Director: Stanley Kubrick| Producer: Stanley Kubrick, Jan Harlan and Martin Richards | Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson| Cinematographer: y John Alcott| Country of Origin: USA| Year: 1980 | Running Time: 144 minutes (US cut), 119 minutes (International cut), 146 minutes (Original cut)
Principal Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Although The Shining is now regarded by many as a horror classic, back at the time of its original 1980 theatrical release, it was considered something of a bust. However, much like how the ghostly apparitions of the film’s Overlook Hotel
would play tricks on the mind of poor Jack Torrance, so too has the passage of time changed the perception of the film itself. The same reviewers who criticized the film in 1980 for “not being scary” enough, now rank it among the most
effective horror films ever made, while audiences who hated the film back then now vividly recall being “terrified” by the experience. The Shining has somehow redefined itself not only as an influential member of the horror genre, but perhaps
the most artful horror film ever made.
Director Stanley Kubrick first approached author Stephen King about making a film version of his 1977 novel The Shining in an early morning phone call. King later recalled how shocked he was when his wife told him who was really on the
phone and remembered that the first thing Kubrick did in their conversation was to start talking about how optimistic ghost stories are, because they suggest that humans survive death.
For his film adaptation, Kubrick rejected a screenplay written by King himself. King’s script was a much more literal adaptation of the novel, creating a much more traditional horror film. Kubrick would end up hiring as his writing partner
novelist Diane Johnson. Several changes were made from the book, such as using a hedge maze for the film’s climax, instead of having the hedge animals come alive (as they do in the book) which was considered impractical due to
restrictions in special effects. Changes to the script were made constantly during filming, to the point that star Jack Nicholson claimed he stopped reading it and would read only the new pages that were given to him each day.
For the lead role of Jack Torrance, Kubrick considered both Robert De Niro and Robin Williams but decided against both of them; Kubrick felt that De Niro was not psychotic enough for the part after watching his performance in Taxi Driver,
whereas he deemed Williams too psychotic after watching his performance in Mork & Mindy. According to Stephen King, Harrison Ford was also briefly considered. King tried to talk Kubrick out of casting Jack Nicholson in the lead
and suggested either Michael Moriarty or Jon Voight instead; King felt that watching either of these normal looking men gradually descend into madness, would have immensely improved the dramatic thrust of the storyline.
Much like the casting of Jack Torrence, King also disliked the casting of Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrence. King felt that Duvall was too emotionally vulnerable and appeared to have gone through a lot in her life, which was basically the exact
opposite of what he had envisioned Wendy as being; King saw her as a blond former cheerleader type who never had to deal with any true problems in her life which made her experience in the Overlook all the more terrifying. Nicholson,
after reading the novel, wanted Jessica Lange for the part of Wendy, and even recommended her to Kubrick, as he felt she fit King’s version of the character. However Kubrick had envisioned Duvall as his more timid, dependent version of Wendy from the very beginning and after explaining the changes he had made, Kubrick convinced Nicholson that Duvall was the correct choice. Many years later, Nicholson told EMPIRE magazine that he thought Duvall was fantastic and
called her work in the film, “the toughest job [of] any actor that I’ve seen.”
Kubrick’s first choice to play the role of Danny Torrance was Cary Guffey (the young boy from Close Encounters of the Third Kind) but Guffey’s parents turned down the offer, apparently due to the film’s subject matter. Open auditions were
held over a six month period in Chicago, Denver and Cincinnati by Kubrick’s assistant Leon Vitali and his wife, Kersti. Aspiring actors were asked to send in photographs of themselves, and from those, a list was made of the boys who
looked right, who were then called in to do some minor improvisation on camera. Kubrick would review the footage and narrow the list down. The part would eventually go to 6 year old Danny Lloyd. Since Lloyd was so young and because it
was his first acting job, Kubrick was highly protective of him. During the shooting of the movie, Lloyd was under the impression that he was making was a drama, not a horror movie and only realized the truth seven years later, when he was shown a heavily edited version of the film. It wasn’t until he was 17 (eleven years after he’d made it) that he saw the uncut version of the film.
The Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon was used for the exterior of the Overlook Hotel, but all of the interior rooms of the hotel were filmed at Elstree Studios in England, including The Colorado Lounge, where Jack does his typing. To construct the interiors of the Overlook, Kubrick and his production designer, Roy Walker purposely set out to make it look like an amalgamation of bits and pieces of real hotels, rather than giving it one single design ethic. The hedge maze was constructed on an airfield near Elstree studios, by weaving branches to chicken wire mounted on empty plywood boxes. The scenes in the maze were shot using an extremely long lens (a 9.8mm, which gives a horizontal
viewing angle of 90 degrees) which was kept dead level at all times in order to make the hedges seem much bigger and more imposing than they were in reality. The “snowy” maze near the conclusion of the movie consisted of 900 tons of salt
and crushed Styrofoam.
