Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Shining


The Shining - Extended Edition
(aka, The Full Cut and not the
stupidly short European version)

UK/US 1980 Directed by Stanley Kubrick
HMV Exclusive Dual Edition
Blu Ray Zone B DVD Region 2

There’s surely no doubt in the minds of many, I’m sure (asides from Stephen King’s once much publicised disappointment with this movie version), that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is easily one of the most interesting horror movies ever made. The first few times you watch it, too, it’s kinda quite creepy... that perhaps diminishes somewhat over time and subsequent rewatches but what you are left with, even if it does have less impact through familiarity, is an amazingly beautiful looking movie which never really ages all that much.

The reason I’m revisiting this classic after more than a decade now, of course, is that the first screen adaptation of Stephen King’s fairly recent follow up novel, Doctor Sleep (I reviewed that here) is literally days from release (in fact, I think it comes out in the UK on the night I am intending to post this review). So I figured it was time for another look because, from the looks of the trailer (and I’m puzzled by this a little since King apparently loves this new movie), the director of Doctor Sleep has used a lot of the imagery from Kubrick’s version of The Shining in the new film.

As for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining itself though... even from the opening camera work which follows a long journey of the vehicle driven by the as yet unseen central character Jack Torrance (played here quite maniacally throughout by Jack Nicholson), you are pulled into the story. One of the strengths of this opening, I suspect, is the way the speed of the photography of these sequences (the out-takes of which were famously plundered for the final scene in the original first release of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, reviewed here) is slowed down in terms of the soundtrack, which highlights Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s absolutely phenomenal variation on the Deus Irae... a truly eerie and unsettling take on the much used musical theme.

The film is a definite slow build for the most part... with little points being made slowly but methodically to lead up to the scenes where the Overlook Hotel and its ghostly inhabitants, overwhelm Jack Torrance and compel him to try and murder his wife and child... Wendy and Danny, played here by Shelley Duvall and young Danny Lloyd (who is being played as an adult by Ewan McGregor in the upcoming movie version of Doctor Sleep). I think I’d possibly agree with Stephen King’s assessment that Jack Nicholson seems a little too manic right off the bat (no pun intended) but that does nothing to diminish the fact that he’s extremely watchable in this. As is Shelley Duvall, who does an amazing job here along with newcomer Danny Lloyd in a role which could have gone way wrong for the film if the performance had been anything less than what it turned out to be. They are joined by the likes of Barry Nelson (the first screen James Bond), the always watchable Scatman Crothers and Dr. Eldon Tyrell himself, Joe Turkel, in the role of Lloyd the bartender... who plays the character absolutely deadpan and in an effectively chilling, minimalistic way.

The film features many Kubrick signatures and watching this one always reminds me of one of his other masterpieces, 2001 - A Space Odyssey, which I reviewed here. So the shots of Danny tri-cycling his way around the hotel in fluid camera movement cross cut against other things going on in the building, for example, always puts me in mind of those long interior shots of Frank Pool keeping in shape in the former movie. Similarly, the little... almost subliminal... cuts to various shots such as the twin sisters, the mutilated corpses of the sisters and the reaction shots of characters such as Danny (when he’s flipping out in full ‘shine’ mode) which are always silent whenever Kubrick does this (in that they have no diegetic sound and are merely using the sonic backdrop of the shots into which they are spliced) reminds me of both the reaction shots of David Bowman in the high speed journey via the monolith at the end of 2001 and the reaction shots of Patrick Magee in A Clockwork Orange. And, of course, you have those long held shots focusing on the face of a staring character from time to time, most notably in The Shining when Jack Torrance really starts to wig out and you just realise the dark, rotting heart of the Overlook Hotel has finally seeped inside of him and become the dominating force in any already lost spiritual battle in his soul.

Another thing which ties it to 2001 is the chaptering. This film also consists of, quite a few, chapter stops and in this film they are, in order of their appearance... The Interview, Closing Day, A Month Later, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, 8am and 4pm. Like in 2001 they can be used to make a dramatic ending to a sequence, such as the unwavering stare of Jack Nicholson brought to you on a very slow zoom suddenly abruptly cutting to a title card... but they also function in this film, or at least I believe this is the case, to speed the rhythm of the story by giving us period markers going from an interview held a while before Torrance actually gets his job as caretaker of the out of season Overlook, to the closing day when he takes over and it’s abandoned to him and his family for the winter season... and then whittling down the times until you eventually get chapters talking about specific parts of just one day. It’s a kind of subconscious, accelerating spiral, I think, in terms of both the pacing of the action and also, of course, the internal state of Jack’s mind as he approaches full on serial killer mode in the film’s final sequences. It’s an interesting device and, for all I know, it’s just been employed to smooth over some awkward transition scenes that didn’t cut together properly but, whatever the reason for them, they function very well in this capacity.

Of course, one of the main ingredients in just how sinister this film feels is due to the music. I’ve already mentioned Carlos and Elkind but there’s also the use of Béla Bartók, Krzysztof Penderecki and, like 2001 before it, one of my favourite composers, György Ligeti. If you want a film to sound unbearably disturbing then many tracks by these composers are good for just that and, frankly, they often have the same effect on the human psyche when you’re not juxtaposing them with any imagery.

As usual with Kubrick, there are constant, beautifully designed frames throughout. Some may find the artifice involved in getting some of these, in some cases, almost symmetrical designs with very contrasting, almost primary colours a little off putting or overwhelming but, frankly, the gorgeous and constant eye candy of a Kubrick film is something I always find a sheer delight. So, yeah, he’ll have Wendy and Danny dressed in warm browns and reds for their walk through the green hedge maze to make them pop and, yes, he’ll have the majority of Jack Torrance’s encounter with the naked lady in Room 237 framed in it’s own little arched rectangle in the centre of the screen... but it all looks great as far as I’m concerned. And it’s a film, like many Kubrick films, full of iconic imagery. You all know the famous carpet pattern, for example and, of course, the wonderful shots of the elevators gushing blood and filling up the corridor. 

The Shining is always going to be a hard recommend from me and will probably always be somewhere in my top ten horror films of all time. The HMV Exclusive (to the UK) dual edition of the so called ‘extended cut’ (aka, the version they’ve always shown on TV in this country, just not at the cinema) looks absolutely gorgeous. I honestly didn’t know films could look this good on my Blu Ray player, it’s phenomenal. That being said, the film is presented in its original theatrical widescreen aspect ratio as opposed to the 1.37:1 aspect ratio that it was shot in (and which Kubrick himself insisted the film should be shown in) but I’m more than happy to see it as it was when screened at the cinemas on its first run... although a 4:3 presentation with more image information at the top and bottom (open matte) might have been preferable. Still a great one to look at though... especially if you want to see what your Blu Ray can really show you in terms of quality. It’s never looked so good.

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