe) but almost sudden.  The moment the movie begins you expect Nicholson to start killing SOMETHING.  It's really not that scary or even suspenseful.

With that aside, however, many of the other aspects of The Shining are pretty good.  Despite Nicholson over-acting and looking like he's going to go crazy the entire film... when things actually DO go crazy, the film becomes fun and even quite scary... but only because Nicholson is actually in a role that calls for this kind of over-the-top acting.  He's not supposed to be charming and fun... he's supposed to be crazy and spooky.  He achieves both.  But the film also makes good use of music and editing shots to achieve this rather well.  Kubrick is known for two things in particular.  The first is being a crazy reshooter.  In a scene here in The Shining he reshot it 127 times.  That's STILL the record for most reshoots ever in a film.  Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall were reported to be so tired after shoots that they often went home and immediately collapsed.  The scene that was reshot 127 times?  One of Kubrick's actors (Scatman Crothers) reportedly started crying, "What do you want from me!?" he screamed.  This would all sound crazy if it were any other director, but Kubrick almost never really had a knack for making his actors love him during shooting.  He made them work... and they worked very hard.

The visual flair and overall tone of the movie is what helps it the most in its horror.  The feeling of isolation as the snowstorm comes on in, and even Danny Lloyd playing Danny (how odd is that that two of the actors share the same first name as the characters they play) makes a lot of the film come alive.  And because the use of music is so good many of the film's moments don't come off as being cheesy or anything at all.  The film went on to become a cult success for its time and still holds that cult status today.  You either really love The Shining or you don't.  Putting aside Jack Nicholson's over the top antics just about everything else about the film is put together and produced rather well.  There aren't that many movies that scare me, but Kubrick's version of The Shining is perhaps one of the only horror movies that makes me feel scared at any point in time.  This is mostly because so much of what it does it does well.  It's not overly violent like so many horror movies out there and I think that actually helps because now instead of going to see the movie for the sake of seeing people die, we're actually going to see if they survive.  And horror is always scarier when we fear for the characters rather than hoping for them to die.  Some diagree with this sentiment, but for me the movies that scare me are the ones where we desperately want those in trouble to live.  The Shining isn't "torture porn" it's authentic horror.  The type of horror that we rarely see in mainstream cinema anymore.

Now onto the other big thing about The Shining.  By now it is no secret that Stephen King didn't like Kubrick's version of The Shining.  King hated it so much he bought the rights of the film himself and did a 1997 television mini-series.  King's hatred of Kubrick's film became so bad that in order for him to buy the rights back King had to sign a contract saying he wouldn't publically slander Kubrick's film ever again.  Ten years after Kubrick's death, King still holds true to that agreement (King never hated Kubrick himself--King even speaks fondly of him) and refuses to talk about Kubrick's version of The Shining publically. 

In short, yes, if you're a purist of the book and one of those people who believes an adaptation has to be accurate to be good... you're not going to like The Shining.  To get upset at Kubrick for not following the book is to misunderstand Kubrick himself.  The man has always done what he wanted to do and never done what others wanted him to do.  But just because it doesn't follow the book to a tee (in the credits it might as well have said, "Inspired By The Shining by Stephen King" rather than saying "based off the book by Stephen King.") shouldn't suggest the movie is bad in anyway.  It's not.  And those who say it is are too emotionally invested in the book and King to step back and actually accept it for what it is.  It makes no sense to hate an apple because it's not an orange.  For Kubrick it was never about what King or his audience wanted.  It was about what he wanted and what he wanted to do.  And it should be.  The film is, after all, Kubrick's creation.  The book was Stephen King's.  The 1997 mini-series was Stephen King's.  This particular version of The Shining is Stanley Kubrick's.  I'll go as far as to say that had he been closer to King's book it might've enhanced certain things about the film (particularly Jack's descent into madness which is a bit too sudden here) but I keep thinking that there were some aspects Kubrick's film that on film are better.  Let us take the weapon of choice Jack uses to go after Wendy and Danny.  In the book he uses one of the hotel's rogue mallets.  In this film he uses an axe.  Now, in the book the rogue mallet approach is fine, but you only need to look at that 1997 adaptation to see that on film there's not much creepy about it (but that may be because that's horribly directed).  There are certain approaches to the film that do hold up rather well.  And this is because books and films are two completely different animals.  What works well in a book (like that rogue mallet) just might not work too well on film.

In the end, Kubrick's film is actually a good film.  It has a cult following for a reason (Kubrick himself is a director with a cult following), and that's because for those who like Kubrick, it's nice to see his approach to this genre in particular.  It doesn't hold a candle up to some of his better works such as Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it still manages to be a bold film all on its own.

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November 08, 2009
You always talk about me being a good movie reviewer, but you're damn good yourself. Great review. I for one is pretty tired of folks complaining that the film wasn't faithful to the book, this film was great; period. This was Kubrick's version and I couldn't agree with you more; I find Nicholson's acting style a little too over the top at times but there are roles that really fit his style. The mini-series was more faithful to the book, but the pacing was a little off as far as I can remember.
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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A horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick based upon the bestselling novel by Stephen King.

Opening with spectacular aerial shots of a beautiful, mountainous landscape, Stanley Kubrick's horror classic THE SHINING sucks the viewer into his frightening tale with quiet, relaxing visuals--but the ominous soundtrack warns that all is not right at the gorgeous Overlook Hotel. Based on Stephen King's best-selling novel, the film stars Jack Nicholson at his eyebrow-raising best in his portrayal of Jack Torrance, a Vermont schoolteacher working at the Overlook as a winter caretaker. The glorious early-20th century resort only operates in warm weather because the snowy roads deny access in the colder months, so Jack brings his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), with him, as well as his young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possesses some unique psychic powers. As the Torrances settle in for the long, lonely months ahead, strange, unexplainable things start occurring in the hotel--and in every scene Jack seems to be growing a little more evil and dangerous.... <br> <br> Cinematographer John Alcott (who also wo...
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