Ask Stephen King what his LEAST favorite film adaptation of one of his books is, and he'll tell you it's The Shining. He has maintained this opinion throughout the two decades since this film's release, while we've seen the likes of Pet Sematary, Thinner, The Dark Half, The Stand, and a half dozen or so OTHER mediocre to downright awful adaptations of King's work. Still, the author resents the auteur. What is it that Stanley Kubrick did to piss King off so much? He made a movie that was BETTER than the book, for starters.
The Shining is the tale of the troubled Torrance family. Jack (Nicholson) is a recovering alcoholic, Wendy, an enabler in denial, and Danny, well Danny has issues, most of which stem from an incident involving Jack's abusive drunken behavior. Danny has created an imaginary friend named Tony, who helps Danny to "cope" when the going gets tough, but also clues Danny in on things yet to come.
Jack has made a clean slate of things, more or less, and Wendy and Danny want to support their patriarch as he takes on a job as caretaker of the Overlook, a vast and isolated summer resort in the Colorado mountains. The Overlook's size is dwarfed, however, by it's sketchy past and reputation, most succinctly, a murder in which a past caretaker went insane and killed his wife and children and then himself. This was credited to "cabin fever", something the Torrance family gets to know about real fast. Jack's behavior grows erratic, Wendy fears for her family's safety, and Danny sees where this is all heading through Tony's "eyes", a little gift known as "the shining". When a massive snowstorm cuts the family off from the outside world, Jack's erratic behavior turns downright hostile as the ghosts of the past (both Jack's and the Overlook's) rear their ugly heads.
Kubrick's The Shining differs from King's original story in many ways, most notably in terms of exposition and character development. While King's epic novel encompassed virtually every aspect of John/Jack's past to make us care more for his character, Kubrick's Jack is vague and untrustworthy from the start. Wendy's character in the novel was a strong and determined woman, while Kubrick's is a rattled cage of insecurity and desperation. As a fan of King's writing, I admit that The Shining is a classic book, however I also stand firm in my opinion that King gets carried away in terms of narrative and back-story, and Kubrick simply tossed all that extra fat aside, and delivered a lean mean fright machine. Sure the "Boo" ghost story factor is lessened, but I think that The Shining works better as a psychological horror film rather than a haunted house morality tale, and the film's ending is far more tragic than the novels rather tidy ending of last minute heroics and absolution. While I'm sure many will disagree, one need look no further than the overlong and ultimately ridiculous retelling of the tale in King's sanctioned mini-series for proof that Kubrick's vision of the material was far more horrific than it's source material.
As for the DVD, well, it's pretty much rubbish, save for the solid 1.33:1 transfer. As is the case with all post-Barry Lyndon Kubrick films, The Shining is presented full-frame for that is how the film was shot. The audio hasn't been tinkered with either, so expect no surround sound fireworks with this one, this is a Kubrick approved, purists delight. Is that a good thing? Well, it is if you believe that a director should have final say on how his film is presented, which I do.
However, what I do NOT agree with is the fact that there is only a trailer. I know we could not have expected a Kubrick commentary, but how about one from Nicholson, Duvall, hell, even an angry commentary by King would have been welcome (and probably quite entertaining!!). I am sure that there are supplemental materials, alternate takes, behind the scenes documentation, and a wealth of other materials available for such an important film, but we don't get anything other than the film's trailer.
The Shining is a spectacular film that creeps along with quiet, deliberate steps, occasionally stomping it's feet to jar the senses before retreating back into its eerie tone, lurking in the silence and waiting to pounce again. It's a classic; one of the finest horror films ever made, and belongs on any serious collector's shelf, however the lack of extras for a film this important in the DVD age is something that needs correcting.
The film itself is a flawless gem.
Note: This review was originally written in 2004. Since then, Warner has, indeed, releaased a 2-Disc special edition version of the film, as well as a Blu-ray edition.