The first time I saw The Shining was my freshman year of college in New York City. My friend Matt, who was attending film school, had chosen the movie as a classic and was making several of us watch it with him. So he played it on his 15-inch computer screen, a dozen or so students scattered on his bed and floor, wrapped up in blankets in the dark.
It was a near-perfect way to experience one of the best horror films of all time.
Made in 1980, The Shining was directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. Nicholson plays Jack Torrence, a recovering alcoholic and a struggling writer. He takes a position as winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado; the job requires that he and his wife and son move there to spend several months alone in the mountains. Jack’s wife Wendy is common enough, but the audience soon learns that his son Danny is telepathic and has an imaginary friend named Tony who shows him terrifying visions of the future.
All seems fine in the hotel at first. The family enjoys quality time together, Jack attempts some writing, and Danny has plenty of room to ride his tricycle. One of the best sequences follows Danny as he barrels around the hotel on his trike, from carpet to hardwood, past empty rooms, through the kitchen… until he inexplicably meets a couple of frightening girls his age in one hallway. Soon, other strange things begin happening.
More recently, in the spirit of Halloween, I attended a movie theater screening of the film and experienced The Shining as Kubrick intended — with big-screen clarity and booming surround sound. I was giddy by the climax of the film, because it was like seeing everything for the first time. Even though I knew what was around every corner, I still caught myself jumping in surprise and flinching at the quick jump-cuts. Kubrick pulled together the many layers of the film — cinematography, setting, music, acting — to build tension in a way that no other director has done as effectively.
One of the girls I was with, however, was far less enthusiastic. She found the movie dull and the storyline hard to follow. While I can see how some might think the film is slow in some places (there are static sequences that consist of several minutes of unhurried back-and-forth conversation), I would defend these lulls in action as spots of calculated character development. Kubrick doesn’t rush into the fighting and gore at the expense of the story.
What’s more, these long dialogues give the actors a chance to display their ample talents. My favorite part of the movie is one of these bits, actually. When Wendy finally realizes the extent of her husband’s insanity and the danger she and Danny are in, Jack confronts her and slowly backs her up the grand staircase of the hotel, all the while lambasting her for not recognizing the pressure that he has been under. The scene is six minutes of almost exclusive Nicholson dialogue, and he plays it brilliantly, with as much wrath and lunacy as could possibly fit into one character.
This movie is a must-see. Anyone who has the chance to watch it on the big screen should jump at the opportunity. The Shining is a perfect Halloween horror film, but it also stands easily as a masterpiece of cinema any time of the year.
The Shining was re-released on DVD on October 23. This two-disc special edition includes a crisper, brighter picture than previous releases, which were close to VHS quality. An audio commentary track with Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and author John Baxter is offered on the first disc. This may seem a little unexciting, but they really add a lot of insight to the inner workings of the film and cast, and share their experiences with Kubrick.
On the second disc, three new featurettes are presented. “View from the Overlook” is a thirty-minute making-of documentary. “The Visions of Stanley Kubrick” runs at about twenty minutes, and explores the director’s style and techniques through interviews from other filmmakers and writers. A short, ten-minute feature on “Wendy Carlos, Composer” discusses the film’s original score. Also included is the previously released documentary by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian, “The Making of The Shining,” which she filmed on set when she was seventeen.