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(First Review Here) The Shining

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Hey all,

So I've written a few reviews, but after watching The Shining for the first time and having all expectations blown away, I figured I'd post one here.

Quick warning that it's a little long, but I really wanted to put all my thoughts in it. I'm also fascinated by Roger Ebert and his style. Enjoy!

The Shining does what many horror movies today fail to accomplish; deep character development. The plot closely follows with the way the Torrance family adjusts to living at the Overlook Hotel, masterfully capturing all of their emotions and actions that really make us feel like we truly know Jack, Wendy and Danny. Instead of using endless jumpscare and murders to thrill, The Shining uses the pure spiral into insanity of each character to provide the element of horror to the film.

In a way, the character development can also be seen as making The Shining a social commentary of sorts. Kubrick, in an interview, once said, “There's something inherently wrong with the human personality. There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious; we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly.” Despite these themes, however, Stephen King, who wrote the book the film was based on, is known for hating the movie in comparison to his original source material.

I’m not going to focus on what Kubrick did differently as a major part of this review, so I’ll just quickly run through these and describe their impact on the film quality as a whole. In the novel, the hedge maze was actually a garden of animal topiaries which change their positions when the characters aren’t looking, before coming to life and attacking. Changing it to a simple hedge maze was good on Kubrick’s part in my opinion, as I feel adding the element of suspense from the topiaries would’ve taken some tickle out of the suspense between Jack chasing Danny. Another major change was going from a mallet in the novel to an axe in the movie. This is another good change, as many of the scenes wouldn’t have been nearly as thrilling if Jack was busting through the door with a wooden mallet. The last major change I’ll touch on is Jack’s alcoholism. In the novel, much of his insanity was based on him being drunk, whereas in the movie, his insanity sparks from Danny’s shine and his increasing frustration in not having any ideas. I feel this also works in the film’s favor, as the Shining itself is a supernatural power Danny has, which causes him to have scary visions. And in the context of a horror movie, supernatural powers satisfy the audience better than simply being drunk.

Now let’s dive into what I praised in the first paragraph as the best thing about this horror masterpiece; the character development. Soon after the film begins, we are given the perfect amount of background information on each of the family members. Jack is a writer but also an alcoholic, Danny is a troubled little boy with an imaginary friend, and Wendy is a concerned but good-hearted mother watching out for both. And these perfectly play into how the rest of the plot foils out. Jack’s frustration over his inability to write his book results in him going insane and seeing ghosts, which in turn scare Wendy and force her to keep Danny away from him, which in turn frustrates Jack even more. Danny has “The Shining” ability and has many such violent visions, including the twins down the hall, which are a lot to take in for someone of that age, and as such, he resorts to fully becoming his imaginary friend Tony for a brief period of time. And Wendy is just trying her best to keep everyone safe and happy through all the **** they’re going through.

Another part of Jack and Danny’s mental issues are dependent on the setup of each scene, which mainly involves the writing and how Kubrick has managed our expectations up to that point. Throughout the first half hour, there are several points through the dialogue which Kubrick subtly foreshadows the events to come. Character development aside, there is the telling of a past tragedy with almost the exact same premise as the film itself, lots of talk about death and Danny’s fear of staying at the hotel, and other quotes of the like.

On the topic of setting expectations, or lack thereof, Kubrick does this better than a lot of horror movies. Generally, plot points can be fairly predictable in horror movies, at least in the ones I’ve viewed recently. However, unless you’ve had the movie spoiled for you, there are surprises around every corner here. For example, we are aware of plot points such as the twins even before they appeared in the hallway, and we know that Jack has gone mad and is on a rampage. However, Kubrick has them disappear from the plot for the perfect amount of time before they appear again and surprise the audience. When the twins appear in the hallway, and when Jack starts hacking at the bedroom door with the axe, we say, “Holy ****, I forgot this was happening,” and therefore is effective in thrilling the viewer. But despite this, they all feel natural with the progression of the story and don’t feel like their appearances are random or unnecessary. I do think there was a smidge of dragging around the middle of the film that was mainly just building up without development, but that is my only criticism for the entire film. Not a single scene is wasted and the transitions between scenes are all very well done.

