Judge David Johnson is a dull boy but it has nothing to do with his lack of leisure activities.
Stanley Kubrick's towering tale of insanity hacks its way into the high-def era.
Facts of the Case
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men), his wife Wendy (Shelly Duval) and their bizarre young son Danny are off to the Overlook Hotel, a vast resort crammed into the Colorado mountains, where they'll be spending the winter as caretakers.
Things start nice enough. Jack plans to focus on completing his novel, Wendy has developed a knack for opening huge cans of tomato soup and Danny spends the days riding his big wheels through the hotel and encountering a pair of freaky-looking twin girls and having fearsome hallucinations of their axe murder.
Yep, poor Danny's got "The Shining," a psychic ability that allows him to see a variety of horrors nestled in the Overlook's shifty-ass history. As the weeks creep by, things get eerier at the hotel and Jack's grasp on his sanity begins to slip. This slide into bat-@#$% nuttiness will crest and the forces of evil will soon vomit forth from the hotel in a concoction of violence and murder and fellatio performed by a bear.
Stephen King's The Shining is by far the scariest book I have ever read and still holds the honor of being the only novel I've had to put down and stop reading because I was getting severely creeped out. (Note: reading it at night is a recipe for a string of almost unbearable nightmares.) It's a great book. And Kubrick's adaptation is a great movie. But there is very little that is similar between the two.
As fan of the novel, Kubrick's straying had irked me for some time, but then I saw the TV-miniseries, which was more faithful to the source material and soon respected what Kubrick had done; the moral of the story is it's not easy to make topiaries seem alive and menacing with a limited budget. All this to say, I dig what Kubrick ended up doing with his interpretation of the novel, though I hesitate to label The Shining a flat-out masterpiece.
It's memorable and, most importantly, hugely scary, but I've always been nagged by a few creative choices. One, the biggie, is how quickly and dramatically Jack Torrance goes flying off the deep end. In the novel, you could blame the supernatural influences—toned down in the film adaptation—as having a corrosive effect on Torrance, but with the ghostly evil more diminished in Kubrick's work, Torrance's descent into malevolent lunacy is pinned more on natural methods. To be fair, from the get-go in the film Torrance isn't exactly a choir-boy and references to his shady history points to a predisposition towards losing it, but the depth to which this jackass plummets is jarring. If anything, The Shining proves to be more a cautionary tale about anger management and alcoholism. Smaller irritants are the anticlimactic fate of Hallorann (all that effort just to deliver a plot device?!), Danny's thumb voice, which strikes me as corny these days, Jack Nicholson going a little too overboard in his acting and the film's intentional, but nonetheless frustrating, ambiguity.
But in the larger scheme of things, and when looking at the library of American horror, The Shining stands stall as one of the most chilling, spellbinding pieces of terror ever committed to celluloid and any annoyances are trumped by what Kubrick accomplished. He managed to generate serious scares with subtle touches (the mysterious rolling ball), in-your-face set-pieces (the blood torrents), creepy little girls (the creepy little girls) and scenes of the bizarre (aforementioned bear fellatio). Add to that the insidious psychological terror of the very concept of a father flipping out and hunting down his family with an axe and why The Shining still remains mentioned in the same breath as the great horror films of all time is no surprise.
And it's never looked better, thanks to the next optical disc generation. The Shining is a force on HD-DVD, providing the clearest picture and the most vibrant color work the release has ever seen. The Overlook Hotel, circa 1980, is a shagadelic nightmare of pastels and oranges and the enhanced 1080p, 1.85:1 widescreen treatment teases out much splendor from the details. Those sequences with Danny riding through the hotel stand out especially with that ungodly carpet leaping out of the screen. It's a great-looking visual experience.
But the audio treatment is even better. The Shining sports one of the most memorable scores in horror cinema, and with both the TrueHD and Digital Plus 5.1 tracks, the aural presentations is a true stunner. The deep, throbbing lows will rumble your guts and when the tension explodes, the accompanying manic music will aggressively fill your room. Awesome.
Extras include a great commentary track from Garret Brown, Steadicam operator for the film and historian John Baxter (the duo's comments were spliced together), a re-issue of Vivian Kubrick's making-of documentary and three new featurettes, "View from the Overlook—Crafting The Shining," "The Visions of Stanley Kubrick," and "Wendy Carlos, Composer." All three of these are good, though "View" is more robust and my favorite of the batch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It would have been nice to see this release utilize some nifty new next-gen picture-in-picture technology.
It's scary, packed with disturbing and iconic moments, and has never looked or sounded better. The Shining on HD-DVD is axe-cellent. Good lord that was awful.
Not dull…or guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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