Sunday, May 02, 2010

Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"

How is it that I managed to go 30 years before seeing Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" in its entirety? I'm not really sure. I'm glad that I finally saw it, and would recommend it to anyone with a passion for horror movies. There are moments of absolute brilliance - the opening scene as Jack Nicholson's car slowly makes its way up to the Overlook Hotel; just about every scene that takes place in the hedge maze; the wonderful shots of Danny as he rides his big wheel through the big hotel.

Having said that, I would also say that the end product is less than the sum of its parts. For all of Kubrick's genius, the movie fails to make the viewer care much about its characters, with the exception of Danny, the little boy, and Dick Halloran, the hotel's chef played by Scatman Crothers. And that failure, I hate to say, really falls on the shoulders of Jack Nicholson.

Even if you haven't read the book, from the opening moments of "The Shining" it is obvious that Jack Torrance, the character played by Nicholson, is going to descend into madness. A lot of what happens to Jack is genuinely creepy - the scenes with Lloyd the bartender aren't scary per se, but are presented in such a matter-of-fact way that they become scary. But once Jack goes nuts, he goes full-on nuts, rivaling "crazy Al Pacino" in terms of the lack of subtlety in his performance. And though I wonder how much of my reaction was based on the fact that every Nicholson move is now etched in memory by this point of his career, it felt like I was watching a comedian doing a spoof of Jack Nicholson. Overall, the things that happen to Nicholson are genuinely terrifying - the scene where Wendy reads what he has written since they've been in the hotel is a great, great scene - but I didn't find him very scary at all (except to the extent that any crazy dude running around swinging an axe is going to be scary).

It may not be going too far to say that the real star of the movie is the hotel. Stephen King's concept for the story was also nothing short of brilliant - who wouldn't go out of their mind after months of seclusion in a place so remote that it feels like it's on another planet? But I can also see why King didn't particularly care for Kubrick's adaptation of his book; the movie is much more "Kubrick" than it is "King."

"The Shining" is well worth seeing, because the good scenes are so good that they give the movie enough momentum to make it through the low points. But I would hesitate to afford it classic status.

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