Friday, July 20, 2012

The Shining (1980)



"A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future."

Due to the unbearable heat this month, I thought watching a movie set in Winter would help me psychologically. With three fans blowing continuously, I'm already beyond help physically.

Unfortunately, most of "The Shining" took place indoors and I'm not even going to finish this sentence with any pun using the word "chilling". Trust me, watching "The Shining" in 100 degree weather does not help in the slightest.

I don't really want to review "The Shining" now either since anything I have to say has certainly been said before. I will do so anyway for the younger readers who are still playing catch-up. If you haven't ever seen "The Shining" and you are a follower of this blog then you really need to see this film or return your horror licences.

Even if you've only watched the trailer, you should already know that "The Shining" is Stanley Kubrick's flawed version of Stephen King's famous novel, it stars Jack Nicholson who spouts his famous "Here's Johnny!" line, and there's a creepy little kid in it who talks to his finger a lot.

What you might not know is that Stephen King was inspired by Dan Curtis' "Burnt Offerings" (1976), Scatman Crothers was the voice of Henry in the "Hong Kong Phooey" cartoons, and Shelley Duvall is really weird looking. Okay, you probably do know that last bit.

The trouble with "The Shining" for me is that I don't really know if it's supposed to be a ghost story, a possession story, or just the tale of some guy going crazy. Stanley Kubrick's screenplay is quite a bit different to the novel as I remember it and, apart from the sometimes stunning and frightening visuals, "The Shining" is a mess as far as the narrative goes.


Obviously, the main focus is Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Jack Torrance character. Apparently, his alcoholism was based on Stephen King's own experiences and this changes the way you think about the character in the novel. You can wonder if what Torrance sees is real or brought on by withdrawal symptoms. In this movie version, however, it's more certain that these things are real so a big chunk of mystery and suspense is lost immediately. Like I said at the start, Kubrick's film is very flawed.

I really don't want to dwell on the differences between the novel, the movie or even the boring TV version with the thumbsucker-mouthed kid in it. They are three very distinct entities and those who enjoy one probably won't like the other two.

What I will say is that I used to really like "The Shining" until I rewatched it and started picking holes in it. There were always parts of it which made absolutely no sense, and Dick Hallorann's death was just plain mean (not to mention wasteful), but the scary bits still worked.

For at least the first two-thirds of the movie, the atmosphere was creepy as Hell and almost nauseating but, when Jack's madness kicked in, it started to get dull. All work and no play, eh? I can't even explain why the final third failed to interest me since it's the section with the most physical action. Maybe I've seen "The Shining" too many times.


I've never really cared about any of the main characters, least of all the pointlessly psychic Danny with his stupid croaky voice or his even more irritating mother. If ever there was a character who I wanted to drag out of a movie and beat senseless, it was Wendy Torrance so kudos to Shelley Duvall for making that role so memorable for me.

The ghostly barman also annoyed me as much as the entire series of "Twin Peaks" which had a similarly surreal vibe to it (and which I loathed after three episodes). As for Jack Torrance, in spite of Jack Nicholson trying to make the character more charismatic, he got just what he deserved. I didn't like him and I had no sympathy for him.

My main gripe about "The Shining" though is that I don't like it when films start getting too surreal for their own good. Stanley Kubrick was really out of control with this one. Of course, there are some nutters who claim that Kubrick was hiding messages about his involvement in the faked NASA moon landings in "The Shining" which, if true, might explain a lot of things. Even so, it's still only the score which makes "The Shining" a masterpiece rather than any of Kubrick's alleged skills. If you took the music out, everything (apart from the infamous bathtub scene and the creepy little girls) would actually be cinematically excellent but also rather tedious.

I'm going to end this with the numerical rating of 5 out of 10 for "The Shining". I haven't done a numerical rating for ages, but, based on how I felt after rewatching "The Shining", it's better than the expletive-laden alternative.

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