Tuesday 16 August 2005

The Shining (1980) - ickleReview (DVD)

Stanley Kubrick adaption of the horror thriller novel by Stephen King. In the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Overlook Hotel shuts down for the winter months - the place totally abandoned, except for the newly hired caretaker, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duval) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Jack plans to work on a writing project, so in the job interview he welcomes the prospect of solitude; nor is he disturbed by the story of the former caretaker Charles Grady (Philip Stone), who in 1970 killed his wife and two daughters with an axe, chopping them up neatly into little pieces before shooting himself in the throat with a double-barrel shotgun - cabin fever, they call it.

Danny, the son, is a solitary child, with an imaginary friend, Timmy, in his right index finger. The departing chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers - what a name!), shares his powers of perception and intuition. They are both people, he says, who "shine". Timmy tells Danny bad things about the hotel, about room 237, and Danny starts to see visions of the two murdered daughters and a river of blood flowing down the corridors as he plays, alone, riding along in his tricycle.

Jack, too, begins to break down, acting harshly towards Wendy and later threatening to "correct" his wife and child after a vision of the former caretaker, Mr Grady, whom he encounters as a waiter at a party in the Gold Room of Jack's now disturbed imagination.

As ever with Kubrick, the film is beautifully shot, with breathtaking helicopter aeriel views of Jack's car winding its way through the Rockies over the opening credits (look out for the helicopter's shadow!). The rest of the film is shot on very sumptuous and realistic sets in Elstree Studios, England. The empty hotel, with echoes of the life out of season and its threatening maze outside, is a character in itself.

The soundtrack is particularly chilling: harsh, disonant strings rarely let you relax and can be really quite frightening when paired with the visuals. There is something Omen-like about the steadicam shots of Danny on his trike, wheeling down the empty corridors, not slowing down as he rounds the corners. One always expects something to jump out and scare him (and us!) on the other side.

Jack Nicholson in The ShiningThis edition of the DVD includes Making "The Shining", a documentary shot by Kubrick's then seventeen-year-old daughter, Vivian, much more interesting and revealing than the typical big studio Making ofs. Shelley Duval is made to look like an awful prima donna attention-seeker, jealous of Nicholson's charisma and popularity (but then the rumour is that Kubrick made her do 127 takes for a single shot! Looky here on IMDb for some more interesting trivia). Nicholson himself says that the average celebrity meets in one year ten times the number of people an ordinary person meets in their lifetime. The film suggests that Kubrick was not always easy to work with, that he didn't always want his actors even to contribute their ideas; but they nevertheless respect him afterwards - and he certainly produced tremendous (and in this case very successfully scary) films.

Nugget: features one of the most famous images and soundbites in cinema: Nicholson's demented "Heeeere's Johnny!" with head showing through an axe-hewn door - also rumoured to be improvised.

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