REVIEW: The 4K Restoration Of THE SHINING Is Mandatory Viewing
Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of WB's newly-restored, 4K version of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. This is the version of the film that screened at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the one with the gorgeous cover box art we showcased here on the site a few weeks ago. It was, to put it in extremely mild and polite terms, fucking awesome.
Before this screening, I hadn't actually sat down and watched The Shining in several years, maybe even longer. This is a film I grew up with (it is, in fact, the first legit horror movie I ever saw, making it something of a cornerstone in my love for the genre), a film I've seen so often that I can rattle off entire scenes' worth of dialogue in real time without missing a beat. The Shining is in my DNA and I love it, but I've seen it about as many times as one can see a movie before feeling like they've full absorbed whatever the filmmaker was aiming for. I'd passed on the opportunity to see the film projected in 35mm when it rolled through town last October, citing this exact reason, but when the chance to see the 4K restoration arose, I leapt at it immediately. I'm very, very glad I did.
The 4K restoration of The Shining isn't quite a revelation - it doesn't, for instance, contain the long lost "alternate ending" some hoped for - but the clarity of the image absolutely makes the viewing experience feel fresh again. This version looks like it was shot just last week, with new details I'd never noticed popping off the screen in every direction: the toys in Danny's bedroom, the layout of the Torrance apartment, the posters slapped on the walls in the auto-body shop Dick Halloran calls upon landing in Colorado. Virtually everywhere I looked, there was some new texture or detail to absorb, some of which truly caught me off-guard. These details don't change the narrative, obviously, but their combined effect made for a more immersive experience than I'd ever had with this particular film. It wasn't quite the same as seeing The Shining again for the first time, but it was in the ballpark.
Revisiting Kubrick's film also gave me a chance to reevaluate my stance on the performances contained therein. With Doctor Sleep headed to theaters, there's been a resurgence in the ol' "Is The Shining a good Stephen King adaptation?" debate, a tedious conversation that always boils down to "The Jack Torrance of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is not the Jack Torrance of Stephen King's novel." These circular debates are popular on social media (see also: "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?"), but this one actually seems to have a correct answer. Namely: Kubrick's The Shining is not Stephen King's The Shining, they are both good in their own ways, and the disparity between Kubrick's Jack and King's Jack is all but irrelevant in the face of Nicholson's performance, which is one for the ages. In the screening I attended last night, I spent no small amount of time soaking up Nicholson's every twitch and tic, and marveled at the razor-sharp textures on his clothing.
Nicholson's performance is very nearly matched by the one turned in by Shelley Duvall, whose Wendy Torrance spends the bulk of the film desperately trying to navigate her husband's increasingly vicious bullying (it probably goes without saying that Jack's "bullying" quickly arrives at "full-on abuse" and then "attempted murder", but I'll make a note of it here, anyway, lest anyone think I'm minimizing). Knowing what we know now about Kubrick's treatment of Duvall on the Shining set, it's obvious that Wendy's exhaustion and hysteria are not an act. The thought's largely irrelevant to the restoration work that's been done to the film, but on this viewing I found myself feeling more sympathy for Wendy Torrance than ever before, and felt a real burst of triumph in the third act when she finally turns the tables on Jack.
It's weird watching a movie like The Shining now, especially in a theatrical environment. As my brain gets further poisoned by being so tragically Online (an x-ray would likely reveal my skull to be filled with liquid garbage), I notice that it's harder and harder for me to watch anything at home without futzing around on my phone. That is, of course, a personal failing, and one I'll have to contend with in my own time, but for now it means that I cherish the theatrical experience above any other type of viewing: seeing a film in a theater forces me to shut out everything else around me, to really give myself over to whatever's happening onscreen. This certainly contributed to the response I had to seeing Kubrick's film again last night, but there's more to it than that.
The Shining is a bonafide classic. By this point, almost every scene is so iconic, the experience of watching it - truly watching it - feels something like devouring a Greatest Hits collection. Oh, here comes the Pantry Tour scene! Here comes Danny's steadicam ride through the halls of the hotel! Hey, look, it's Jack making out with a corpse in a bathroom that's positively dripping with late-'70s aesthetics! To watch The Shining in 2019, especially in a format that's debatably "better" than any version that's come before, is to feel content knowing you are in the presence of art that will long outlive you, I and everyone we know. This sounds hyperbolic, I know, but track down a 4K screening of The Shining and see if you disagree.
Anyway, I didn't think such a thing was possible, but the 4K restoration of The Shining made me fall madly in love with Kubrick's horror masterpiece all over again. If you have the opportunity to see it in a theater, I cannot recommend that experience highly enough. And if that's unavailable to you, well, the good news is that The Shining's 4K restoration will hit home video this October. If you have a 4K player, go ahead and order your copy now. I promise you won't be disappointed.