THE SHINING (1980) 4K / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: STANLEY KUBRICK / SCREENPLAY: STANLEY KUBRICK, DIANE JOHNSON / STARRING: JACK NICHOLSON, SHELLEY DUVALL, DANNY LLOYD, SCATMAN CROTHERS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Like 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange beforehand, The Shining is a pure Stanley Kubrick film that gets under your skin in the all the right ways; an otherworldly experience that only a cinematic genius like Kubrick can accomplish. Yet, it's also both surprising and not-surprising that Stephen King dislikes this film adaptation as much as he does, even going as far as to write his own TV miniseries to abysmal results; although to his credit, it's not that hard to see why he feels this way. It was a personal story for him, and Kubrick's version only got the very basics of the novel nailed down, which involves a new caretaker having to look after a mysterious hotel during the harsh winter with his family, only to be slowly driven insane and trying to kill them all.
It was a personal story for King, identifying a lot of himself in the central character of Jack Torrance, so he pretty much disliked how there wasn't much of an arc for Jack in the film, making it feel less like a tragedy in the process. If you are a fan of the original novel, you might sympathise with King's own views, but what Kubrick accomplished here makes the film feel more unique than King gives it credit for. Whereas the book was about a normal man driven to insanity, the film is a about a man who's already pretty crazy himself that's being slowly stripped away, piece by piece, before his true self is finally allowed to be unleashed. This can be all tied back to the Overlook Hotel itself, which is probably the most important character in the whole film, and is a huge metaphor in itself. Throughout the film, you feel as though the hotel is a living demonic entity, acting almost like a drug that's slowly working its way down, breaking down your barriers until all the filters are stripped away and only the real you is laid bare. In the case of Jack, he was always the crazy caretaker through and through, and, as Joker said in The Dark Knight, all it took was a little push to bring out that diabolical madman.
Regardless of whether you agree with that or not, there's no denying that Kubrick has created a film that's open to countless, various interpretations, so that in the end, you are never truly right or wrong in what you actually believe the movie is saying and what fears are real or imaginary. It creates an environment that's unsettling, unnerving and uncomfortable, and that's a truly remarkable feat considering that this is Kubrick's only horror film. King stated that he believed Kubrick never really understood the horror genre, but to this reviewer, Kubrick understood it fully, maybe too well. Kubrick threw out all of the tired clichés and conventions that can damage the genre when done poorly, creating a film about atmosphere, which is all amplified by both the masterful cinematography of regular Kubrick cinematographer John Alcott (every frame looks as it could be hung in a modern art gallery) and the unrelenting score by Rachel Elkind and Wendy Carlos (the latter of which did the score for A Clockwork Orange). Then we have Jack Nicholson's performance itself, which is brilliantly unhinged on multiple levels that it isn't hard to see why he was cast as the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman.
Whatever you may think about this film, whether you agree with Stephen King or not, there's absolutely no denying that The Shining is a horror masterpiece that has left its mark on filmmakers and audiences alike. It's still talked about to this day, continuously satirised (The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror segment, 'The Shinning', being one of the best movie satires ever produced), and that impact will never fade away. It's a rare spectacle like no other, and with the recent release on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-Ray, now is the time to give this gem a spin.