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Release Date(s)1980 (October 23, 2007)
Studio(s)Warner Home Video
It may have been disowned by the man who wrote the original novel, but there is absolutely no denying that Stanley Kubrick’s vision of The Shining has been terrifying audiences since its original release in May of 1980. Although Kubrick had made controversial films previously, this was his first, and sadly last, foray into the world of horror.
Psychologically unsettling and oftentimes ghastly, it never wavers in its attempt to suck you in slowly and attack you without warning. Its intense atmosphere, disturbing visuals and deliberate pace keep you riding on the edge of your seat. Shot mostly in the sound stages of Elstree Studios in England, it was a very long and extremely arduous production, with principal photography taking over a year to complete. This was due mostly to Kubrick’s meticulous perfectionism, shooting as many as 140 takes for some scenes. It also proved to be hell for actor Shelley Duvall, who Kubrick hounded relentlessly during the shoot. In retrospect, the actor realized that this was his technique to get the best performance possible out of her for the character, which was a woman near the edge of hysteria, but it wasn’t an experience she ever wished to repeat.
Co-authors of the original screenplay, Kubrick and his writing partner Diane Johnson adapted the Stephen King shocker into a much more streamlined version of the story. Most critics panned the film for how slow it was and how it deviated from the novel. I suppose I can understand how people who love the novel would be disappointed in it not being directly translated into another medium. The problem is that ideas that work on paper don’t always work on film. What Kubrick did was take the main narrative thread of the story and do his own version of it. A film adaptation can never be exactly what was in the reader’s imagination when they originally read the novel, no matter how the film turns out. But even with its detractors, nothing stopped The Shining from becoming a success. The film not only returned its budget, but made a considerable profit for Warner Bros.
As with other recent transfers of Kubrick’s material, The Shining on Blu-ray is just beautiful. Shot in 1.37:1 and scaled to 1.85:1 for release, the picture is just as crisp and vibrant as it must have been during its original theatrical run. The color palette is fresh and solid throughout. Blacks are deep, reds are rich and whites are as pure as the snow seen in the movie. Grain is very minimal for the better part of the film, with only the much brighter scenes giving it away. There are some very minor artifacts left over from the original negative, but nothing that’s entirely noticeable without close inspection. The transfer is so crystal clear that during the aerial footage that opens the movie (around the 02:45 mark), you can see the spinning of the helicopter blades in the top half of the frame.
Thankfully, the studio has also included a number of audio options to keep the aural astute viewer happy. This release comes with two English tracks, a PCM 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Both do their jobs admirably, but it’s the PCM track that seems to be the richer of the two. Dialogue is clear and the score is haunting and often declamatory. This is a very quiet soundtrack for the most part, but jumps when the heavier portions of the story kick in. There are also three subtitle tracks: English SDH, French and Spanish.
The extras that have been included are pretty wealthy for this release, all carried over from the previous DVD special edition. They start off with an audio commentary by Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and Kubrick biographer John Baxter. Brown sticks mostly to the technical details, while Baxter covers the story, actors, background of the film and, of course, Stanley. It’s an interesting commentary, with some excellent tidbits of knowledge about the film. Next up is a set of documentaries and featurettes: View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining, The Visions of Stanley Kubrick, The Making of The Shining (with an optional commentary by Stanley’s daughter, Vivian, who directed the piece) and Wendy Carlos, Composer. They’re all incredibly insightful and interesting, but the one thing that bums me out about the extra material is the lack of deleted footage. Most fans of the film know that during the first three days of the movie’s original theatrical run, there was a scene at the end of the film that Kubrick quickly had recalled and excised. That scene has never been seen again and this would’ve been an enormous opportunity to include that scene in the supplemental material. Rounding out the extras is the movie’s original theatrical trailer.
The Shining was the most mainstream film of Stanley Kubrick’s career. It angered fans of the novel, but still managed to disturb audiences across the globe. Not surprisingly, the film holds just as much power today is it did in 1980. The treatment that Warner Bros. has given it in high definition is just phenomenal, making this Blu-ray definitely worth a look.
- Tim Salmons