Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p (VC-1 codec)
Running Time: 144 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: October 23, 2007
Review Date: October 31, 2007
To truly appreciate The Shining takes patience, something that not every person who has ever viewed this film is willing to muster. Many have been irritated about the pacing, the lack of fidelity to the original source book, the casting, and on and on. None of this bothers me since I have never felt any of them is worthy of complaint. Stanley Kubrick’s films have always been deliberately paced, but the payoffs have almost always been worth it. Lots of movies aren’t faithful to their original novels, but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining as films. The casting of the three main characters might be unconventional; it took me awhile to reconcile myself to Shelley Duvall’s take on Wendy, and I didn’t find Danny Lloyd a particularly charismatic young actor (imagine what Haley Joel Osment could have done with the role). And Jack Nicholson? Well, his over-the-top take on Jack is unusual, and it certainly holds the attention. Perhaps under the circumstances, that’s all we could hope for.
Nicholson stars as a former college professor who takes the job of a winter caretaker of a luxury Colorado hotel in order to have the peace and quiet necessary to write a book. Gradually, he becomes possessed by the evil legend associated with the hotel: a former caretaker who murdered his wife and two daughters with an ax and then blew his head off with a rifle. To his credit, Nicholson does build his performance from a slightly disturbed man in his initial interview for the job to the manic lunatic we see in the latter third of the picture. It’s actually a thoughtful performance whose extremes are understandable amid the other ghostly happenings at the Overlook Hotel.
The title of the film involves a power which Nicholson’s son possesses. Shining is a type of clairvoyance which enables son Danny to see both past and future occurrences as well as read certain thoughts in the minds of others who also have this power. Kubrick uses this power of shining to picture the grisly murders which took place earlier and which haunt Danny’s subconscious. It’s strange, however, that this ability doesn’t help him in his climactic efforts of escaping from his deranged father. Luck and ingenuity are much more worthwhile commodities when the chips are down.
The script by Stanley Kubrick and novelist Diane Johnson has some inconsistencies. The Overlook’s head chef (Scatman Carothers) also shares the ability to shine, but it doesn’t help him when he dashes back to aid the family in its time of crisis. That’s not explained nor are the ghosts who seem to appear to some people some of the time or everyone at other times. I’m not sure it’s necessary to be provided with all the answers in a ghost story like The Shining, but it does offer ample ammunition for those who want to take potshots at the film.
The film’s genius, however, comes in the subtle qualities of terror that director Kubrick gradually has to creep up over the viewer during the lengthy running time. There’s talk about murders and cannibalism early to plant the seeds of the gruesome happenings to come. An early conversation between Duvall and Carothers seems banal, but the camera focuses on several long, threatening butcher knives in the background, one of which plays an important part in the later plot. Early warnings about Room 237 prepare us for one of modern cinema’s most grotesque scenes. The eerie music themes by Bella Bartok (along with some Wendy Carlos compositions), some chilling sound effects by Ivan Sharrock, and the marvelous Steadicam tracking camerawork (used extensively in the hotel corridors and a high schrub maze) all contribute mightily to the film’s horrific effectiveness.
Maybe The Shining isn’t all that it could have been, but it does manage in no little way to produce an ample supply of goose pimples even on repeated viewings. That’s no small feat.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 finally makes an appearance on disc, and this Blu-ray release is encoded at 1080p using the VC-1 codec. The image features above average sharpness, good color levels, and solid fine details. The overall image appears brighter and virtually spotless than on previous video versions of the movie. The interwoven herringbone and corduroy jackets don’t cause the slightest line twitter in the image (unlike in the 480i featurettes or the last full frame DVD release where aliasing is rampant). Blacks are acceptably deep, and shadow detail is fine. I did find the skin tones to veer ever so slightly toward red, and while the transfer has no problem dealing with the frosty atmosphere once winter arrives, the image does flatten out noticeably in those scenes. The film has been divided into 40 chapters.
The PCM 5.1 audio track (48 kHz, 16-bit, 4.6 Mbps) allows the creepy music and chilling audio effects to greatly enhance the effectiveness of the film’s many shocking moments. (The original mono track from the last DVD release is not provided as a choice on the disc.) Some of the looped dialog sounds audibly stifled from the sound levels of the direct recording, but otherwise the dialog in the center channel is clear.
The newly prepared audio commentary is a combination of comments from Steadicam inventor/operator Garrett Brown and Kubrick biographer John Baxter. It’s an informative though slightly dry recital of information about the making of the film and for fans of the movie is quite an engaging listen.
“View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining” is a standard “making of” featurette featuring comments from the movie’s camera operator, writer, production designer, costumer, producer, and star (Nicholson) looking back on their experience of working on the movie. This 480i full frame documentary runs half an hour.
“The Visions of Stanley Kubrick” is a 17-minute discussion of Kubrick’s background as a still photographer and how that influenced his camera eye in the making of his films. It’s also a full frame, 480i presentation.
In anamorphic widescreen is “Wendy Carlos, Composer” which spends 7½ minutes with the composer who plays some music from both The Shining and A Clockwork Orange, most of which didn‘t make it to the final films.
Carried over from the last DVD release of The Shining is Vivian Kubrick’s The Making of ‘The Shining’ filmed by Kubrick’s daughter during the production of the film. Added since the last DVD release is a running commentary by Ms. Kubrick looking back on her 27-year old effort and making some astute comments on the people involved and her own sometimes clumsy attempts at making this film. This full frame 35-minute documentary is presented in 480i and looks very rough.
The film’s 1½-minute theatrical trailer though dated in appearance is included on the disc in 480p.
Stanley Kubrick’s examination of the pervasiveness of evil and the disintegration of a family from that evil finally gets its best-ever video release with this Blu-ray presentation. For fans of the movie, it’s a must-buy. It’s never looked or sounded better.