|Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse|
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining has made a return to our screens this year, and for the first time British audiences are seeing the original longer cut which was truncated for European release following unfavourable reviews. This truncation is a point of contention: on the one hand we obviously want our films to be as complete as possible, but on the other this is not the ‘director’s cut’ some have touted it as. In fact Kubrick chopped the film down himself, and apparently expressed a preference for the shorter version. With this in mind, how does the film hold up?
What is not up for question is that The Shining is a masterful work, and one which has aged remarkably well, thanks mostly to Kubrick’s marrying of slow-burn tension with immaculately timed jump-scares. Those crazy 70s carpets might have dated, but if anything this just adds to the film’s unique atmosphere. The actors rise to the standard set by Kubrick and his team. With her wonderfully expressive face and giant doe-eyes, Shelley Duvall is the real star of the film while Jack Nicholson, equally gifted with a face the camera loves, is beyond acting here. His febrile Jack Torrance is the centrepiece of the film, as much a part of its make-up as the Overlook Hotel itself.
Kubrick shows no interest in answering questions. It is hard to find a scene from the film which is not loaded with symbols, but their overall correlation is obscure, and wilfully so. The recent documentary Room 237 gave ear to a wild range of theories as to what is really going on up at the Overlook, but nobody is ever going to find a decisive answer. Stephen King, author of the novel on which the film is based, was reportedly shocked at what had been done to his work when he first saw the film, but a faithful adaptation was probably never on Kubrick’s agenda.
Obviously we cannot let this review go without mention of the scenes which were lost in the European cut. Well, it might be a question of what I was brought up with, but for me the European version is still superior. Whilst some of the cut scenes help to bolster the bizarre atmosphere, they can sometimes be a step too far. Early building on the Torrance family dynamic is intriguing, adding a layer of true-life melancholia to the supernatural shenanigans, but a scene towards the end where Wendy stumbles upon a ghostly dinner party looks like something from Disney’s Haunted Mansion, and punctures the delicious tension. Such niggles aside, though, this re-release is a chance to experience a true classic on the big screen, and is not to be missed.