Blu-Ray, Rated R, 2hr 26min, Drama, Horror
The book is better. Isn’t that what you always hear about any movie that’s based on a book? It’s probably because it’s almost always true. I mean, how can it not be? A book has much more room for character development and detailed descriptions of what’s in their heads. You also get a much better understanding of what’s going on. Books usually leave little room for questions about what actually happens. Movies can be hard to follow and lend themselves to viewer interpretation. There can be many opinions on what a director intended while books are usually fairly conclusive.
I was only 9 years old when The Shining was released in 1980 so I didn’t get to see it in a theater. I didn’t get serious about watching horror movies until my late teens and early twenties. Even then, it took years before I got around to actually watching The Shining. On the other hand, I started reading Stephen King much earlier and became a huge fan of his books. By the time I finally sat down to watch the movie, I had read the book several times. I will admit that I wasn’t impressed. Anyone who has read the book, or is aware of King’s reaction to the movie, is well aware that Kubrick pretty much shits all over the book. The story told in the book and the events portrayed in the movie are two very different things.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life I stopped insisting that movies based on books follow those books closely. I’m of the mind now that a movie can be a good movie even if it strays from its source material. How far can it go? Well, I guess that depends on how good it ends up being. A few years ago, I decided to give Kubrick another shot. So, that’s where this review really begins.
To fully enjoy Kubrick’s version of The Shining, you have to throw away any knowledge of the book, King’s opinion and pretty much anything you’ve ever heard about the making of the film and the opinions of the actors themselves. If you can put all of that aside, what you will see is an amazing film.
The opening scene with the car winding its way through the trees and climbing through the mountains to the Overlook Hotel builds a sense of how remote the place really is. Once the family moves in, the huge open rooms of the hotel further isolate them from each other. The story that unfolds is a descent into madness. Although the focus is on the father, all three suffer their own mental breakdown. There appears to be a supernatural element at play, but that’s one of the things in the movie that’s open to interpretation. It could very well be that the problems each brought with them, along with Danny’s special ability, could have been the catalyst and all of the ghosts in the hotel are simply imaginations. None of the characters are reliable narrators, so who knows what actually happened to them.
This is one of the movie’s strengths. You can watch it multiple times and think something different about what you see. The film is also impeccably shot. The camera and backing score work together to tell a frightening story. Jack Nicholson brings an air of sheer lunacy to his character while Shelley Duvall looks like she could break at any moment. This is old school horror at its finest. The film is two and a half hours long and there’s not a jump scare to be found. The film relies on its story to scare you and that story is terrifying if you allow yourself to become immersed in it.
So back to the question of how far can a movie stray from the book and still be good? The Shining, for me, is probably the limit so far. I think both the book and the movie are excellent and shouldn’t be compared to each other. If you’re going to do that though, then I guess the book still wins. However, The Shining will always be one of the best horror movies ever made in my humble opinion.