Play with us, Danny . . .
What's most remarkable about The Shining (I will forever have to catch myself from adding an extra "n" thanks to The Simpsons) is how little it's dated, apart from the 70's hair and fashions. One of the reasons is that Kubrick cleverly avoids clichéd "jump" scares in favour of a sense of dread that builds throughout the whole movie. And Jack Nicolson's performance is as entertainingly over the top now as it was then.
Stephen King has a lot of complaints about the movie, and while some of them are understandable (Jack Torrance is a far less sympathetic character than in the book, seeming crazy pretty much from the start; Wendy is less of a strong character and more a typical abused wife) most of the changes are, frankly, improvements. The dialing back of the supernatural elements (no living topiary animals in the movie) makes the story more believable and allows the audience to wonder if the horrifying visions are just in the characters' minds (at least until a ghost lets Jack out of a locked pantry). Killing off the cook, Halloran, while seeming like a callous move on Kubrick's part, ultimately serves the story well because it gives it a sense of danger missing from the novel, while still allowing Halloran (the charming Scatman Crothers) to save the day with his unexpected arrival.
Nicholson gets all the praise, but all the performances are good. Danny Lloyd is a perfect Danny (certainly better than the awful kid in the risible TV version made years later) and it's a shame he quit acting shortly after the film. Shelly Duvall gets a lot of criticism for her histrionic performance but she's actually very good and believable and her genuine fear adds to the scariness of the film.
The images in the film (the dead twins, the elevators pouring blood) retain their power despite years of parody and the dramatic score is very effective. The steadicam shots (such as Danny endlessly riding his tricycle around the hotel) are classic filmmaking. The digital print shown looked great and I was glad it was the longer, U.S. version of the film (I grew up with the European cut, which omits many important scenes).
Like all Kubrick’s films there are endless interpretations of the themes of the story. The Shining makes a good companion piece with his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, as they both deal with a troubled marriage (though for very different reasons) and have a strong and disturbing sexual undercurrent (the brief scene in The Shining where we see a man in a bear suit apparently performing fellatio on another man is one of the more bizarre moments). The final shot, where Jack is seen in a photo of the Overlook from 1921, will be as endlessly debated as the conclusion of 2001.
The Shining remains one of the director’s finest movies, full of quotable lines and haunting imagery. We’ll never see another filmmaker quite like Kubrick.