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Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Dick Hallorann: “Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”

Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining is a lot tougher for me to evaluate, because I’m still profoundly ambivalent about the whole thing. I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result. Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fall flat … Not that religion has to be involved in horror, but a visceral skeptic such as Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of The Overlook Hotel.

So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones. That was the basic flaw: because he couldn’t believe, he couldn’t make the film believable to others. What’s basically wrong with Kubrick’s version of The Shining is that it’s a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little; and that’s why, for all its virtuoso effects, it never gets you by the throat and hangs on the way real horror should. I’d like to remake The Shining someday, maybe even direct it if anybody will give me enough rope to hang myself with …” — Stephen King

Stephen King may not like it, but The Shining is the best adaptation of one of his books by a wide margin. I’m watching it right now out of the corner of my eye, cut to ribbons on television with a million commercials, and even with all of that interference, it stills stands up as an absolutely brilliant and deeply frightening piece of work. Kubrick’s attention to detail, coupled with his meticulous camerawork – tracking shots that seem to go on forever – to say nothing of Jack Nicholson’s performance, the deserted hotel itself, and Scatman Crothers in his finest role, combine to make a film that’s one of the director’s most intriguing, innovative, and satisfying works.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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