Jan. 9, 2012

The Shining (1980)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers

What it's about. The Overlook is a luxury hotel located in the Colorado countryside. Due to the annual heavy snowfall, it closes every winter. A new winter caretaker is needed, and writer Jack Nicholson is hired. He moves in with his wife Shelley Duvall and seven year old son Danny Lloyd.

Lloyd is disturbed and has two personalities: a normal boy and a creepy raspy-voiced possessed persona named Tony. Lloyd has unusual telepathic powers, which allows him to communicate at a distance with Scatman Crothers, the hotel cook who is headed to Florida for the winter.

Unfortunately for Nicholson's family, but fortunately for sadistic viewers, The Overlook is haunted by evil spirits who gradually transform Nicholson into a demented axe wielder. Because it is a movie, Crothers comes to the rescue, but is not up to the task. In classic slasher fashion, Nicholson pursues the anguished Duvall and Tony-possessed Lloyd but is repeatedly injured and/or foiled by them.

How others will see it. Kubrick's previous project, Barry Lyndon, was a great movie but a box-office debacle. The Shining, based on a Stephen King novel, was the ideal vehicle to re-establish Kubrick as a financially viable filmmaker. Indeed, the film did well at the box office, and undoubtedly has since been lucrative on the video market.

Initially, the movie was not well received, at least by Kubrick standards. Despite Kubrick's vaunted reputation, it failed to receive any Golden Globe, Oscar, or BAFTA nominations. Admittedly, this was partly due to its horror genre. The movie did receive two Razzie Award nominations, which I am sure did not cause Kubrick to lose any sleep.

Over the years, though, the film has become highly popular, like most of Kubrick's color movies. In fact, at imdb.com, The Shining has a whopping 8.5 user rating, and is ranked at #48 in the imdb Top 250. There is a minute decline in user ratings with increasing age, but even women over 45 give the film a 7.9 out of 10, a very high score.

The film's primary appeal is Jack Nicholson as an insane axe murderer. The catch phrase, "Here's Johnny!" provides an iconic moment that every cinephile knows. This is a movie for the cynical to savor. All stress and no human interaction makes Jack a psychotic killer.

How I felt about it. The Shining has the honor of being the worst Stanley Kubrick movie, if one doesn't count the few obscure films he made prior to his career breakthrough, The Killing. King, who disliked the film, believed that Kubrick didn't understand the horror genre. And, certainly, there are similar but better slasher films, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Suspiria.

But I have a different theory. The problem appears to be the translation of King's book into Diane Johnson's screenplay. This results in many moments that make little sense, such as the shot of a man in a dog suit. We also see Duvall carrying around a baseball bat before she has reason to believe that Nicholson is violent.

In the book, it is made clear that the Overlook wants Lloyd's soul, due to his supernatural ability. In the film, though, it just seems that movie wants to re-enact the 1970 winter caretaker's family slaughter. Crothers' rescue attempt is a formulaic and extraneous subplot. Lloyd's character is overly eccentric. There's no need for him to rasp "red rum" over and over when it would be more effective for him to shout, "Mom! Daddy's got an axe and he's coming here to cut us up!"

Then there is the matter of Nicholson escaping from the pantry door. He is let out by a ghost. If a ghost is capable of such a thing, then there is no need for Jack to become a lunatic killer. The ghosts can do the job for him.

The Shining, then, proves that it is more important to make films that many people will enjoy, than to make films that some people will recognize as outstanding. The Shining will always be more popular than Barry Lyndon, and it will never be remotely as great.