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Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Shining — DVD Review

After reading The Shining, I couldn’t resist the urge to take another look at the film version of Stephen King’s novel. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to watch a film after having read the book it’s based on and judge the film on its own merits. Inevitably, watching the film becomes about seeing how the producers got across what’s in the book and comparing the two. In this case, King’s novel gets the nod over Stanley Kubrick’s so-called masterpiece.

Obviously, the basic story line is the same. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as the off-season caretaker of the Overlook hotel, and slowly succumbs to “cabin fever.” His wife (Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall), along with their young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who foresaw disaster at the Overlook, are left to try to avoid his murderous rage.

While expecting Kubrick to get all of the novel’s background into the film would be silly, nailing down Danny’s ability to “shine” needed to be a priority. After all, it gave the book and film its title. Instead, the film leaves doubt as to whether Danny truly has premonitions or just an over active imagination. It was never even made clear that Danny had the ability to know what others were thinking, which would’ve taken next to nothing in the early scenes with the Overlook’s head chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). In fact, I’m not convinced that if the film is viewed without having read the book that it’s ever clear Danny truly shines.

Another major problem was the lack of depth to Jack. The book offers a complex character, struggling to hold on to what was once a promising career, while trying to be the good husband and father he wished his father had been. He slowly slips into the grips of insanity. The movie simply offers a rather cold character from the outset who becomes more and more enraged. By the time there’s an effort made to show that he truly loved his son, he’s clearly “the bad guy” of the film.

It’s tough to discuss a movie’s ending without giving too much away, but Kubrick’s end did very little for me. Hedges that seemed to come alive in the book transformed into a maze that Danny fled to as his father chased him with an ax. Suffice it to say I just didn’t buy the ultimate outcome.

Let’s face it, if you’ve read the book you’re going to watch The Shining. With the background of the book, Kubrick’s version is just entertaining. For those who haven’t read King’s novel, I’m guessing it’s still something to watch for fun while looking for something better.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Shining — Book Review

I probably never would have read The Shining had it not been sold in a volume (seen here) that included Carrie. In fact, after reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, only my anal side got me to read the third and final piece of the volume. Having seen the film, I purposely saved it for the winter months, and had the mood set for me as I finished it up during the first real snow storm (in Philadelphia) of the winter. Whether it was the right mood or low expectations I’m not sure, but The Shining was the best of King’s work I’ve read.

Jack Torrence takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook hotel, a summer resort with a history of prestigious guests and, Torrence learns, more than one murder that has been swept under the rug. Jack doesn’t have a pristine past either, but Wendy, his wife, agrees to go to the Overlook in the hopes of a fresh start. Their young son, Danny, foresees disaster via his ability to “shine,” but tries to ignore his premonitions.

King offers more character development in The Shining than seems to be his norm with good results. He walks the line between realistic drama and science/horror fiction without simply abandoning the former, which is his usual pattern based on what I’ve read. He certainly pushes into the world of fantasy, but earns the trip by keeping the reader off-balance as to whether the other-worldly events were truly occurring or the result of the potentially unstable minds of the characters.

Early on Danny meets Mr. Hallorann, the Overlook’s in-season caretaker, who shares his ability to see events and the thoughts of others. A minor character in the film (as I recall), he is critical to the novel. The ability to “shine,” as he calls it, becomes a real thing for the reader through Hallorann, as opposed to some contrived element of the horror genre. Certainly suspending your belief in what reality can be is a prerequisite to reading King, but in The Shining he meets the reader half way.

This is also apparent in character and plot development. A lengthy novel, King justifies almost all of the space used. Jack’s history of alcoholism and abusive behavior makes it clear that being trapped in a mountainous region locked in a hotel that would be a perfect ski resort except for exceedingly brutal winters was a bad idea. The isolation alone offered a history of murderous outcomes. Wendy’s own past with a poor support system informs her desire to keep her family together despite plenty of warning to flee the Overlook. Danny’s youth more than explains his attempts to initially ignore what the shine was telling him about his father, a figure about which none of us ever want to believe the worst.

Of course, King is still King. I cut my reading short more than once as the hours reached later in the night and the usual noises of the house seemed a bit louder. The ending, which I still can’t remember from the film, was plenty brutal and not overly predictable. It may have run just a touch long, but it’s length is very forgivable.

Young fans of King will love The Shining, and those that liked the film will enjoy the depth of the characters. Overall, if you’re looking for something to pass a few long winter nights, it’s worth the read.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

King Kong — DVD Review

The remake of the classic King Kong started slow, and gradually improved to a poorly done film that raised the question of whether or not the original actually had better special effects. With a subplot that was rather dull and a failed attempt to make the main story more dramatic, the 2005 film falls way short of the classic category obtained by the original.

Carl Denham (Jack Black) headed overseas in a rush to make a feature film that his supporters were about to pull the plug on. Veering ridiculously off course, the ship and crew ended up on Skull Island, which seemed to get stuck in pre-historic times. Complete with dinosaurs and monstrous insects, the island is home to a massive ape that captures (technically rescues then captures), and falls in love with, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) – the heroin of Denham’s film. King Kong is eventually captured, and the money-grabbing producer attempts to exploit the giant ape back in New York to disastrous results.

I only vaguely recall watching the black-and-white version of this film, but I remember being compelled by it. This version barely kept me watching on a cold, slow night. It took about an hour into the film for them just to get to the island, which was followed by a side-trip into conflict with the natives that served little purpose.

King Kong even failed to sell the bond between Ann and Kong. First of all, she would’ve been dead 10 times over the way Kong carried her around. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but she was constantly in Kong’s grip as he wild flung his arms around. Besides that, there was never any moment where the viewer thought she cared about what happened to Kong, except for the very end.

Aside from going on too long, the film’s biggest flaw was the lack of build-up to the end. I would’ve preferred skipping half of the Skull Island scenes, and seeing how the heck they got Kong home. Or how about a little on how they kept him sedated? Or hidden? I mean, Denham is just suddenly back in New York with a theater show with Kong as the centerpiece. Ann’s not involved at all. Then, suddenly on opening night, Kong decides to go wild and find Ann.

Jack Black’s character didn’t quite work for me, either. Half the time Denham was a quasi-swindler looking to capitalize on the trip any way possible, and the rest of the time he was truly into his work desperate to salvage his footage. Besides that, Black couldn’t shake the fact that he’s known for roles like Nacho Libre. I couldn’t take him all that seriously, and kept waiting for him to make some ridiculous joke or launch into a song parody.

Naomi Watts was the saving grace early on, selling the sweet, innocence of a young, vaudeville actress in need of work. But her efforts at the sassy chick while trapped with the ape never quite worked. Again, I never bought that she grew to like the ape.

Jack Driscoll played Adrien Brody, who saved Ann while they were on the island. Meant as a foil to Denham, the character just never stood out enough to make a difference in the movie. Like the rest of the characters in this film, I never cared much about this one.

Overall, skip the 2005 version and watch the black-and-white version.