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THE SHINING (1980) 
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
Nothing new to add to the critical discussion, but what's with that 1921 photograph at the very end of the film? Was he himself a ghost, then, imagining the "reality" of the film? Or does he get trapped in the photograph with the other ghosts upon his death?


Sat Mar 14, 2009 9:32 pm
Post Re: Standard Edition
James Berardinelli wrote:
Grant Wood wrote:
I just got The Shining from Netflix and they sent me the standard edition which is a disappointment. I remember when DVDs first came out all Stanley Kubrick movies were released only in standard format. It was reported that this was his wish and intention as he felt the black boxes were a distraction. I see that the Blu-ray version issued in 2007 is offered in widescreen. I imagine this policy has been reversed with the popularity of HD.

Netflix is usually good about sending the widescreen version. I must have got an old DVD. That's a phrase I never thought I'd say. It was still a beautifully shot film and a joy to watch again. I hadn't seen it since 1992.


Kubrick was against his movies being released in widescreen, but that was before the advent of widescreen TVs. Who knows how he would have felt about it today?

Incidentally, the full screen versions of his film actually contain more information than the widescreen ones. For the widescreen transfers, the full screen versions were matted to cut off the bottom and top information.


While there really is no way to know EXACTLY how he felt, there have been some storyboards for The Shining that have been shown, with a note to shoot for 1.85:1, but to protect for 1.33:1. Which has led some to suspect that Kubrick's position wasn't necessarily, "I prefer full frame to widescreen," but more than likely, "Don't you dare crop my films."


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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
cornflakes wrote:
Nothing new to add to the critical discussion, but what's with that 1921 photograph at the very end of the film? Was he himself a ghost, then, imagining the "reality" of the film? Or does he get trapped in the photograph with the other ghosts upon his death?


That's one of the brilliant aspects of the film. We don't know. My guess would be the first though. Remember how he keeps saying "It feels like I've been here before", I think he was reliving the same life over and over again and he just wasn't realizing it, and he was there in 1921. Kubrick basically leaves it up to us to decide, both your guesses are good ones, I think he was experiencing the same life over and over.

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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
DunkinDan89 wrote:
cornflakes wrote:
Nothing new to add to the critical discussion, but what's with that 1921 photograph at the very end of the film? Was he himself a ghost, then, imagining the "reality" of the film? Or does he get trapped in the photograph with the other ghosts upon his death?


That's one of the brilliant aspects of the film. We don't know. My guess would be the first though. Remember how he keeps saying "It feels like I've been here before", I think he was reliving the same life over and over again and he just wasn't realizing it, and he was there in 1921. Kubrick basically leaves it up to us to decide, both your guesses are good ones, I think he was experiencing the same life over and over.


I know there's a link to a blog on The Shining's FAQ page on IMDB which actually has a good theory...albeit a ridiculous one.


Thu Apr 02, 2009 1:52 pm
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
The Jack Nicholson we see in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is an impenetrable void; he is either a man so completely lost that his mind is capable of being manipulated to commit the most unspeakable acts of evil, or he is so mad that his descent into violence and rage is simply inevitable, and what happens through the course of the film is not the manipulation of demonic forces, but rather their quiet persuasion. By now, I have viewed The Shining enough times to know its rhythm and its mood, to be familiar with its quiet nature and the dreamlike spell that it places over us. I know this film. But Nicholson is the impossible element here—he is the monkey wrench thrown into the clockwork of an otherwise fairly routine haunted house thriller. What moves him? Why does he do what he does? Can such evil and terror be explained, or can it only be experienced? Jack is to The Shining what the monoliths are to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: The unknown, inexplicable entity that reminds us that for all we think we know, humans are but ignorant spectators in this universe. The key difference: The monoliths were beacons of enlightenment, and The Shining concerns the forces in this universe that are most definitely not on our side.

Stanley Kubrick’s genius, I think, was his ability to take routine, overdone topics and revitalize them in ways that reminded us of their original power—to use familiar topics and turn them into tangible but bottomless mysteries, in turn reminding us how helpless and inexperienced we are under the weight of the cosmos. In his opus 2001, the topic was space travel. In Eyes Wide Shut, it was our sexuality. In Paths to Glory, it was war. In Full Metal Jacket, it was specifically Vietnam. In Dr. Strangelove, it was no less than the end of the world. The Shining concerns the supernatural—demons and ghosts, or at least the power that their suggestion has over us. What causes a house to be haunted? Does it remember the terrible things that have gone on under its roof? Are the ghosts of its dead forced to remain there, repeating their crimes over and over again for all eternity as a sort of penance? What makes a man become possessed by evil entities; better yet, is he possessed at all, or simply allowing the ghosts’ influence to unleash his own, vile instincts? These are certainly not original questions, but by not providing the answers, Kubrick gives them a power that we never knew they had.

On the surface, The Shining is a ghost story a la The Amityville Horror; in fact, the two films’ plotlines (and the books they are based on) share a great deal in common: A family moves into a new home (or, more specifically in Kubrick’s film, they are winter innkeepers for a hotel) that has a history of violence and death. Through the course of both films, supernatural entities reveal themselves and possess the husband/father, who begins pleasant enough, quickly turns aloof, and then finally snaps into an axe-murderer in the final act. The radical difference between the two films is that The Amityville Horror is content with maintaining the conventions of such a storyline and keeping things on the level of fast-paced, jump thrills and technical achievement. On the other hand, director Jean-Luc Godard famous said that the best way to critique a movie is to make another movie, and this is exactly what Kubrick has done: He uses the foundation of a routine film and repackages it as a deeply psychological character study that not only takes ghosts and possession seriously, but gives them the dignity of remaining shaded in their mystery and unclear motivations. There are no expositions of why the ghosts inhabit the hotel, and why they manipulate Nicholson’s brain—they simply do, and we are left to interpret the clues. If The Amityville Horror’s limited power was in its cheap thrills, The Shining is a study of pure, relentless terror. It knows what Amityville did not: That no true specter remains trapped on Earth to simply make us jump. It has a incentive, good or evil, that is entirely its own.

The key to Kubrick’s vision is Nicholson: After countless viewings of The Shining, I remain convinced that it is impossible to really know what is going on in his head, and why he eventually succumbs to the demons of Overlook Hotel. Crucial opening sequences establish Nicholson as a professional—a school teacher and a well-educated man who seems, at least on the surface, to be a perfectly capable member of society. But for Kubrick, subtext is everything: We sense the depression and madness ticking behind Nicholson’s eyes. At first, we’re not sure, but before long, we don’t question the presence of his insanity, but its depth. I suspect that Nicholson has been drawn to this hotel long before we enter the film; it beckons the unstable desperation within him, and he has answered its call. It seems to me that he came to the hotel to intentionally become the monster that the ghosts encourage him to be; on the other hand, there is a moment of tenderness between him and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) that suggests that he is a good man who is slowly losing his mind to the ghosts. So the question remains: Why does he snap and go after his wife (Shelley Duvall) and child?

Nicholson plays the part of this deranged father as an uncomfortable cross between ham and psychopath. It is one of the great screen performances because it convincingly creates a barrier between us and his character that is as far sanity is from madness (are the two really that far apart anyway?—another essential question that the performance asks us to consider). We cannot know what motivates a person to do the things that Nicholson does, but history teaches us that such people continue to exist. I think that demonic possession is as good an explanation as any; Kubrick agrees, but suggests that supernatural evil is only drawn to those willing to embrace it in the first place.

Cabin fever also seems to be a key player in the proceedings. Sans the presence of little Danny’s telekinetic ability (which I shall not write another word on and allow it to unfold as Kubrick wills for any uninitiated viewer), it might be possible to interpret the events of the film as a descent into madness that exists only in the characters’ minds. I am reminded of Robert Service’s poem “The Ballad of Pious Pete” that carefully details the story of a good man whose isolation creates supernatural hallucinations that eventually drive him to murder. Kubrick plays with such isolation here: Though the hotel is large and expansive, he almost always provides close shots of the characters surrounded by tight, almost suffocating angles. Kubrick will not allow us to watch Nicholson taunt his wife from across a large room, for example, when we can get a shot right underneath him, allowing him to fill up the entire screen like some sort of looming monster. The tight tension is nearly as maddening as the presence of the supernatural. The power of mental suggestion is also in full force here: Shots of a white room filling up with blood are contrasted to the red and white paint in a bathroom, and it’s difficult not to relate the two images. Is it possible that the ghosts and possessions are simply in the minds of a few people who have been stranded far away from civilization? Does the truth really matter, in light of what eventually happens? The ghosts are real enough even if they are hallucinations.

