The Shining: The Perfect Lockdown Viewing?

Rating: 8 out of 10.

It’s been interesting that while writing all of these reviews, I’ve been surprised how many have been adapted from books: the likes of Misery, Marathon Man, M*A*S*H and Manhunter. Maybe it’s just because they begin with M, but in order to try and break the funk, I’ve gone for another Stephen King adaptation – although ‘adaptation’ may not be quite the word…

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a writer and former alcoholic, gets the job of caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel, and takes his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his psychic son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), with him. Little do they know, the Overlook is full of sinister presences and a haunted past, and soon Jack’s sanity slowly begins to slip away from him…

What’s different from this review and others above is that I’ve actually read the original book. And it was great read – one I would recommend and thoroughly enjoyed. Yet I was left a little underwhelmed by the supernatural events in the hotel. I was hoping the film would be able to fill a few of those holes. You knew there was some great potential for fantastic imagery. So, did it live up to my expectations?

My advice would be simple. Don’t read the book and then watch the film. It’s a terrible idea, and probably ruined the whole experience for me. Because I enjoyed the book, and then Kubrick rips it apart in such devastating fashion, I can certainly empathise with King’s initial reaction – which was to simply hate it.

There are some great things in The Shining that I love: some beautiful impressions and symbolism, the nail biting tension, the surprisingly witty and amusing lines. That scene where Jack stalks Wendy up the stairs swinging a baseball bat is astonishingly good (below). This is most certainly a film that seems to grow better and better as it goes on.

In fact, I think that baseball bat scene alone highlights some of the major strengths and some of the major weaknesses of the film right there.

What’s great about King’s novel is the exposition of the abusive and drunkard father. He’s not simply a two dimensional character, but someone with thoughts and feelings and their own devastating backstory. Like many of these psychological horrors, it’s a character study. I think this is something Kubrick’s manages to capture – abuse is one of the main themes throughout. Kubrick himself basically abused the cast, as a very cold and distant man, until Duvall’s hair started falling out. Tying in with the nature of Jack Torrence, it creates an incredibly effective atmosphere to the whole story.

It is also beautiful and disturbingly visual. The set is amazing, and varying from the blood pouring from the lift, the ageing corpse in room 237, the two terrifying twins, or even the use of the steady cam, you can’t help but feel your eyes widen. When Jack goes to the bar and talks with his favourite bartender Lloyd, it’s a stylistic triumph. When Wendy discovers ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, it’s a brilliant piece of construction. When Jack chases Danny in the icy cold maze, your mind is completely devoted to this one image. These are simply moments that are burned permanently in the memory.

Kubrick is the ultimate artist of the cinema, and manages to create a visual language that is never forgotten. Perhaps an emotional centre is lacking, but it’s undeniable that the man is a one of a kind genius. He’s one of the most important filmic artists ever. Even an indignant King said:

Even when a director such as Stanley Kubrick makes such a maddening, perverse and disappointing film as The Shining, it somehow retains a brilliance that is inarguable; it is simply there.

Stephen King

Kubrick is, no doubt, a challenged and flawed man, damaged by his own ego and perfectionism, but ultimately, we will never see his like again.

Weaknesses? That incredibly annoying score is one. Wow, did they over blow it. It just feels so distractingly unnecessary at points. Perhaps part of it is trying to unnerve the audience – similarly to the half a beat too late cutting of the dialogue at the start, or the dizzying dissolves between every single scene – but I just found it all irritating.

The acting is also a massive talking point. To be honest, I don’t think Shelley Duvall is as bad as people make her out to be in this film. She has a few awkward moments, sure, but she seems truly terrified in that scene above. Jack Nicholson is the man I want to talk about.

At this point in his career, he’s already firmly established himself as a big name with the likes of Chinatown and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s sitting pretty, and nothing really needs to motivate him in a role. And this flares through. He so dramatically overplays it ends up being comedic rather than scary. Jack Torrence is a well rounded, fascinating character in the book, with incredible depth to him and his psyche. King was sympathetic to the character, struggling with alcoholism himself at the time. He wanted an everyman actor to play the lead. But Nicholson plays his own stereotype and just completely butchers that whole idea.

He seems crazy from minute one. It’s not a slow burning decline or change, which is strange for a two and a half hour film, because that’s certainly possible to do. This was one of the most disappointing parts of the film for me. Jack is a turbulent man in the book – in the film, he’s just a crackpot. This is one of his worst performances ever, in my humble opinion.

