“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – Jack Torrance, The Shining (1980)
Another film considered a classic that I had yet to view. Stanley Kubrick as a director is very hit or miss with me. Sometimes his films can be excellent, for example, Full Metal Jacket (1987). Other times, with films like A Clockwork Orange (1971), they don’t resonate with me, there’s something there that doesn’t click. But with The Shining, I discovered a new thriller film that I think is beyond the levels of Alien (1979).
The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his family as they move into a large, empty hotel which Jack will be looking after for a considerable amount of time. Over time Jack begins to lose his mind and eventually goes full on axe murderer. It doesn’t have the most recognisable cast, but there are a good few actors in there. Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers. Still, it’s a book adaptation from the brilliant Stephen King. What can we expect from book adaptations? Surely they’re not terrible, right?
For me novel adaptations are very difficult to write about and review. It’s a difficult adaptation to make because it’s such a great book. Still, they managed to do it for Harry Potter I’m sure they can do it for The Shining. Actually, they can, and they did it really well. Obviously there are one or two parts left out but for the most part everything makes it into the film. Some parts of the film do actually change large parts of the film but for the majority of changes, they’re worth it. There are no statues that come to life, but the atmosphere is great. Really what the film does is trade certain aspects of the book to create a better atmosphere.
That’s all that really matters though, right? As long as a general feel of the film is there then that’s appropriate. To me, having not read the book, I didn’t honestly mind. Yes, that’s right, I didn’t read the book, bring it. Honestly if the book is anywhere near as thrilling as the film then I’ll be reading it very soon.
Nicholson described the role as one of the toughest he’s ever outlined. Still, that doesn’t stop him from giving a spectacular performance throughout. The gradual regression of Jack’s mental well being is performed phenomenally. Personally I’m a huge fan of Jack Nicholson. Even in films like Mars Attacks! (1996) where he wasn’t particularly good, I enjoyed his performance. Throughout The Shining he plays a very difficult character so well it’s truly amazing. He manages to capture the deterioration of Jack and the insanity he begins to feel.
Obviously the supporting cast are just as good, but nowhere near the levels of Nicholson. Shelley Duvall gives a pretty good performance, but it did annoy me to a certain level. Let’s be fair though, I’m pretty sure that was the point of her performance. If anything I felt bad for Jack because I could connect with him in regard to his writing. There’s a scene where he’s working and is continually interrupted by his wife. Now obviously I don’t have a wife, but interruptions from other sources are frequent. In that regard then, I can sort of see the appeal and frustrations of Jack’s character. Obviously I’m not an axe wielding maniac, but the character is quite charming in a weird way.
A lot of that charm can be easily associated with Jack Nicholson’s performance. I’ve never really talked about him that much, but his performance in this film is one of the best. Considering this was my first experience with the film, there’s something definitely amazing about seeing it for the first time. It’s like a unique spectacle you’ll never experience again. He works surprisingly well with the dreaded child actors, who are actually fairly good at what they’re doing.
Actually Danny as a character was pretty weird. That was the child actor for those not keeping up to speed. He’s a driving narrative throughout the film and works very well. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s something just weird about him. I’ve no clue what that may be, it’s just something to think about. Actually the supporting cast as a whole are fairly competent. Not weird like the child actor, but pretty much everyone cast in the film does their job very well.
Kubrick is definitely memorable for his use of unique and interesting shots throughout films. The Shining is no exception to that rule. I’m a sucker for long, uninterrupted shots, as Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014) proved. However in The Shining having the camera follow Danny on his tricycle to build suspense was superb. Some scenes have the actors move rather than the camera. A scene where Jack chases Danny is effective because rather than have the camera follow them, they run off down the corridor. Simple parts of a film such as this are why Kubrick is an absolutely sensational director.
The same goes for the musical elements of the film, which are definitely very effective. I absolutely love the opening music to the film. It’s not only ominous but it just suits the film so damn well. I’m pretty sure John Williams offered to do the score but Kubrick refused. You know who I mean, the guy that did the Indiana Jones theme song. Google him.
Although intentionally against the novel with some key difference missing, The Shining is amazing. It is truly and absolutely amazing. A stellar example of how the thriller genre is one of the most enjoyable treasures to film. I hate having the shit scared out of me, but love the tension and atmosphere a film such as this can build. Really that explains why I love The Shining so much. Not so much a horror as it is a thriller, very similar to Alien in that regard. Yes, they are some very scary moments throughout, but none that could be considered piss your pants scary.
The film is complimented well by Jack Nicholson’s magnum opus of a performance. He gives it his all and wrestles with a very difficult role throughout. All of this only adds to the film though, which is possibly one of the most perfect examples of how not to adapt a novel. But then again, look what happens when you go against the novel, you get a masterpiece of a thriller. Kubrick’s work behind the camera only adds to this, and it’s a sure fire film to see as soon as possible.