The signs of mental illness run deeper than cabin fever: A heroic cook’s (Scatman Crothers) “attraction” to little Danny has something to do with a “shared” ability that they discuss in such secretive whispers that we’re forced to question the true motivations of the older man. There is a scene between the cook and the child that on one hand serves as almost unnecessary exposition about their “gift;” on the other hand, its underlining tone is disturbing and revealing: Why is Danny so ashamed to talk about his “secret,” and why does the cook press him to “open up?” Is Danny’s “secret” a gift at all, or simply a child’s naivety that, through the power of suggestion, the cook tries to exploit for his own perverse intentions? I admit that this is only my interpretation, but I think I’m on the right track here: Watch the scene out of context to the rest of the film, stripped away from any of its supernatural elements, and you’ll see what I’m getting at. On this level, what do Danny and the cook seem to be talking about?

Those familiar with The Shining and its origins will notice that I have yet to make any mention of Stephen King, who of course wrote the novel of the same name that inspired Kubrick’s film. It is indeed curious to note that the film’s full title is often listed as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and not “Stephen King’s.” That’s because this film does not belong to King, but to Kubrick. Comparable to Kubrick’s collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke on 2001, Kubrick is not interested in adapting another person’s story so much as he wants to use the notes of the written word as a springboard for his own ideas and obsessions. He interprets the book without adapting it: Events and characters are similar in both works, but Kubrick’s themes are his own. King’s novel was expansive and revealing—not a single question is left unanswered by its conclusion. In viewing Kubrick’s interpretation of the book, we suspect that he considered King’s revelations to be cheap magician tricks over serious explorations of ghosts and madness, and he therefore threw out King’s explanations to create his own vague story that demands answers without providing any. As a result, King is almost completely absent from this film.


Mon May 09, 2011 6:58 pm
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
con't


Authors collaborating with Kubrick seem to have a history of being baffled by what the director did to their works, so much that they have often provided follow-ups that attempt to clear up all of Kubrick’s vagueness. Arthur C. Clarke was seemingly so bewildered by 2001 that he made a sequel that attempted to answer all of the previous film’s questions in the most straightforward manner possible. The result was a good but vastly inferior film whose existence only demonstrated the power of Kubrick’s unanswered questions. The Shining followed a similar path: King, who wasn’t a fan of Kubrick’s film, eventually wrote the screenplay for a nearly word-for-word adaptation of his novel that became a network miniseries. This miniseries was indeed more thorough, explaining in detail the identity of the ghosts, their motivations, and why the father character eventually snaps. Yet as we watch the miniseries, a curious thing happens: We often want to plug our ears our look away from the screen. We don’t want to know the answers, as they only serve to rob the hotel of its mystique and authority. The questions are enough to make us feel the effects that supernatural powers hold over us. By providing explanations, the ghosts become plot developments instead of pure forces of evil. What answer, after all, will ever suffice as to why evil and madness exist? Will knowing the answers stop evil from existing?

The difference between the two films boils down to this: Kubrick understood humanity enough to know that evil cannot be pigeonholed, and that its enigmatic existence only serves to remind us how helpless we are against our own nature. King, it seems, wanted to tell a good horror story without ever bothering to consider such important questions. He moves along explaining his plot twists because to him, they are simply questions that need to be answered for his self-contained horror story to arrive full circle. Kubrick looked far deeper, beyond King, past his plot and into its implications, without ever stopping to allow the author to catch up with him. Watching the two films together, we see that they hardly have any similarities at all. It is impossible to know how King’s film would have fared if it hadn’t been in the shadow of Kubrick; nevertheless, history has recorded that it is Kubrick’s vision, not King’s, that has stood the test of time.

