What is there to say about Stanley Kubrick's masterful adaptation of Stephen King's novel that has not already been said? Not much, but the release of The Shining on 4K Ultra HD presents an opportunity to heap more praise on the psychological horror film that author King inexplicably does not like. This cold, slow-burning thriller offers ample symbolism, hypnotic tracking shots and a timeless performance from lead Jack Nicholson. Memorable phrases like "REDRUM!" and "Here's Johnny" are now part of the American lexicon, and the film is widely considered one of the best horror films ever made. I agree with that acclamation, and was thrilled to see Warner Brothers was releasing the title on the latest format. Fans of the film will be delighted with this glorious 4K disc, and this is certainly as close to the theatrical presentation as has ever been available for home viewing.
The story of The Shining is well known: Writer Jack Torrance (Nicholson) agrees to spend the winter as the live-in caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel in the Rocky Mountains, assuming the solitude will allow him to complete his next book. Jack's only company will be his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Things seem OK at first, with Danny enjoying the freedom of exploring the hotel and Wendy playing the dutiful housewife, but Jack soon begins losing his grip on sanity. The Shining is the classic example of the unreliable narrator. As strange happenings begin at the Overlook, just what and whom are viewers to believe? Jack befriends a ghostly bartender, Danny plays with murdered children, and only Wendy seems immune from the worst spooks.
I do not think "The Shining" is King's best novel, but I did enjoy it. There are plenty of differences between the book and film, and King has noted his opinion of Kubrick's movie is largely because he considers it a poor adaptation if a decent standalone work. King wrote the novel at the height of his alcoholism, and it is flush with themes involving the destruction of house and family. Those translate to The Shining, too, but there is certainly less exploration of Jack's internal dialogue in the film. There is nothing but talent on display in front of and behind the camera. If anything, Nicholson might be too good here at times. The veteran actor commands attention with a career-defining performance that is often darkly humorous. King also has criticized Duvall's performance as being shallow and irritating, but I think the actress holds her own pretty well considering she has to compete with Nicholson. The young Lloyd, with his solemn looks and childhood innocence, is also good, and those looking to catch up with Danny should check out the delayed sequel "Doctor Sleep" and its recent film adaptation.
The best films are open for interpretation, discussion and debate, and The Shining certainly fits the bill. What does it all mean? There have been countless ruminations on the film, including the interesting Room 237, and I could write paragraphs that would not necessarily add anything to the conversation. I like that the film and novel can exist contemporaneously, and each is effective. Kubrick really did pare down the novel to its core, and focuses on what makes the story so compelling. That exploration involves diving into themes of loneliness, discontent and homicidal tendencies. There is, of course, some startling imagery, and waves of blood pouring from the hotel's elevators is among the most memorable. I always wonder whether Jack was crazy from the get-go; if the man who broke his son's arm was always destined to try to kill him? Is Jack caught in a vortex of sins, or is Jack just following in the footsteps of the fallible men before him?
The 4K Ultra HD release allows the fantastic cinematography of John Alcott to shine. Most impressive are beautiful outdoor landscapes and the frightening, expansive hallways of the Overlook. Every glistening pan and knife in the kitchen is menacing in its clarity, and the performances register as never before. The direction here is simply masterful, and The Shining does not waste any of its 144 minutes. The score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind is effectively simple, and it complements The Shining's boiler-room anxieties of encroaching dread and menace. The visuals, narrative, direction and performance by Nicholson are all among the most effective in horror-film history, and Stanley Kubrick's chilling The Shining remains a masterwork on the eve of its 40th birthday.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
It should take about five minutes for anyone on the fence about 4K Ultra HD to become a convert when watching this exceptional transfer. Shot on 35 mm film, The Shining's 1.78:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer offers Dolby Vision and HDR10/HDR10+ for its native 4K source. The original camera negative was scanned in 4K by Warner Brothers, and Kubrick's longtime assistant Leon Vitali assisted with the restoration. This is a reference presentation, plain and simple.
Detail is absolutely off the charts, from mountainous landscapes to facial features to texture in fabrics and on sets. Film grain is present and natural, colors are beautifully saturated, and highlights never bloom. Skin tones are accurate, and close-up shots reveal intimate facial details. Every nook and cranny of the Overlook is visible as never before on home video, and Kubrick's extended tracking shots are stunning in their natural presentation. There are some tricky shots for this disc to handle, including many low-light scenes and shots through and in heavy snow. This could lead to noise, blurring or clumpy grain, but that is absolutely not an issue here. Black levels are inky, shadow detail is impressive, and black crush is also not a problem. The HDR pass is pleasing, and, while it does not offer drastic color differences, it gives the film a vibrant, lifelike appearance throughout, even when the colors and action are somber. I noticed no issues with compression artifacts and only very slight banding in a couple of overhead shots.
This disc includes a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that is a fine presentation. Purists may decry the absence of the film's original mono mix, which frankly should have been and could have been included, but this surround presentation is an excellent substitute. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. The score is weighty and mixed appropriately, though some of the more menacing cues are mixed rather loudly compared to effects and dialogue. This surround mix does a good job of replicating the Overlook's space, particularly in scenes like Danny's tricycle ride and Jack's flight through the hedge maze. Ambient effects like snow and barroom noise surround the viewer, and more action-heavy sequences send heavy ax thuds about the sound field, with assistance from the LFE. Numerous 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs and subtitle options are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set arrives in a black eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover with striking key artwork. This combo pack includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a remastered Blu-ray (not available to own separately at this time) and a Movies Anywhere digital copy code. Extras are ported from the 2007 Blu-ray edition and include an Audio Commentary by Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and Stanley Kubrick biographer John Baxter, which appears on both discs. The remainder of extras appear only on the Blu-ray: Views from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining (30:22/HD), a making-of piece; The Visions of Stanley Kubrick (17:17/HD), a career retrospective for the late director; The Making of The Shining (34:59/HD), a BBC special; and Wendy Carlos: Composer (7:31/HD), a short interview.
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining more than earns its reputation as one of the best horror films of all time, thanks to the director's talent behind the camera, a career-defining performance by Jack Nicholson and plenty of dramatic and horrific intrigue. Warner Brothers' new 4K Ultra HD disc offers only recycled extras, but the wonderful 4K transfer alone warrants my highest recommendation: DVD Talk Collector Series.