Another aggravation was that I don’t think I’d truly be able to understand the plot at all without reading King’s version. The symbolism is meaningless, and Kubrick changes the story so much its virtually unrecognisable. You don’t have any backstory and explanation, and while I understand things have to be cut, it ends up feeling like The Shining should have been about twice as long and was mangled in the editing room.

When this film first came out, it was met by critical reviews and a general bad reception. Even later, in October 2013, journalist Laura Miller wrote:

In King’s The Shining, the monster is Jack. In Kubrick’s, the monster is Kubrick.

Laura Miller

And it’s a sentiment I can’t help agreeing with. Yet even after watching The Shining, it is a film that you struggle to forget. With age, you can’t help but want to go back for another rewatch. And because of that, I think it’s not only become a cult classic, but widely regarded as one of the best psychological horrors ever. Is it? No, definitely not. But it’s undeniable that it’s unlike anything else.

The Shining – 8 out of 10

43 thoughts on “The Shining: The Perfect Lockdown Viewing?

    1. DH? Save it for Mumsnet, Fraggle.

      Maybe it’ll be better if I watch it again in a few years time – in fact, I guarantee it probably will be. Go into it with low expectations, and I’m sure you’ll be able to enjoy. Don’t let Phil big it up too much!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny one, are we? Only my jokes or jokes that praise me and/or belittle other people are acceptable on this site, chump. In terms of how soon after, well, I would say the choice really is yours.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m going to have to talk to my sidekick about just dropping in to make these drive-by cranky comments. I mean, it might reflect badly on me and I can’t have that.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Jack Nicholson’s cartoon-crazy turn is certainly charismatic and watchable, but I’m not sure if it’s particularly good acting and I’ve always thought Shelley Duval put in the better performance. Or maybe it just seemed more nuanced in contrast to Jack. She’d go on to play Olive Oyl in Altman’s Popeye, a real cartoon character!

    I know it’s sacrilege but I’m not really a huge Kubrick fan, much for the reasons you say. My favourite by a long way is 2001, which I absolutely love, but the others I can only admire – they’re just too clinical. That said, I do return to The Shining from time to time, and I found it does have more of an effect on the big screen. There’s an American cut that adds some earlier scenes and tries to add a bit of character history (Jack had once hurt his son when drunk), but it doesn’t add up to much and all is forgotten as soon as we get to the Overreach hotel.

    Still, it’s very watchable and I can understand why its strangeness invites an obsessive devotion among many. It’s biggest sin is that the outakes were used for the tacked-on ending to the original Blade Runner release!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree with what you’re saying. Nicholson was definitely charismatic – I thought the party scene was him at his best. But he just seemed to be pretending to limp half the time.

      Kubrick won’t provide emotional films, but he’s created his own visual language. As you said, they’re clinical. You could watch anything of his and go “That’s a Kubrick.” To create that many well known, highly regarded films over such a long period of time is incredible. 2001 is very difficult, but also very rewarding. I really need to give it a rewatch.

      I actually did do the US version, hoping for a bit more exposition, but they really glance over the arm dislocation, and it’s pointless. I reckon the European is just as good.

