Shine a Light
Jack wanted to be a writer. Instead, he taught, worked at a car wash, and generally felt like a failure. The Shining then isn’t supernatural horror – it’s domestic. The problems and projection of a middle class family, headed by an abusive, emasculated husband who never feels successful, becomes the “shine.”
Isolated by Colorado’s winter, the Torrances take up residence in a lavish hotel. Rather than appreciate the surroundings, Jack (Jack Nicholson) sees only what he should have. He blames others – that kid, his boring wife; they hold him back.
During Jack’s final rampage (fueled by racism, spite, and alcohol withdrawal), Wendy (Shelly Duvall) grabs a knife. Famously, Jack slams the door with an ax, the perspective facing Duvall, the ax in the middle ground. It’s total helplessness. Duvall cannot escape, the audience cannot help. The Shining is brutally uncomfortable, a show of uncontrolled rage where the past is known: Jack once dislocated his son’s shoulder. Like many domestic victims, Duvall recounts the story from a place of denial.
The Shining is brutally uncomfortable
The Shining is brutally uncomfortable
Denial is everywhere in The Shining. Duvall thinks this spacious hotel can solve or fix the abuse. Nicholson doesn’t accept blame when his son appears with torn clothes and bruises on his neck. The hotel owner blissfully writes off the construction on an Indian burial ground, along with a previous incident of madness. Denial keeps things normal, safe. That is, to a breaking point.
For Jack, that’s when Wendy interrupts his writing, the first glimpse of insanity. It’s always brewing in The Shining, ingeniously suggested by the score. What begins as nominal – a few piano strokes – turns ever bolder, more orchestral, and finally with a choir when rage consumes Jack.
Set design matters too. This enormous hotel provides cover and safety. The Shining then proceeds to shatter those theories that women can leave when men turn violent. Eventually, the hall’s high-ceiling and glamorous ball rooms disappear. What’s left is only a mere bathroom, the abuser closing in his victim who lives in perpetual fear. The choice becomes escape in a blinding blizzard with no sense of where to go, or take a chance and fight.
There’s still Danny (Danny Lloyd). Growing up in a broken home, he snaps too. His nightmares grow from trauma. He imagines a friend, but slowly becomes enveloped in fantasy. That’s Danny’s escape, pedaling from bloody visions and premonitions based on the only life he knows. Victimization doesn’t stop with adults, or with space. It’s always there, looming, and The Shining’s Steadicam use is a masterstroke. And, a masterpiece.
Panning through western mountains, The Shining’s opening moments can readily challenge any IMAX release. The sharpness brings startling definition to the screen. That never dips either. Close-ups grab facial texture even on Danny, while the woolly winter clothes bring phenomenal detail. Carpeting and wood surfaces all show equal firmness. Warner’s 4K scan is all spectacle.
Top-end grain replication handles even the difficult finale where snowy haze fills the frame. No banding or compression cause concern. The encode’s consistency is a marvel.
With Dolby Vision, The Shining doesn’t inherently gain depth. Shadows flatten by modern standards, natural to the cinematography though. The push comes from outside. Windows draw in blinding light, accentuating the white-draped exteriors. That backing turns into an allegorical point, where the flatness inside and the safe escape outside clash. HDR emboldens that.
Small color touch-up bolsters primaries, leaving flesh tones alone. The ‘70s-like carpeting pushes reds and yellows. Splashing blood never looked this dense. Early on, the blue skyline and green forests bring brilliant saturation.
Bringing the DTS-HD 5.1 track from the Blu-ray means the score expands gracefully. Pushing into the surrounds brings atmosphere and space, where the action does not. Mild low-end utilizes available range.
Dialog sits in the center, echoed throughout the halls and naturally enhancing the isolation. Fidelity remains high, and like the video, always consistent.
On the UHD itself, a commentary from Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and historian John Baxter. The Blu-ray picks up the rest.
A retrospective runs a half hour. Kubrick’s style is decoded in a 17-minute piece. The outstanding Making of the Shining is all too simple a title for this half hour look behind-the-scenes, shot by Vivian Kubrick on set and even off; Vivian adds an optional commentary too. Finally, a short interview with composer Wendy Carlos breaks down the creative back-and-forth with Kubrick.
Kubrick’s The Shining doubles as a paranormal horror movie, but works best in its depiction of domestic abuse and the isolation that results.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 54 full resolution 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: