Welcome to our next deep dive into the world of Stephen King, this time we will be taking a look at The Shining, Kings third novel and its two current adaptations, as per usual we will discuss the adaptation in chronological release before discussing the book and ultimately deciding which adaptation was the most faithful to the source material.
P.S I am aware of a third adaptation an Opera but I cannot for the life of me find a recording of the show, there was a temporary audio recording release which has been removed from the internet. I’m not going to discuss this one until I can actually watch or listen to it, then I can give a fair analysis so if you would like to see me discuss the Opera please try and convince them to release it in some form or bring it to the UK
Apologies about this but I don’t feel its right for me to review something I cant actually experience right now!
here’s a very good article about it https://screenrant.com/stephen-king-shining-minnesota-opera-explained/ and yes the audio link is dead!
With all that said and done, on with the Review of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
Often regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining has been met with critical acclaim but one critic who doesn’t like the movie is Stephen King due to how Kubrick handled the books major themes and the character Wendy.
At this point I have not read the book so I cannot comment on my feelings of this as an adaptation until the end of this journey but just from Kings remarks I am assuming this wont be the most faithful.
The film stars Jack Nicholson in the starring role of Jack Torrance an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who accepts to be the caretaker for the Overlook Hotel during the off season.
Jack Nicholson is just astounding in this and it is easily one of his best performances, Nicholson has always had a talent of getting lost in his characters and a particular talent for playing the mentally unhinged which before the Shining could be seen in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” it was actually this performance which got Jack the role.
In the movie Jack Torrance is a prick from the get go, a selfish individual with unrealistic aspirations of his writing career, he has a unsettling demeanor about him and is genuinely very unlikable this is one choice I am not too fond of as it makes his eventual mental breakdown and psychological snap a little less surprising than it should have been and while Nicholson’s performance as Jack is so memorable I feel it could have been even better if the character started out with a little more sympathy.
Shelley Duvall plays Jacks wife Wendy and she never got much appreciation for her portrayal and even received a razzie for it, Duvall’s character was badly written in this to be a whiny and annoying trigger for Jacks insanity and to be honest until the second half of the film I thought she was fairly forgettable, in her second half’s performance when she plays the upset and distraught Wendy I thought she did a really good job especially in the finale. The scene with the baseball bat on the stairs broke a world record for the most takes with 127 eventually leaving Duvall with a hoarse throat and blistered hands.
Kubrick was cruel to Duvall in many ways to help set up her character, not only did he constantly criticise her performance but would would belittle her Infront of the other cast members and even isolated her by demanding the cast and crew completely ignore her during the entire production, no matter why these choices were made they are still very wrong and effect Duvall to this day.
The rest of the rather small cast of the film are all fine but none are particularly memorable minus Duvall and Nicholson, Danny played by Danny Lloyd is the son of the Torrance’s and he has a special gift called Shining, this gift allows him to see events from the past and for a Child actor Lloyds performance is actually pretty believable and not annoying in the slightest this is left even more impressive considering that Kubrick had tricked the boy into thinking they were making a Drama instead of a Horror film.
Scatman Crothers plays Bill Halloran the head chef of the Overlook Hotel and also a character that has the gift of the shining and uses his ability to communicate with Danny about his fathers mental breakdown.
Having a film with such a small cast in an insolated Hotel is not an easy project to pull of but it is thanks to Kubrick’s directing that it works so well here, from a story telling perspective we can pick up on subtle clues with Jacks character and realising that he is actually quite mentally ill from the very start of the film, he has anger issues and the way he speaks to his wife and son shows signs of a narcist who has nothing but selfish goals.
Before he even starts his job care taking for the Hotel Jack is told about how the last caretaker went mad and chopped up his family, this moment is left alone for a while we don’t see much reference to it at least from Jacks view but we can see him struggling to get anywhere with his book and how this writers block is affecting him.. after all this is meant to be his big break.
Later on when the spirits of the Hotel begin to take a toll on Jack he slowly begins to slip back into alcohol and his more abusive self comes through.
Danny is seeing visions of the murdered family of the last caretaker, blood gushing out of an elevator and flooding the hallways, it could be warnings of whats to come or what has happened in the past are these visions real? are the ghosts really making Jack go crazy or is he just crazy?
All of these are questions you are trying to answer but you cant because the film leaves the viewer open to various theories but no definite answers to what is really going on. This works so well in the movies favour as it ultimately leaves you feeling genuinely disturbed and confused exactly how the Torrance’s felt being isolated in the hotel while all of these things were potentially happening.
A really interesting directors choice here was to have the characters notice and react to something before the viewers, this was a nice change compared to what we are used to with most films in the horror genre. It also leaves the audience feeling uneasy and not understanding why these characters are all of a sudden looking distressed or upset, leaving the reveal even more chilling than it otherwise might have been.
For a good chunk of the movie it is made very clear that the Torrance’s are the only people in the hotel, the place is by all means isolated, in one scene Danny is riding throughout the Hotel on his tricycle and the camera follows from behind as he goes around corners, all of a sudden we see two twin girls and then visions of their murders. This scene while so simple is one of the scariest moments in horror because of that buildup, we as an audience have adapted to isolation and when it is revealed that other entities are in the hotel it throws you off and causes us to feel anxious and panicked.
Camera angles play such an important role in the film to help create the feeling of unease, I previously mentioned Duvall’s 127 takes but it wasn’t just her, Kubrick was deliberately making both Nicholson and Duvall re-do takes to make them start to get tired and stressed, this would begin to affect the performances and would get some more natural takes with bizarre undertones, he would push his actors to redo perfectly performed scenes in order to slightly drive them mad and get under the skin and human psyche, this method would get some really interesting facial expressions, Nicholson would start drooling and actors would come up with new lines without thinking, the famous line “Here’s Johnny” was adlibbed by Nicholson during one of these takes.
Music is the key ingredient that makes this film so memorable and scary, after filming and during post production a very talented gentleman named Gordon Stainforth did the musical score for this film, a 1936 composition “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was used in various scenes and along side very clever use of the Mickey Mousing technique a term used to describe music or sounds synchronised with an on screen action or movement helped to build up the atmosphere and help emphasise the Overlook Hotels manipulation of Jack, manipulative and sinister notes to help pull the strings in jacks mind and unforeseen puppet master, an evil presence we can hear but cannot see and easily the scariest part of the film.
The Shining is one of the greatest Horror films of all time and while it clearly has it’s departure from the original writing thanks to Kings hatred towards it, I feel that for any adaptation of a Stephen King book this is in many ways truly a masterful film and one I feel King should be proud of. I understand why he has issues with it but without the book we never would have been gifted one of the greatest art pieces in not only Stanley Kubricks works but in the history of cinema as a whole. You see Stanley Kubricks the Shining is more than just a film its an experience, a composition and a work of art each bundled together in one package, truly a marvel of filmography, it is now protected by the national film registry and is a movie everyone should see.
After his initial distaste for the 1980 adaptation Stephen King would produce his own in 1997, a tv mini series and our next journey in the Shining Deep Dive.
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