      It’s a film that stays with you, and like the Overlook, manages to get and stay inside your head. I enjoyed it, and I think the next time I watch, after acknowledging it’s many flaws, I’ll be able to enjoy it much more. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think you said it all when you wrote that reading the book before ruined your experience with the movie. Kubrick started from the book, but he made something completely different, so much so that I don’t think that the two works of art should be linked when reviewing either of the two… Anyway, it was interesting to read your thoughts!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think your right. They are like two completely different works of art, and perhaps I got a bit hung up on the fact they’re supposed to be related. Probably best to look at each and its own in isolation to truly enjoy. Thanks for the kind words!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Working on a blog on the shining myself, so I am reading with extra interest for selfish reasons!!! I didn’t think about acting at all, nice to read that. Plus cool quote from Miller. (And you are probably right, don’t compare, but of course, I will compare. :-D)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hope I could of been of use, Helene! I’ll make sure to check out your post with a keen eye. I thought it was a cool quote too – she’s got it bang on the money. Definitely compare! You know you shouldn’t, but it’s too irresistible not to!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I think I may have to check Dr Sleep out. I’ve heard a few good things, but there’s always cause for concern with a sequel, especially to something like The Shining. Hopefully I’ll get round to watching it soon!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Part of the reason why I generally avoid reading a book before seeing the movie. I just know my familiarity with the book is going to affect my opinion of the movie. The Shining may not reflect a book I haven’t read, but I do think it’s one of the better horror movies I’ve seen. I’m glad you were at least able to see the more brilliant aspects of the movie.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, it never seems to be helpful. Either you get your hopes up high for the film, which are then brutally crushed, or you become upset because it’s not a faithful adaptation, a la The Shining. Even though I was the biggest fan, I think everyone can see there are some superb, never-to-be-forgotten moments.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m not at the same page but that’s an interesting point of view. I think King’s Shining and Kubrick’s Shining are two different works of art reflecting the talent of an artist.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve seen the movie first and I’ve always loved it, but certainly you have a point stressing Nicholson’s overacting and some other flaws; nonetheless it stays a great movie to me and it will never go away from my memory and guts. Afterwards I read the book and disliked it very much in the comparison. After that I saw King’s movie from his own book and found it ridicoulous. I appreciate your review very much and respect your opinion, of course, and you gave me something to reflect on too, but I’ll always be fond of this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course disagree with me! I don’t know what I’m talking about! I’m glad you have your own view, and a far more popular one compared to mine, that’s for certain. I agree – it never goes from the memory, and despite it all, I will probably remember this film when I’m on my deathbed.

      Like

  7. Late to the party, but can’t let this one slip by.
    Good book by King, bloody awful performance from Jack that destroyed a film that may have been nothing like the book, but could have been terrifying. He can’t help himself, that Jack. Despite a very cool turn in ‘Chinatown’, he was over the top at some stage in almost every other film he made. (Okay, except ‘The Passenger’) I want to like him, and I did like him again later, in ‘About Schmidt’, where his style worked. But I can’t help feeling he should have been a stand-up comedian instead of a ‘serious’ actor.
    As for Stanley; ‘Paths Of Glory’, ‘Barry Lyndon’, ‘Full Metal Jacket’, ‘Lolita’, ‘Spartacus’…I could go on, but won’t.
    Not liking ‘The Shining’ seems to make you a film-chat outcast. Consider me an outcast.
    That’s my two-pennyworth! (In old money, naturally)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t worry about being late Pete – we’re just happy to have you here! I agree, it’s not a good performance, and because he’s made a lot of highly regarded films, we often forget to zoom in on his ungainly style. He seems more primed for comedy, as you say. Stanley is the best example of a so perfect, yet so imperfect man. Even if you have no idea what’s going on in his film, you know it’s brilliant. Rather be outside hurling abuse in than be on the inside having to take it!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve never read The Shining but it’s on my list… The movie to me is more about an overall eerie feeling it gives out…and not as much about the story. Good or bad that is how it affects me. I watched it in a theater in 2016 on Halloween and that did make me appreciate it much more. It’s a different movie on the big screen…

    I read IT around 5-6 years ago and had watched the mini-series long ago…and then I saw the first movie. They didn’t mess with the story as much as Kubrick did with The Shining…but they still messed with it quite a bit. I love the book to this day and the movies don’t do it justice.

    I don’t understand why filmmakers cannot go more by the books but still maintain their vision. I know some of King’s books are not always easy to translate to screen (giant turtles and the macroverse) but I hate when they change important story points.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s definitely what I’ve heard, and I’ve been advised to try and watch it in the cinema one day, so that’s on the bucket list. Your right that it’s not about the story – I think Kubrick is just trying to achieve some beautiful visuals, and while that’s all well and good, it’s not the formula for a great film.

      In terms of book adaptation, I find it very frustrating, because I just imagine the time and effort someone puts into a book, and one of the main reasons you’re adapting it into a film is because of the success of that particular book, and you should do it justice by not abandoning it’s main ideas, and that’s something I felt The Shining (movie) didn’t do. It feels like a disservice.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I hope you enjoyed the review!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I did and you broke it down really well. My son is a Jr in college and he is studying film right now with hopes of being a cinematographer. I’m watching movies with him and having a different perspective and of course he loves Kubrick’s visuals… and the man did give great visuals but I agree…just go by the book as close as you can…it should be about the story.

        I love your site and I will check it out.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s really interesting. Hope your son is doing well and enjoying his course! The next Kubrick? We can only wait and see…

          Thank you for such the kind words, and the book is definitely worth a read in my humble opinion!

          Liked by 1 person

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