Today, The Shining undoubtedly nears the top of the short list of great modern horror films ("modern" meaning post-atomic age and not counting Hammer films, which found most of their influence from the Universal pictures of the 1930s-40s). Also on my personal list, in no particular order: The Exorcist, Psycho, Herzog’s Nosferatu, Alien, Romero’s Dead films, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (a Hammer that plays so freshly that I'm making an exception), Halloween, The Beyond, Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, Session 9, and Frailty. Of these titles, I would probably only give The Exorcist the edge over The Shining as the greatest horror film ever made, but to be fair, they are completely different films with entirely different intentions. Both concern demonic possession, but The Exorcist’s chief possession—that of a little girl—served as a metaphor for the quieter, more subtle demons present throughout the film (a priest doubts his faith, a wife separates from her cheating husband, etc). The demon of that film is a physical manifestation of the demons we all face. The Shining is not a metaphor for demons, but an exploration of their evil in our lives. Do demons make us monsters, or do our monstrous actions create our own demons? Do we even dare approach this question, lest we force ourselves to peer too deep for comfort into our own nature? The Shining dares.


Mon May 09, 2011 6:58 pm
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
Human Rain

Now I read your review of The Shining.

Outstanding. I am in awe!

You've achieved several things:

1) I want to see the film again
2) You have forced me to reappraise my position. I'm a huge fan of Kubrick but never rated this film as one of his greats.
2) I will view it through a different lens with particular reference to Jack Nicholson's "performance" and the comparison with The Exorcist.

Thanks so much
Rob


Tue May 10, 2011 11:33 am
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
The Shining, I believe, is as good as a film as Kubrick ever made. The trick is emptying yourself of expectations you personally have on the narrative and its association with King and to allow Kubrick's mood and images to work their magic. This is a movie about alcoholism, obsession, child abuse, madness, and perhaps ghosts... and how exploiting the weakness in man is reveals the most horrifying storyline of all.

Incidentally, the best essay I've ever read about this film is Ebert's, for his Great Movies series. Check it out here, it's really a fascinating reading of the film.


Tue May 10, 2011 2:52 pm
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
Human Rain wrote:
The Shining, I believe, is as good as a film as Kubrick ever made. The trick is emptying yourself of expectations you personally have on the narrative and its association with King and to allow Kubrick's mood and images to work their magic. This is a movie about alcoholism, obsession, child abuse, madness, and perhaps ghosts... and how exploiting the weakness in man is reveals the most horrifying storyline of all.

Incidentally, the best essay I've ever read about this film is Ebert's, for his Great Movies series. Check it out here, it's really a fascinating reading of the film.



Never read Stephen King
Rob


Tue May 10, 2011 3:48 pm
Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
cornflakes wrote:
Nothing new to add to the critical discussion, but what's with that 1921 photograph at the very end of the film? Was he himself a ghost, then, imagining the "reality" of the film? Or does he get trapped in the photograph with the other ghosts upon his death?

I could have sworn I responded to this already, but I don't seem to have posted in this thread. Maybe it was somewhere else.

Anyway, my own interpretation (take it with a grain of salt) is that the Overlook Hotel exists in something like a closed loop in time. The same events keep happening over and over again. The catch is, it's never an exact match. Instead of being 1 to 1, right on the nose, it's more like 1.5 to 1. Alike in the broad strokes, but different in the specific details.

There's always a family, always a party, always a caretaker who falls one can short of a six-pack. We are told by Mr. Grady, who has always been there, that Mr. Torrance has always been the caretaker. Jack has been there before--or, if not Jack, then another Mr. Torrance much like him.

Therefore, the guy in the photograph was always there. Perhaps they simply overlooked him.*



(*Sorry. I couldn't help myself.)


Tue May 10, 2011 4:18 pm
Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
Ken wrote:
cornflakes wrote:
Nothing new to add to the critical discussion, but what's with that 1921 photograph at the very end of the film? Was he himself a ghost, then, imagining the "reality" of the film? Or does he get trapped in the photograph with the other ghosts upon his death?


