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Audio commentary - Dir. Garris, Writer Stephen King, Actor Steven Weber
The Shining (1997)
Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 261 mins .
M15+ . PAL
I remember a little while ago driving around, eating sandwiches in my car, when I heard an ad on radio that boldly claimed that nothing polarized people’s opinions more than the relative health benefits of prunes. Personally, I’ve never once thought about the health benefits of prunes, I can’t recall ever debating it with family or friends, and I don’t remember overhearing anyone heatedly discussing their position on the subject while waiting in the express line at the supermarket, which is where all the good debates usually happen in my suburb.
Yet I liked the way the company behind the ads had the chutzpah to make such an outlandish statement in the first place. So I’ve decided to steal the idea. Here goes...
Nothing in history has polarized people more than the Stanley Kubrick interpretation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.
A pretty impressive statement, no?
The two people at the epicentre of this hot and heady debate were none other than Kubrick and King themselves. Kubrick, naturally, liked his version quite a bit. King on the other hand, did not like it a bit at all. The rest of the world divided behind these two polarised emissaries of popular culture, chanting “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!”
King, for years dissatisfied at the butchering he felt Kubrick dealt his novel, longed to one day unify his story with moving pictures in a way that he felt was respectful and true to the literary vision he created with his own blood sweat, tears and phlegm (I read somewhere that he had a cold when he wrote the novel).
For years he laboured and toiled on other projects, laboured and toiled and toiled and laboured, then had some sandwiches, then toiled some more, and finally, in 1997, he wrote the adaptation for Stephen King’s The Shining, and lo, the final product was not very good either.
And so the world was polarized yet again. Except this time Kubrick was dead which meant the populace could not physically stand behind him in support. Some considered digging a very deep hole directly below his grave and kind of laying behind his corpse in support instead, but this was deemed impractical, for the hole would have to be very deep and who would supply the sandwiches for all the people digging?
So instead the people took up the debate in his absence and argued to and fro about the pros and cons of each version:
Kubrick’s shows the man haunted by his own inner demon, at once relishing his suppressed desires to rid himself of his baggage presented in his wife and son! He stripped all the unnecessary detritus from the book to create an emotive piece of cinema.
But King’s script is true to the novel, presenting a man suffering through a gradual breakdown of defense until he can no more ward off the strengthening spirits of the haunted hotel! The man is flawed but inherently decent. It is the almighty supernatural force of the hotel’s spirits, stuck in a limbo, which coaxes the dark side of the man to reveal itself. This version also makes implicitly clear that the hotel spirits need him to flourish.
Kubrick knew that a novel had to suffer change to make a successful transition from 900 page verbosity to two hour emotional tour de force!
King understood the true horror lay in the breakdown of the family unit, first from without then from within! It takes time to show this! The wife has to be shown as torn between her duties to him, and her responsibilities to her son! The family unit and its destruction is what’s paramount here! Not the ability of an actor to channel his inner psychotic! King is as much a commentator on human emotion as he is a horror writer!
Nicholson is a force to be reckoned with! He is Shiva! He is the destroyer of worlds!
Nicholson is a ham! He is the chewer of sets!
Steven Weber should have stuck to WINGS!
Weber is the new Brando!
And so on and so forth the arguments went, until eventually the two warring tribes decreed that no end to the debate could ever possibly be reached until Speilberg made his version starring Haley Joel Osment, and they all went off together and made some nice little sandwiches with peppered mortedella, Jarlzberg cheese and fresh picked tomatoes from King’s backyard.
Considering it was made for telly, this transfer has its share of good moments, but it is let down by a transfer that simply puts the squeeze on far too tightly for no reason that I can see. The movie was supplied on three discs, each single layered, single sided, with one episode per disc. With each episode running around 90 minutes, and an average bitrate of around 5.4mb per second, each of the first two episodes takes up roughly 3.5 gig per disc, and the third disc only cracks four gig because of the deleted scenes. Visually, shots with lots of movement and fine detail in the background suffer most on closer inspection. For example, the shots of a character in the foreground with the patterned wall in the background look fine if the character and/or the camera don’t move. Introduce movement and the encoding simply can’t render the transition without compression artefacts around the character and a distinct loss of detail. The bitrate isn’t dynamic enough, with it barely straying out of the fives, even when pressed with lots of visual activity.
Next, and more a criticism about the effects work, the quality is pretty average at best. The topiary creatures coming to life, something King fans would have looked forward to, look incredibly cheap and nasty at the worst, and just plain shit at the best. However, as I mentioned in the opening of this transfer discussion, there are many good moments to take the edge off the lapses, with colours exhibiting warmth, many scenes saddled with acceptable levels of detail.
This Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix is a let down in the scope that this telemovie could have presented far better, but that doesn’t mean that a 5.1 mix would have been any more involved. The actual sound design is fairly tame stuff, with only a moderate attempt to sandwich the viewer between the speakers, but really never coming off totally successfully. As such, you have a level of detachment that keeps you at a distance. The dialogue, running the gamut of whispers to outright ranting from Weber is clear across the board, with just a few instances where iffy ADR kicks in. At best this is an average result for an average teleflick.
If you have a spare four and a half hours to kill and a plate of sandwiches, you can listen to an audio commentary which runs across each episode, and features comments from director Mick Garris, writer Stephen King, actor Steven Weber and the guy in charge of creating the effects. It often sounds like it has been cut together from separate commentaries, with common threads running through it, with no instances of one talking over the other that I can recall. Garris gets the lion’s share, closely followed by King, who likes to shoot off on tangents and discuss related thoughts such as television politics in creating mini-series’, comparisons with other shows etc. Weber isn’t highly vocal, nor does he reveal anything which would bring him to public attention, and the effects guy really only pops up to discuss the shots relevant to his profession. Long and varied, it can be a dull listen, but from time to time you’ll zone back in and pick up interest in a long thought rambled off by either King or Garris. I don’t think they mention what kind of sandwiches craft services provided during shooting though.
The only other real bonus material (other than a single text page listing of cast and crew) is a collection of deleted scenes. Of varying worth, the tail end is concerned with the more explicit visual meltdown of the ghostly inhabitants of the Outlook Hotel, chiefly King himself, still very recognisable under a mound or deteriorating latex makeup and squirting pus. The scenes probably did go too far, for the suitability of the style and also in light of the comm’s discussion of the ratings/censorship issues.
Now that King has adapted his own work into a telemovie and had repeat collaborator Garris take a stab at directing it, it should lay King’s disappointment to rest over the treatment he felt Kubrick gave his novel. That doesn’t mean this is any better or any worse than Kubrick’s, in ways it falls into both categories, taking as many missteps as the original and laced with just as many well done moments. Ultimately it will come down to how you feel the translation fares in the trip from page to screen, and how important (or not) it is for the trip to be faithful to the source, or merely a jumping off point. Finally, I would like to see someone write a review featuring the word ‘sandwich’ more than this one. Consider it a challenge, compadres!