Stephen King adaptations are usually hit or miss. There have been some absolutely amazing adaptations, such as The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie (1976), Stand By Me, The Green Mile and most recently IT. But for every Shawshank and The Green Mile you get about a dozen or so misses: It (1990), Carrie (2013), The Mist, Secret Window, 1408, Desperation, Sleepwalkers and countless others. King usually does not care about the film adaptations of his books. However, The Shining is the rare occurrence, in that he openly shared his thoughts about the film: He hates it.
Stanley Kubrick is often considered to be one of the most influential and greatest filmmakers of all time. His career lasted over fifty years giving us numerous classic film after classic film. Whether it be 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket or Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick has amazed the world of cinema many times. His work and effort put into The Shining is no exception and has served to be a popular influence for many horror films and has inspired many filmmakers. From its chilling suspense, eerie music and Jack Nicolson’s intense performance, The Shining has certainly left its mark on cinema for many generations to come. Well everyone except me that is.
The film tells the story of a family of three: Jack (Jack Nicolson), Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and Danny (Danny Lloyd). Jack has been assigned to look after a hotel during the off-season from May to October. The hotel manager has good faith in Jack but is worried about the hotel’s troubled history. One year, a previous off-season caretaker succumbed to cabin fever and proceeded to murder his entire family and end his own life.
An important aspect of any film by Kubrick is his obvious style. His techniques often include slow suspense, overly elongated, wide-angled tracking shots that last a minute long, excessive establishing shots, and overly dramatic music. His style suits the tone of the film but at times can get tiresome, boring and out of place. I kept a tally of how many times I wanted to yell at the screen “Get on with IT!” A whole twelve times about half as many times when compared to when I first watched Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
While taking over the hotel it becomes obvious that something strange is afoot, in fact too quickly. For all the over-drawn out suspense and Jack Nicholson chewing up the scenery, the realization that something is wrong with the hotel is established far too quickly. The film’s running time sits just under two and half hours, but a good twenty minutes or so should have been edited out. The film is too long and I can only hold my breath for extreme suspense for so long. Though it must be said that the extreme suspense certainly adds to the atmosphere of the film. The film feels hypnotic if not magnetic. The overarching mysteries stayed with me even after the film was over.
The film is cloaked in mystery right from the start, with not everything fully answered. Early in the film there is a mysterious room in which the murder that was mentioned in the beginning occurred. To keep it brief, weird stuff happens in that room. The real mystery comes from Jack’s son Danny, who possesses some sort of psychic ability. He is able to see things from time long past and hear things from hundreds of miles away. He has a full conversation with the Hotel’s head chef Dick (Scatman Crothers) while being hundreds of miles away from him. As far as child acting goes it can either be awful or amazing but thankfully Danny fits in the second category. He seems cute at first but there is certainly more to this kid and his imaginary friend Tony than meets the eye.
But now comes what I believe are the two biggest problems with the film: Shelly Duvall and Jack Nicolson. After the release of the film Ms. Duvall was nominated for the much-coveted Worst Actress awards from the Golden Raspberry awards. Though she did not win I’m sure she came very close. I’ve seen some bad acting in my time, especially in horror films but Shelly Duvall takes the cake. Every time she screamed my fellow audience members, me included, could not help but laugh our heads off, especially in a rather pivotal scene where she in cornered in a room with a knife to protect herself. From behind the scenes Mr. Kubrick purposely treated Ms. Duvall poorly to get a certain performance from. To which I question what kind of performance was he looking for? She either over acts, under acts or just does not act at all. It made it hard to root for her towards the end of the film when she is trying to escape.
Now where do I begin with Mr. Jack Nicolson? Nicolson is terrific and fits the role well, for about the second half of it at least. Any suspension of disbelief building Jack up as a normal average guy is ruined solely by the fact that it is Jack Nicolson being the crazy guy again. A few years before this film came out Mr. Nicolson starred in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and won a best leading actor Oscar for it. The film was about him being stuck in a mental hospital with several others. My convoluted point I’m trying to get at is that Jack is miscast big time. Even in the quiet scenes with him talking to his son come across as creepy and suspenseful. Still though his acting pays off more so in the second half of the film where he starts to go crazy and begins seeing ghosts that serve him drinks.
Ultimately The Shining is one of those films that is mostly style and little substance. The characters work when they need to but the film is more about getting a good gasp from its audience instead of stirring any real idea through their minds. Over time though this film has gathered a huge following and has been regarded as a horror classic. It has been parodied and referenced repeatedly at this point in time, including a a very funny parody by The Simpsons. But it is not all bad. It is well filmed has great atmosphere and Jack Nicolson will be staining my nightmares for weeks to come.