I could have sworn I responded to this already, but I don't seem to have posted in this thread. Maybe it was somewhere else.

Anyway, my own interpretation (take it with a grain of salt) is that the Overlook Hotel exists in something like a closed loop in time. The same events keep happening over and over again. The catch is, it's never an exact match. Instead of being 1 to 1, right on the nose, it's more like 1.5 to 1. Alike in the broad strokes, but different in the specific details.

There's always a family, always a party, always a caretaker who falls one can short of a six-pack. We are told by Mr. Grady, who has always been there, that Mr. Torrance has always been the caretaker. Jack has been there before--or, if not Jack, then another Mr. Torrance much like him.

Therefore, the guy in the photograph was always there. Perhaps they simply overlooked him.*

(*Sorry. I couldn't help myself.)


Love the pun.

I like how you view it. The way I see it the Overlook is its own malevolent entity. While many (including King, I believe) think that Kubrick tweaked the material so that the film is less supernatural and more 'NICHOLSON'S GONE FUCKING NUTS, but the film doesn't support that. From Shelley Duvall spotting this doozy in one of her (many) fits of terror

Image

to Danny spotting the Grady twins in the hall

Image
Image

and of course, the 1921 image that concludes the film.

Image

Of course the photo is of a party. The Hotel has been gathering its attendees for years and Jack Torrence is standing front and center, the Overlook's latest inductee. The Grady's weren't so lucky but Wendy and Danny were able to escape; 'Wish you were here' indeed.


Fri Sep 16, 2011 4:31 am
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
Sorry for the dramatic thread necromancy, but having just read James' review and considering that The Shining is always fructive for good discussion I figured what the heck.

With regard to Nicholson's performance: opinions about it aside, I do think James is flat-out wrong when he says this:

Quote:
However, as Jack's grip on sanity loosens and eventually breaks, Nicholson starts chewing on the scenery (as is at times his wont).


That comment is a judgment on Nicholson when by all accounts, for better or for worse, Kubrick coerced exactly the performance he wanted out of his lead, often only after dozens and dozens of takes. Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown relates that throughout this incredible repetition, Nicholson's performance ran the gamut from quite reserved to flat-out unfettered mugging by the latter takes, and Kubrick almost always favored the most manic versions in post-production. George C. Scott complained of a similar technique by Kubrick for his character's stuff in Dr. Strangelove.

Obviously, that doesn't invalidate any criticism of the performance, but it's often incorrectly cited as an example of Nicholson being out of control. Kubrick didn't fail to "reel him in"; he pushed Nicholson to that territory. The fact that the director considered the performance "a great one" (and he did, defending it to Steven Spielberg post-release by comparing Nicholson to James Cagney) perhaps gives some perspective as to what Kubrick may have been going for with his interpretation of the character. I think Kubrick essentially wanted to depict his Jack Torrance as a silent movie villain, and the dramatic physical eccentricities, the wild eyebrows, broad facial expressions and general hamming are all part of that. Consider that this is a character who literally is reduced to a grunting hunchback by the end. He's an animal. I do feel that it is a brilliant performance, and it's unquestionably an iconic one, even if nuance doesn't have a whole lot to do with it. With regard to Torrance's unhinged nature being telegraphed early in the story, it seems this was deliberate as well. Kubrick's take on the character from a rare interview about the film:

Quote:
Jack comes to the hotel psychologically prepared to do its murderous bidding. He doesn't have very much further to go for his anger and frustration to become completely uncontrollable. He is bitter about his failure as a writer. He is married to a woman for whom he has only contempt. He hates his son. In the hotel, at the mercy of its powerful evil, he is quickly ready to fulfill his dark role.