The last part that has to do with the characters and why they are so memorable are the actors’ performances. Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance is, to be completely frank, one of the greatest performances in any movie I’ve seen. His facial expressions, his build, his costume, his voice… it’s all so perfect. He’s the actor that performs a character that will be burned into your memory forever. Kubrick couldn’t have picked a better actor to portray him. Shelley Duvall was, well, interesting. When she was scared, I really bought that she was scared and that was great. However, when in conversation, there are a few moments where her words don’t match her face and the way she’s feeling. For example, smiling and quietly chuckling when talking about Jack abusing Danny. That just didn’t work for me at all. Danny, portrayed by Danny Lloyd, was also really great, especially when you consider the distinct contrast between Danny and his imaginary friend. As far as child actors go, this is one of the better performances in a movie that I’ve seen.

The funny thing is, when The Shining was first released, it was NOT well received. Film critics slammed it and found it to be disappointing, mainly in comparison to Kubrick’s other works such as A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It probably didn’t help that the film opened the same weekend as Empire Strikes Back, but it really didn’t get many nominations at all once award season came around. It even got a couple Razzie nominations for Kubrick’s directing and Shelley Duvall’s performance. While I touched upon Duvall in the previous paragraph, I absolutely disagree with Kubrick’s Razzie. I think this is one of his most ambitious projects in his entire career. He took on a novel written by one of the most beloved horror writers with a creative approach, all of his changes improving the film quality (in my opinion), and crafted a truly suspenseful, memorable, and overall excellent horror movie that’s gone down as one of the most influential horror movies in history. And while that last statement wasn’t noticed at the time of the film’s release, it is still worth noting!

The Shining is a masterpiece of a film that has become a true classic. Kubrick was a genius when it came to character development and it showed in this film, making it one of the best horror films in cinema history. Kubrick’s vision was unique and well executed, being technically and visually stunning with brilliant suspense and sound quality, great performances portraying memorable and relatable characters, and memorable dialogue with tons of well-known quotes. It will make you question what’s real and what’s not.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Very thoughtful and well written review, Josh. At the time of its release they showed commercials singly of the scene where the blood gushes out and around the elevator, which got my attention. I'm not a horror fan, but this has to be one of the best.

It seems to me that soon after, a TV movie version was made which followed more precisely King's book, including the changing topiary that you mentioned. It was pretty bad. Kubrick's screenplay (along with Diane Johnson) and his direction was superb.

The Shining has become one of the most memorable movies ever made.

Great review! We only disagree about Duvall's performance. Her performance here>>>>>>>Stanley Kubrick's entire filmography
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Excellent review, I agree with just about everything you've said. It's my favorite Nicholson performance and Kubrick has to take a lot of credit for that. I have issues with Shelley Duvall's performance as well, a little shrill for my tastes. You mentioned that the film is overlong...funny, this is one of those long movies where I never feel the length at all.

Thanks everyone for the feedback! It's much appreciated!

@Gulfport I haven't heard great things about the TV series, haha. Very cool to hear about the commercial as well!
@ahwell Well it's good to have different opinions even if I don't fully agree with you, haha. I'm glad you enjoyed Duvall's performance, however!

@Gideon I don't necessarily think it's overlong, there's just a lot of build-up towards the middle for my tastes. Glad to hear you love Nicholson's performance as well!
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I feel bad because this movie didn't blew me away. I had was mentally and phisically prepared watching this movie because I though it would terrify me. In fact, I was scared of toy story 2 until I was like 13 so I've always been a scared person. Unfortunnatly, I wasn't scared once and I can see it's a great movie( well filmed and all) but that's it. I was a little bit dissapointed because at the end of the day toy story scared me more than the shining. I know its f$%? up

and little fact, 2001 was not well received at all in fact, not only were both spectators and critics disappoited it took a second premiere in '71 before clockwork to make 2001 profitable. Also, clockwork's critics were soso and the movie was banned and censure in many country. I always found interesting how people are quickly judging movies. What movie are considered bad today but in 20 years will be seen as masterpiece?