[box cover]

The Shining

Warner Home Video

Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd,
and Scatman Crothers

Written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
from the novel by Stephen King

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

The Shining is more than just another Stephen King Horror Movie. The Shining is the best Stephen King Horror Movie. By a mile. By two miles. This superlative takes into full account the sundry pleasures of The Dead Zone, the gruesome camp of Misery, and the low-rent delights of Pet Sematary. There are reasons for this. They are as follows:

To begin with, The Shining stars Jack Nicholson, and not just any Jack Nicholson, and especially not the Jack Nicholson of 1990-2000 who appeared in shopworn films like Wolf and As Good As It Gets. The Shining's Jack Nicholson is the one circa 1970-1980, and is at the height of his various powers. Said Jack Nicholson is renowned for his crazy antics and unorthodox charm, and in this outing he provides heavy doses of both playing Jack Torrance, a former-teacher-cum-writer secluded with his wife (Shelly Duvall) and young son (Danny Lloyd) in an empty skiing resort during a drastic winter. As Torrance, Nicholson presents a gallery of funny, scary, wild, subtle, and scene-chewing moments, all of which are indelibly memorable, making The Shining the kind of film that, if you were to try and describe to aliens who Jack Nicholson actually is, you could simply show them this DVD. That alone would be enough to make The Shining the Best Stephen King Horror Movie. But there is another reason.

The Shining was co-adapted and directed by Stanley Kubrick, often mentioned as a Great Director, an Important Filmmaker, and the kind of auteur who is commemorated by deluxe boxed sets of his films on DVD (the sort of commemoration which he richly deserves). Being the Great Director of Important Films such as Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick does not seem, in retrospect, like the type to make a Stephen King Horror Movie. There have, after all, been over 60 films released in the past 25 years with King's ubiquitous moniker attached to them, and most of them are not worthy of comparison to the film canon of lousy Joel Schumacher, let alone Stanley Kubrick. And while it's interesting to note that The Shining was only the third Stephen King Horror Film ever made, such is not important. What is important is that Kubrick is the kind of Important Filmmaker who does not let his films happen by accident, nor is he interested in simply making a Stephen King Horror Movie. That is why The Shining is really a film about the destruction (or dismantling?) of the American family by lack of communication. This is why it is really a Stanley Kubrick Horror Movie.

*          *          *

It is amazing, if you think about it, that the first 34 minutes of The Shining is all exposition, yet nonetheless fascinating. We see Jack Torrance interviewed by the manager of the Overlook Hotel for the position of caretaker. During this interview, we learn about the gruesome history of the Overlook, which involves a former caretaker taking care not only of the property but also his wife and twin daughters (with an ax). We see Wendy Torrance (Duvall) interviewed by her son's doctor, where we also learn about Jack's former drinking problems and a resulting, isolated event of child abuse. We see Danny (Lloyd) informally interviewed by Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), the Overlook's chef. It is during this interview that we learn about "the Shining." The Shining, Dick tells Danny, is the power that some people have — the two of them included — to communicate without speaking. This power can sometimes let them see the future and can sometimes let them see the past. Danny calls the Shining "Tony," who he says is "the little boy who lives in my mouth." When Tony talks, Danny extends his index finger and speaks in a creaky voice (which is one of the creepiest things you'll ever see).

Kubrick introduces us to each character through these interviews. They are interviewed singly, apart from their family, and Kubrick has done this very much on purpose. Throughout the remaining 110 minutes of The Shining, it is rare to see the complete Torrance family together in any one shot or scene. Instead of communicating with each other — and they are always instructing each other to do otherwise — they become more isolated and communicate with the "Shining" ghosts of the Overlook Hotel. This, naturally, is not for the faint of heart.

If I have made this sound cerebral, it's not entirely so. It's just as much visceral. The beauty of Kubrick is that each of his films, with the exception of maybe Barry Lyndon, can be appreciated on several different levels: aesthetically, viscerally, and intellectually. Stanley Kubrick is also a master at including tiny moments, minuscule details that enrich his films beyond the scope of films not by Stanley Kubrick. Such moments in The Shining include:

The Shining is all this plus a Stephen King Horror Movie.

*          *          *

In this clamored-for remastered June 2001 DVD edition of The Shining from Warner (replacing the disastrously shabby June 1999 release), everything has been tarted-up into top condition. The open-matte, full-frame transfer (in accordance with Kubrick's wishes) is the result of a "2000 digital remaster," and it's sharp and clear with nary a spot or defect. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix is nearly as strong, with only a slight hiss in some scenes reminiscent of the original mono track (which is not included as an option).

As on the 1999 DVD, The Shining is accompanied by a half-hour documentary shot by Kubrick's daughter Vivian. And not only has the documentary also been restored and remastered (looking better than ever), but Vivian Kubrick has also added a commentary track. A choice extra, some of the highlights of the documentary include:

It's an interesting documentary, but not very thorough, and from Vivian Kubrick's commentary, while full of anecdotes, one gets the feeling that she didn't take the project all that seriously, and even missed some major events. But despite that, it's a rare look at a Kubrick shoot in action, and it's consistently engaging.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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© 2001, The DVD Journal