THE SHINING (1980) Reviews of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic horror take on Stephen King

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The Shining is a 1980 horror feature film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson. The movie stars Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, and Danny Lloyd. The film is based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining.



An aspiring writer, Jack Torrance, takes a job as an off-season caretaker at an isolated hotel. His young son Danny possesses psychic abilities and is able to see things from the past and future, such as the ghosts who inhabit the hotel.

Soon after settling in, the family is trapped in the hotel by a snowstorm, and Jack gradually becomes influenced by a supernatural presence; he descends into madness and attempts to murder his wife and son…


Unlike previous Kubrick films, which developed an audience gradually by building on word-of-mouth, The Shining was released as a mass-market film, opening at first in just two cities on Memorial Day, then nationwide a month later.

Although initial response to the film was mixed, including negative comments by King himself, later critical assessment was more favourable and it is now generally viewed as a classic of the horror genre. That said, it still has its detractors.


The initial European release of The Shining was 25 minutes shorter than the American version, achieved by removing most of the scenes taking place outside the environs of the hotel.

In accordance with stipulations contained in Kubrick’s will, DVD releases show the film in open matte rather than letterboxed.


The Shining was shot on sound stages at EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England. The set for the Overlook Hotel was then the largest ever built, including a full re-creation of the exterior of the hotel.

A few exterior shots by a second-unit crew were filmed at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. These shots are notable because of the absence of the hedge maze.


At the end of the film, the camera zooms slowly towards a wall in the Overlook and a 1921 photograph, revealed to include Jack Torrance seen at the middle of a 1921 party.

In an interview with Michel Ciment, Kubrick overtly declared that Jack was a reincarnation of an earlier official at the hotel. Still, this has not stopped interpreters from developing alternative readings, such as that Jack has been “absorbed” into the Overlook Hotel.

Film critic Jonathan Romney, while acknowledging the absorption theory, wrote “As the ghostly butler Grady (Philip Stone) tells him during their chilling confrontation in the men’s toilet, ‘You’re the caretaker, sir. You’ve always been the caretaker.’ Perhaps in some earlier incarnation, Jack really was around in 1921, and it’s his present-day self that is the shadow, the phantom photographic copy. But if his picture has been there all along, why has no one noticed it?

After all, it’s right at the centre of the central picture on the wall, and the Torrances have had a painfully drawn-out winter of mind-numbing leisure in which to inspect every corner of the place. Is it just that, like Poe’s purloined letter, the thing in plain sight is the last thing you see? When you do see it, the effect is so unsettling because you realise the unthinkable was there under your nose – overlooked – the whole time.”


A television version of The Shining was made by director Mick Garris in 1997 and an excellent documentary about the perceived hidden meanings of the film, Room 237, was released in 2012.



‘ …Kubrick ended up largely dropping the electronic-influenced score he had commissioned for The Shining, plumping instead for Eastern European classical music to create a similarly overwhelming sense of alienation; ghostly strings segueing sickeningly into industrial rumbling and whistling drones. Like the film itself, it’s a discordant, disturbing and occasionally bombastic combination that achieves a strange kind of beauty thanks to impeccable construction.’ Digital Spy


The Shining contains some of the most indelible images of the horror genre: the blood-spilling elevator, the two girl ghosts, Nicholson’s axe-wielding chase through the snowy maze. However, the film is unsettling for other, more intangible reasons as well, particularly through its manipulation of time and space.’ Mondo Digital


The Shining is my favourite horror film of all time. A bold claim to make, sure – especially  given the names ‘Kubrick’ and ‘Nicholson’ don’t ring true in the genre but not only does The Shining chop off the neck and piss down the trunk of its  source material, the deliciously pulpy Stephen King novel of the same name, but it stands head-and-shoulders above every other horror film ever made.’ Digital Retribution

“Among King adaptations, Carrie, The Dead Zone and Pet Sematary not only retain their power to scare but also to grip at an emotional level. But the only emotion in The Shining is the “Gotcha!” of a fairground haunted mansion, and those thrills have long since been parsed into extinction. Move along now.” The Guardian, 27 October 2016

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment announced that The Shining would be released on Ultra HD Blu-ray and Digital on October 1, 2019. The 4K remastering is of Kubrick’s original 146-minute version of the film which premiered in the United States on May 23rd, 1980.

The 4K remastering was carried out using a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s former personal assistant Leon Vitali worked closely with the team at Warner Bros. during the mastering process.

The Shining Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack features an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc with the feature film in 4K with HDR, a Blu-ray disc with the film in high definition and the special features in high definition, and a Digital version of the movie.

The Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Shining includes more than three hours of previously released special features:

  • Audio commentary by Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and Stanley Kubrick biographer John Baxter
  • Video from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining: Enter the terrifying world of the Overlook Hotel as only Stanley Kubrick could envision it
  • The Visions of Stanley Kubrick: A detailed look at one of cinema’s greatest visual storytellers and his unique ability to move audiences through the magic of unforgettable images
  • The Making of The Shining: This cinema verite documentary offers a rare glimpse into the directing style of Stanley Kubrick as he interacts with stars Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall and others
  • Composer Wendy Carlos reflects on working with complex auteur Stanley Kubrick and developing music scores for The Shining and A Clockwork Orange


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