Cast and crew found shooting difficult at times due to the lack of air conditioning which caused the sets to become overly hot. The hedge maze set for example was so stifling that actors and crew would often strip off as much of the heavy
clothing they were wearing as quickly as possible once a shot was finished. The intense heat generated from the lighting used to recreate window sunlight (the room took 700,000 watts of light per window to make it look like a snowy
day outside) caused a fire on the set of the Colorado Lounge. Fortunately all of the scenes using that set had been completed, so there was no further delay to shooting. It was simply rebuilt with a higher ceiling. The same set was eventually used by Steven Spielberg as the snake-filled Well of the Souls tomb in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Shining had a prolonged and arduous production period, often with very long workdays, which was due in large part to Kubrick’s highly methodical nature and trademark style of repetitive takes. While Variety magazine reported that
the film took almost 200 days to shoot, according to assistant editor Gordon Stainforth, it took nearly a year. Because filming ran so long, other productions who were waiting to shoot in Elstree Studios were delayed, including both
Warren Beatty’s Reds and Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Part of the delay was the result of Kubrick wanting to shoot the film in script order which required all the relevant sets standing by at all times; in order to achieve this,
every soundstage at Elstree was used, with all the sets built, pre-lit and ready to go during the entire shoot.
Despite Kubrick’s fierce demands on everyone, Nicholson later admitted to having a good working relationship with him. For Duvall however he was a completely different director, allegedly picking on her more than anyone else (as
seen in the documentaries Making ‘The Shining’ and Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures). He would really lose his temper with her, even going so far as to say that she was wasting the time of everyone on the set. On the DVD commentary
track for Making ‘The Shining’, Vivian Kubrick reveals her father’s tactic to make Duvall feel utterly hopeless, was ensure she received “no sympathy at all” from anyone on the set; this is most evident in the documentary when Kubrick
tells Vivian, “Don’t sympathize with Shelley” and then goes on to tell Duvall, “It doesn’t help you.” Duvall later reflected that Kubrick was probably pushing her to her limits to get the best out of her, and she wouldn’t trade the experience for
anything, but it was not something she ever wished to repeat.
Kubrick, despite his usual compulsiveness and numerous retakes, was able to get the difficult shot of blood pouring from the elevators in only three takes which would be remarkable if it weren’t for the fact that the shot took nine days to set
up; every time the doors opened and the blood poured out, Kubrick would say, “It doesn’t look like blood.” In the end, the shot took approximately a year to get right. For the any of the scenes when the audience can hear Jack typing but cannot see it, Kubrick recorded the sound of a typist actually typing the words “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Kubrick wanted to ensure authenticity, and since some people argue that each key on a typewriter sounds slightly different, he insisted that the actual words be typed.
One filming technique used in the principal photography of The Shining was the then revolutionary Steadicam technique; it was Kubrick’s first picture to use it and it was actually among the first half dozen films to incorporate it. Many of the
ultra-low tracking corridor sequences were accomplished by Steadicam inventor/operator Garrett Brown from a wheelchair on which his invention was mounted. Grips would either pull backward or push forward the wheelchair, depending on the requirement of the shot. Brown was hired to work on the picture with the assurance that there was no way the shoot would run over six months (Brown had to be back in the US in six months time to shoot Rocky II) however six months into the shoot, less than half the film had been shot. For the next several months, Brown would work one week in London on The Shining, and one week in Philadelphia on Rocky commuting by Concorde every Sunday.
The scene in the film where Jack is throwing around a tennis ball inside the hotel instead of writing was actually Nicholson’s idea; the scene as originally scripted only specified that, “Jack is not working”. To get the shot of the ball bouncing from the wall onto the camera lens as it filmed, actually took several days to film. Kubrick was so determined to get this precise shot, the camera kept rolling while the ball was continually hit against the wall in the hope of it bouncing back and hitting the lens. It took everyone on the entire unit having a go at it in between other shots before the shot was finally achieved.
