By Scott Weinberg
I'm not about to bore you with 12 paragraphs on why Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is such a classic horror flick. Writers a lot smarter than I have already discussed, disseminated, and deconstructed the film, down to the slightest camera move. But after watching the film for what felt like the 15th time -- and then AGAIN, thanks to a fantastic commentary track, but more on that later -- I'm just convinced that The Shining is something like artistic crack: Just sit down for the first 20 minutes and I guarantee you cancel your evening plans. "Hypnotic" would be a good way to describe the experience, but you can also feel free to employ adjectives like fascinating, fluid, majestic, beautiful, shocking, haunting, and dreadful (and I mean "dreadful" in a very good way).
The plot is a deceptively simple affair: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has just been hired to work as the off-season caretaker at the massive, isolated Overlook Hotel. Along for the multi-month sojourn into solitude are Jack's wife Wendy and their little boy Danny. (Danny also has an imaginary friend who lives in his mouth, if you want to count him as a character -- and I recommend you do.) So while Stephen King's source material was a basic-yet-excellent "haunted hotel" story, Kubrick's adaptation takes a decidedly more personal approach. Seems the celebrated filmmaker wanted to use King's book as a jumping-off point for a story about the expeditious dissolution of an American family. In other words, the hotel drives Jack nuts. Slowly at first, but gradually more manic -- and then he finds an axe.
I'm not a good enough writer to describe how starkly beautiful this movie is. From the long and endlessly eerie Steadicam shots and the stunning sound design ... the gigantic sets and empty hallways, the fluid camera moves and the sudden jolts of unexpected terror. The Shining is like a big fat feast of a horror film, and if things get a little vague and ambiguous towards the end, well so what? Not every scary story has to be wrapped up in a tidy little conclusion, and the somewhat debatable "meanings" of certain things make for a movie that's as much fun to talk about as it is to watch ... for the 15th time.
And even putting aside all that "Heeeeere's Johnny!" craziness, the movie's worth seeing for Nicholson's eternally entertaining performance. Most people remember all the manic stuff, but that Jack only arrives near the third act -- and the guy's just great throughout the whole of the movie. It may not be Kubrick's best film (or second or third-best), but it's still one giant juggernaut of a horror film.
Hats off to Warner Bros. for polishing off five of Kubrick's classics and delivering them in double-disc special editions. (The other titles are A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Eyes Wide Shut.) The Shining is presented in an anamorphic widescreen ("matted") format, and I'm well aware of the long-standing debate regarding Stanley Kubrick's intended aspect ratios ... but I've never seen this movie look so damn good before. Audio arrives in Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, and French. (English subtitles are available.)
Extras-wise, we got some great stuff. On disc 1 you'll find a feature-length audio commentary with author John Baxter and Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown. Sounds like a pretty boring pair, right? WRONG! If you're even half the fan I am, you'll have a great time with this track. Baxter really knows his Kubrick in general (and the film, more specifically), and Garrett delivers all sorts of on-set anecdotes. (On the set of The Shining!) Obviously it's a fairly dry and sedate chat-track, but it's also a must-listen for anyone who digs the movie. Also available on disc one is the awesomely creepy theatrical trailer for The Shining.
On the second disc we're offered three brand-new featurettes on The Shining. The only problem with these mini-docos is that they're not long enough! View from the Overlook (30:20) is a fantastic retrospective piece with tons of great interviewees; The Visions of Stanley Kubrick (17:16) is similar to the first piece, only it covers a bit more of the director's filmography; Wendy Carlos, Composer (7:30) is a visit with one of the filmmaker's old collaborators.
And those "great interviewees" I mentioned? Here's the list: Jack Nicholson, executive producers Jan Harlan and John Calley, screenwriter Diane Johnson, cinematographer Garrett Brown, costume designer Milena Canonero, makeup artist Barbara Daly, production designer Roy Walker; authors John Baxter, Paul Duncan, Charles Champlin, Stuart McDougal, and David Hughes; and filmmakers Ernest Dickerson, Caleb Deschanel, William Friedkin, George Lucas, Janusz Kaminski, Sydney Pollack, Hugh Hudson, and Steven Spielberg. Like I said, the first two featurettes could have been doubled in length with no complaint from me.
Last but not least is The Making of The Shining (34:59), which is a homemade on-set documentary that was shot by Kubrick's own daughter. (Vivian Kubrick even offers optional commentary!) This is a great archival piece, and it was a very cool move for WB to port it over from the previous DVD release.
I love the book and I love the movie, but they're as different as night and day. Obviously this 2-disc doozy is the "must own" version of The Shining. Yes, even if you own the older DVD. C'mon, you've had it for about nine years already. The movie was due for an upgrade anyway.