The Shining (1980)

Very few film adaptations can be said to be unquestionably better than the books they are based on in every way.  The Shining is one such film.

As a fan of Stephen King I had resisted seeing The Shining due to Stephen King's dislike of the adaptation.  The film is indeed quite different from the novel; the changes go way beyond those one would normally expect in adapting a 200,000 word novel into a two hour film.  Whereas King's novel focuses on how alcohol can turn a decent man on his family, Kubrick's movie seems to assume that the same man is bad from the start and seemingly destined to go off the deep end.

I can thus appreciate that King himself is not a fan of the film and I would not blame a diehard fan of the novel for looking down on the adaptation.  Having said that, I believe that King's novel would have been almost impossible to film effectively as it was in 1980 and I appreciate the work that went into changing not only the story but the characters as well in order to get it up on the screen.  This is really a fantastic movie that is beautiful to look at and atmospheric in a way that the original novel is not.

Jack Torrance accepts a job as caretaker of a massive hotel during the winter, and brings his wife Wendy and young son Danny along.  The hotel is remote and secluded and a previous caretaker had gone stir-crazy and murdered his family with an axe.  Jack has got no problem with that, since he wants to be left alone to do some writing.

The movie then follows Jack's (predictable) descent into madness as he first becomes frustrated
with Wendy's interrupting him while he is writing, then becomes seemingly jealous of her closeness with their son.

It's a great movie, and the pacing is perfect; before you know it you have been sitting there for two hours and the movie is over.  As far as I am concerned the movie is perfect... if not for two things (one of which is not really the fault of the movie).

First, Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Torrance, while fun, is so over the top he is almost campy.  As a madman stalking his family with an axe he's fine, but he gives Torrance a menacing edge from the very first scene.  He is constantly fidgeting and making bizarre facial expressions even when he is supposed to be "normal" at the start of the movie.  It's possible that the intent was to show that Torrance was off from the very beginning, but I would have appreciated a gradual descent into madness rather than going from "kinda crazy already" to "jumping off the walls insane."

The other problem I have with this movie is actually a problem with the novel.  The titular Shining (Danny's psychic powers) just does not work for me.  In the novel it plays a more important role, since the hotel itself is some kind of entity and wants to eat Danny's "Shining" powers.  Even when I first read the novel in high school, I felt the book would have been better off without explaining this at all.

Watching the movie, I feel like Kubrick wanted to reduce the importance of the supernatural stuff, but had to keep the Shining in for the title to make any sense.  This is downplayed so much that the character of Halloran, who shares a psychic connection with Danny, could pretty much have been cut from the film with no effect.  As it is, he exists to deliver exposition (on the Shining itself) and then rush in during the last scene to be killed.  The movie would have been stronger without the explanation.

It thus goes without saying that I approve of the changes made to the supernatural elements of the story.  I feel like they distract from what the film is saying, but even distract us from the point of the novel.

Having said that, the film works as is, as does the novel.  They are different enough that it is worth experiencing both.

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