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The Shining (Remastered)
Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 115 mins . MA15+ . PAL


The many novels of prolific author Stephen King do not, it must be said, translate especially well into the world of film. Many have tried to capture the essence of King’s books - including King himself in the director’s chair on one memorably terrible occasion - but few have succeeded. The problem lies largely in King’s fondness for internal narrative - the characters in his books tend to think a lot, and those thoughts are a crucial part of both the plot and the emotional drive of the stories. The author’s notorious penchant for wordiness doesn’t help either, of course, but in King’s most artistically successful novels it’s the characters that are everything - the reader gets to know them in a uniquely personal way, making their inevitable trials and tribulations seem nothing less than visceral. And so movies of King’s books have kept trying - and kept failing. Christine, for example, was a chilling psychological thriller on paper - but on film, it was a dumb ‘80s flick about a killer car and a guy with a dumb haircut. The TV miniseries of the epic apocalypse novel The Stand turned a passionate story into a b-grade soapie complete with bad acting and cheapie effects that produced laughs rather than gasps. In fact, aside from the partially successful movie of The Dead Zone and Frank Darabont’s elaborate filmic tellings of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, you’d think King’s work was all but unfilmable. Certainly, readers must have thought when they heard the announcement of a film version, The Shining - with its main character’s drawn-out mental deterioration and various supernatural goings-on - would just look silly on screen. But then, they didn’t count on Kubrick.

The one thing about The Shining that’s important from a filmmaking point of view is that there’s really not a great deal of plot there. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) accepts a job as winter caretaker of a vast and remote mountain hotel, hoping for some isolation so he can work on his writing. He brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along with him for the months-long stay, but almost as soon as the three are left alone, Jack starts inexorably losing his mind, as unseen forces within the building (built over an old Indian burial ground in the grand tradition of spooky horror!) start directing him down an ever-darker path. That’s it. Everything else in the book happened in the characters’ heads or as the author’s musings.

What makes Kubrick’s version of The Shining work so well is twofold. Firstly, Jack Nicholson’s performance is (literally) frighteningly good. So convincing is Nicholson as a man whose senses are departing him that it’s impossible to take your eyes off him when he’s on screen; Duvall’s often-amusingly broad performance as the inevitable blubbering, squealing and ultimately fleeing female seems almost a distraction by comparison. While the telepathic abilities of young Danny give the film its title, it’s Nicholson who’s the sole real focus of the film, and he’s brilliant.

Secondly, Kubrick’s direction lends genuine creepiness to the entire story. Using many of his well-established techniques as well as extensive employment of the then-novel Steadicam, he lets the film’s events play out with the camera as an unusually active participant. Not once does he opt for the “boo!” method of fright so common in King movies; here, he lets the very grace and splendour of the sets and camerawork provide a contrast with the increasingly weird events that unfold - though unlike some of his other films, the choice of classical music is almost constantly avant-garde and edgy, with key pieces by Bartok and Ligeti helping greatly to build the atmosphere of tension that pervades each scene. While some sequences simply don’t work - particularly the corpse-in-the-bathtub scene, which comes across like a bad Troma moment - the film as a whole is a remarkable example of how horror can be done without resorting to the user manual.


One thing must be mentioned first, before we get to the transfer itself; the film’s running time on this region 4 DVD is substantially shorter than that of its region 1 counterpart. This, as Kubrick fans will already know, is no accident. There are two versions of The Shining in existence - a US cut and an “international” version, both of which were edited by Kubrick himself. This shorter cut was done for the film’s UK release after poor reviews and previews (some 25 minutes of footage was removed) and has since been the default version seen outside of the US. While there are many who prefer the longer version of the film, the shorter cut undeniably has better pace and more energy; the US version, at nearly two and a half hours, is arguably way too long. At any rate, that longer cut is available on the region 1 DVD for those who really want it; it’s a shame, however, that advantage wasn’t taken of the DVD format’s branching feature to present both versions on DVD worldwide. You can read a list of the cuts made to this version by clicking the link in the “related links” section of this page.

This remastered version of The Shining is presented full-frame (and of course is not 16:9 enhanced) as per Kubrick’s wishes. While the film was shown theatrically at 1.85:1, you only have to watch the first few scenes of the full-frame transfer to realise that Kubrick composed the film for the 1.37:1 ratio, and it works beautifully seen this way - there’s not the usual pointless headroom of a full-frame transfer, but instead perfectly composed shots that are so cleverly done you wonder how the film could ever have worked in a cropped aspect ratio.

This new transfer (done, like the other new Kubrick Collection discs, on a Spirit Datacine from new interpositives) is a revelation compared to the previous DVD; there’s not a blemish in sight, and John Alcott’s ingenious cinematography has never looked better than it does here. Colours are richly but naturally saturated and black levels are generally spot-on (though there are a couple of scenes in which the film appears almost underexposed, with blacks appearing grey and washed-out; this appears to have been intentional).

The layer change appears early in the film close to the 37 minute mark, and is nicely hidden during the “MONDAY” intertitle - few will notice it.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track essentially takes the original mono sound and ever-so-slightly enhances it with subtle side and surround activity - but the music score, as with the other films in this collection, has been completely remastered in stereo from the various original master tapes and sounds remarkable. This is not a soundtrack that’ll test the limits of your 5.1 system, but instead is a reverential reworking of the mono track into something more expansive, without compromising the director’s intentions one bit.

Unlike most of the other discs in the collection, there’s extra material to be found here - namely, a 33-minute making-of documentary that was filmed by Vivien Kubrick and originally shown on BBC television (it has been restored for the DVD, with bleeping of coarse language removed and with the film excerpts replaced by footage from the new transfer). This wonderful (and all-too-short) documentary is a fly-on-the-wall look at some parts of the film being made, and it’s wonderfully frank and detailed. Actor Scatman Crothers gets VERY emotional talking about his experience making the film, Kubrick’s assistant Leon Vitali runs around the set doing the director’s bidding while Stanley resorts to shouting through a megaphone, Jack Nicholson gets pumped up for his scenes while Shelley Duvall constantly gets sick, and Danny Lloyd isn’t afraid to admit he thinks he’s “smart”; it’s a very good watch indeed, and a lot more candid than most such documentaries.

On this DVD there’s also an audio commentary by Vivien for the documentary, recorded in the late 1990s; it’s occasionally very funny, and always fascinating. Audio for the documentary is, unusually, Dolby Digital 5.1; the audio is mono, though, except during the film excerpts.

The usual theatrical trailer is included on the disc as well; in this case, a deliciously spooky teaser that was shown in cinemas in 1979 in anticipation of the film’s release.

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  •   And I quote...
    "...a remarkable example of how horror can be done without resorting to the user manual."
    - Anthony Horan
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