For the iconic scene in which Jack breaks down the bathroom door, the props department built a door that could be easily broken. However, Nicholson had worked as a volunteer fire marshal and tore it apart far too easily which
forced the props department to build a stronger door. According to Duvall the scene took 3 days to film and used 60 doors. Interestingly, the scene’s infamous “Heere’s Johnny!” line was never in the original script. Nicholson ad-libbed the line during filming in an imitation of announcer Ed McMahon’s famous introduction of Johnny Carson on NBC’s long-running late night television program The Tonight Show. Kubrick, who had been living in England since before Carson took over The Tonight Show, had no clue what “Heere’s Johnny!” meant but decided to keep that take anyway. Carson would later use the clip of Nicholson as the introduction to one of his annual anniversary specials.
After its premiere and a week into the general run (with a running time of 146 minutes), Kubrick cut about 2 minutes from the end of the film. The excised scene shows Wendy in a hospital bed talking with Mr. Ullman who explains that Jack’s body could not be found; he then gives Danny a yellow tennis ball, presumably the same one that lured Danny into Room 237. After meeting with poor reviews and erratic box office, Kubrick decided to further edit the film for its theatrical release outside the US. He cut approximately 31 minutes of footage, reducing the length to 113 minutes.
When the film was released, Stephen King was quoted as saying that although Kubrick made a film with memorable imagery, it was not a good adaptation of his novel and is in fact the only adaptation of his novels that he could “remember
hating”; His dissatisfaction with the film would lead King to produce his own version of The Shining as a mini-series for television in 1997. However, King’s animosity toward Kubrick’s adaptation appears to have dulled over time. During
an interview segment on the Bravo channel, King admitted that the first time he watched Kubrick’s adaptation, he found it to be “dreadfully unsettling.”
Despite receiving generally unfavorable reviews upon its initial release, The Shining is today regarded as one of the best horror movies ever made. The film was voted the ninth scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and in
2001, it was ranked 29th on AFI’s ‘100 Years…100 Thrills’ list. In 2003, Jack Torrance was named the 25th greatest villain on the AFI’s ‘100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains’ list.
Some Interesting Trivia:
During the making of the movie, Stanley Kubrick would occasionally call Stephen King at 3:00 a.m. and ask him questions like “Do you believe in God?”
The idea for Danny Lloyd to move his finger when he was talking as Tony was his own; he did it spontaneously during his very first audition.
The management of the Timberline requested that Kubrick not use 217 for a room number (as specified in the book), fearing that nobody would want to stay in that room ever again. Kubrick changed the script to use the nonexistent room number 237.
During the scene where Wendy brings Jack breakfast in bed, it can be seen in the reflection of the mirror that Jack’s T-shirt says “Stovington” on it. While not mentioned in the film, this is the name of the school where Jack taught at in the novel.
The scene towards the end of the film, where Wendy is running up the stairway carrying a knife, was shot 35 times; the equivalent of running up the Empire State Building.
During an interview for the UK’S The 100 Greatest Scary Moments, Duvall revealed that because her role required her to be in an almost constant state of hysteria, she eventually ran out of tears from crying so hard and had to keep bottles of water with her at all times on set to remain hydrated.
The 144 minute ‘US version’ is often erroneously called the Director’s Cut when in fact director Kubrick regarded the 113 minute version as the superior cut of the film.
Outtakes of the shots of the Volkswagen traveling towards the Overlook at the start of the film were plundered by Ridley Scott (with Kubrick’s permission) when he was forced to add the ‘happy ending’ to the original release of Blade Runner.
Tony Burton, who had a brief role as Larry Durkin the garage owner, arrived on set one day with a chess set in hopes of getting in a game with someone during a break from filming. Kubrick, an avid chess player who had in his youth played for money, noticed the chess set and despite production being behind schedule, proceeded to call off filming for the day and engage in a set of games with Burton. Burton only managed to win one game, but nevertheless the director thanked him, saying it had been some time that he’d played against a challenging opponent.
The book that Jack was writing contained the one sentence (“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”) repeated over and over. Kubrick had each page individually typed. For the Italian version of the film, Kubrick used the phrase “Il mattino ha l’ oro in bocca” (“He who wakes up early meets a golden day”). For the German version, it was “Was Du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf Morgen” (“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today”). For the Spanish version, it was “No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano” (“Rising early will not make dawn sooner.”). For the French version, it was “Un ‘Tiens’ vaut mieux que deux ‘Tu l’auras'” (“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”).
For Further Reading/Viewing:
Vivian Kubrick’s Making ‘The Shining’ (1980)
Jan Harlan’s Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001)
Diane Johnson’s essay “Writing The Shining” in anthology “Depth of Field” by Cocks, Diedrick, and Perusek,
LoBrutto, Vincent. Stanley Kubrick: A Biography,
Browning, Mark. Stephen King on the big screen
Scorsese, Martin (October 28, 2009). “11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time”. The Daily Beast.