The question of how much of a role the supernatural plays in the movie is of course at the heart of how unsettling it is, because we're never really sure. It does seem to be the case that a ghost literally releases Jack from the storage locker toward the end, but that isn't some skeleton key to the puzzle box; it only complicates things further, because it introduces one more possibility for everything in the movie. The interpretations of the rest of the visions being all or in part the characters' imagination remain perfectly valid. Given that the hotel is haunted, AND Jack is going insane AND Danny receives (and possibly even transmits to his parents) subjective psychic visions that he doesn't really have any control over makes almost everything that happens open to interpretation. Danny, who is an abused and traumatized boy on top of everything, is just as unreliable as Jack. And even Wendy starts seeing the crazy stuff by the end. It seems to me that the relentless ambiguity is the entire point. Kubrick once summarized the movie as "just the story of one man's family quietly going insane together."

Stephen King's hatred of the movie is easy to understand; Kubrick tells essentially a complete different story with a complete different intent than the novel, and a lot of what he discarded was apparently of personal significance to King, who was once himself a struggling alcoholic and was inspired by the horror of occasionally feeling contempt for his own children. Kubrick abandons the human element and makes his Jack way less sympathetic and multi-dimensional, but that's just an artifact of him telling a completely different story, not a less legitimate one. I don't even view it as much of an adaptation - I think Kubrick saw a particular aspect of King's novel that inspired him and ran with it. There remain enough elements of King's work in the film to pose legal issues if he didn't acquire the rights, and of course there is the commercial advantage of being "based on" a bestseller. King's inability to be objective is understandable, but for the rest of us, simply viewing them as separate works should be easy enough. And I have to say King's "rebuttal" in the form of the more faithful 1997 miniseries is not a particularly convincing one, and some of his specific criticisms/suggestions for Kubrick's version (one of them being that Jack should have popped up in a shock scare after the typewriter reveal) are kind of atrocious.

The marketing material at the time of release described the film as the first "epic horror." Can anyone think of a horror film with a larger scope than this one? It's pretty ambitious in this regard.


Fri Nov 08, 2013 6:52 pm
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
I don't care what motivation Kubrick had, all I know is Nicholson's performance in this film just did not work for me, it was impossible to take it seriously, I think Kubrick made a mistake in coercing him to go over-the-top. In this case I believe a more subtle performance would've been better, sometimes less is more. King's suggestions sound slightly better to me, though not enough for me to actually watch the mini-series.


Fri Nov 08, 2013 9:45 pm
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Post Re: THE SHINING (1980)
I watched the miniseries recently. Steven Weber is really good in it and he hews much closer to what King was looking for. But--and herein lies the issue--King's Jack Torrance and Kubrick's Jack Torrance are two very different characters. They call for two very different performances. Weber's performance would have been every bit as out of place in the Kubrick version as Nicholson's would have been in the TV series.

I realize this is one of those major "agree to disagree" points with film fans, but I love Nicholson's performance in The Shining. I find his surreal malevolence in keeping with the surreal malevolence that the movie gives off in general. In King's original vision (which I do like), Jack is a workaday shlub who holds a lot of guilt about his failings, and the hotel exploits that guilt to break him down. In Kubrick and Nicholson's hands, Jack is so unhappy with his life to begin with that it doesn't take much convincing for him to find new purpose in Grady's "business". Those are two very different problems for a character to have. In my view, when you change a character's problems, you end up with a different character, period. King's Jack is right for King and Kubrick's Jack is right for Kubrick.

Jason already addressed King's understandable personal reasons for objecting to the change to the Jack character. Somewhat less understandable is King's objection to the way Kubrick portrayed the Overlook. In King's vision, the Overlook is unabashedly a haunted house. Creepy supernatural stuff happens there, long before Jack becomes a magnet for the hotel's energies. There's nothing wrong with that approach, but there's nothing inherently superior about it, either. Kubrick, on the other hand, toes the line. The Overlook is a place where frightening things happen, but whether or not it is a supernatural place is kept ambiguous until the end.

King saw this as a failure on Kubrick's part and thought that Kubrick's skepticism was negatively influencing the story. I'm not so sure about that. King's objection in this regard doesn't seem to have much of an evidentiary basis, aside from "My idea was first." Both ideas are perfectly valid, though after watching the miniseries, I find myself thinking that King's haunted house moments are definitely better-suited to prose than cinema.

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Fri Nov 08, 2013 10:11 pm
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