Kubrick's Barry Lyndon was released in 1975, but was a major box office failure. Very disappointed, Kubrick wanted to do a stylish film which had more box office appeal. One of Kubrick's agents sent the director galley proofs of Stephen King's 1977 novel The Shining. Kubrick, who had a long-standing interest in the supernatural, became deeply interested in optioning the book. Kubrick began calling King at all hours of the day and night, talking to him about the novel and how it might be adapted. (Great Britain is five hours ahead of Maine, and Kubrick would sometimes call at 9 AM local time -- or 4 AM Maine time.) King, suffering from alcoholism, agreed to sell the film rights to Kubrick immediately after the novel was released in January 1977.
Almost universally criticized upon its release, The Shining has since become an icon of horror and one of the most widely praised motion pictures of all time. It is also one of the most studied films of all time.
Most movie-goers remember those great shots of Danny Torrance pedaling his Big Wheel around the corridors of the fictional Overlook Hotel. The sounds his tricycle makes as it moves over the wooden floor -- and then goes silent as it travels over carpet -- are creepy. The seemingly endless twists and turns Danny makes on his toy leave the viewer bewildered and create a sense of eeriness. You never know what's going to be around the next corner.
The movie also invents something that's not in the novel: The huge hedge maze in front of the hotel. Viewers instinctively sense that the maze is a metaphor for the Overlook Hotel, and that the characters are lost in a maze of emotion as well as a physical maze of same-looking corridors and same-looking hedges.
Kubrick was famous for maintaining control over every single aspect of his films. There are no "goofs" in a Kubrick movie. Everything that appears out of place or odd is there for a reason.
In these two short videos, cinema expert Rob Ager examines the set design for The Shining for an online cinema course. These videos examine how Kubrick purposefully designed the set for The Shining to create confusion in the viewer and throw off your sense of reality.
Part 1: Spatial Awareness and Set Design
Part 2: Spatial Awareness and Set Design
Behind the cut is some info about the production of this fascinating film.
The production of "The Shining"
Writing Kubrick hired Stephen King to write the script, who turned in a literal adaptation of the novel complete with heavy supernatural elements. Kubrick was very disappointed with this draft. He subsequently hired author Diane Johnson in May 1977 to write a new script. Johnson was one of the best-known women authors of the late 1960s and 1970s. Kubrick read her novel The Shadow Knows, in which a middle-class woman finds herself living in public housing and trying to raise her four kids after a bitter divorce. Things take a turn for the worse when horrific things begin happening to her (her door is hacked down, a dead cat is left in her home, blood is smeared on her windows, etc.), and she falls into a spiral of paranoia and dread. That Johnson also had a doctorate in Gothic studies convinced Kubrick that she was the right person for the job.
Between June 1977 and January 1978, Kubrick and Johnson met repeatedly in Kubrick's London home to discuss the novel and the screenplay. Kubrick felt that, as a writer, King was more interested in the creation of stories and the invention of characters than in writing per se. The book, he thought, had a strong plot and characters but had several weak sections. What was needed was to break down the plot into its component pieces, identify the critical elements, and then rebuild it with the weak parts replaced. Kubrick and Johnson decided to read Sigmund Freud's essay "The Uncanny", the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim's book on fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment. They also screened a large number of classic horror films, and made notes on them. Each person then wrote a short outline of the script they envisioned, which were combined into a longer outline. Kubrick's goal was to get almost a timeline of where the characters were, what they did, who they met with, and where they went next. The dialogue, he said, was a minor issue; if you knew where the characters were and what they did, the dialogue would automatically follow.
Kubrick and Johnson made a fundamental decision about the film early on. They concluded that good horror films must decide whether the ghost is real or not. Films that don't know what they are doing are mush. Now, most good horror says the ghost is just in the mind of the insane person, or that the ghost actually exists and is tormenting a person. Kubrick liked that King's novel was about the anger, tension, and fear in families. They decided that a third reality was possible: A ghost could be created from a person's real emotional state -- and that this ghost could have real, horrific powers.
Johnson and Kubrick also also worked hard on the film's ending. They believed most horror films had endings that were "emotionally unsatisfying" because the ending was improbable, arbitrary, overblown, or did not flow from the rest of the film. They wanted their ending to reconcile the supernatural with their concept of the nature of the ghosts in the film (e.g., flowing from Jack Torrance's own rage and weaknesses).
Johnson wrote the actual script alone. Although Johnson added many of the film's more notable elements (the ghostly girls being twins, the elevators of blood, etc.), the characters remained largely true to the novel. The image of the two ghostly girls was inspired by Diane Arbus' photograph "Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967." In the novel, the girls are sisters but not twins, while the film makes them identical twins. Contrary to some sources, the "Heeeeere's Johnny!" line was in the script and not improvised by Jack Nicholson. (Nicholson himself says the line was in the original script.)
Casting Kubrick first considered Robert De Niro for the role of Jack Torrance. But after watching De Niro in Taxi Driver, Kubrick decided De Niro could not play psychotic well enough. Kubrick next considered comedian Robin Williams. Williams was appearing in the hit TV show Mork & Mindy, and Kubrick liked his psychotic performance. But he felt Williams could not be restrained enough for the early scenes in the film, and rejected him, too. Kubrick then briefly considered Harrison Ford. Ford was a veteran television actor whose most memorable film roles had been 1973's American Graffiti, 1977's Star Wars, and 1978's Force 10 from Navarone.
Kubrick finally settled on Jack Nicholson, the film actor who had been nominated for Best Actor four times and won on his fifth try (for 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). He'd recently appeared as a cruel Western outlaw in the critically acclaimed Missouri Breaks. Kubrick also liked Nicholson's face, which he felt could turn from being a pleasant suburban guy into a menacing demon instantaneously. King opposed the choice, and told Kubrick so. King envisioned a more Everyman, and suggested Michael Moriarty or Jon Voight. Moriarty had been impressive in 1973's Bang the Drum Slowly and played a psycho Nazi officer in the 1978 miniseries Holocaust. Voight had shot to fame in 1969's Midnight Cowboy (for which he'd gotten a Best Actor nomination) and in 1974's The Odessa File. Voight had just been nominated for another Best Actor Oscar for 1978's Coming Home. King felt that audiences would be too familiar with Nicholson's portrayal of a lunatic in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which would spoil the suspense of Jack Torrance's descent into madness. Kubrick listened politely, and then refused to change his mind.
Shelley Duvall was Kubrick's only choice for the role of Wendy Torrance. The slender, awkward, plain Duvall was well-known as an independent film actress with exceptional acting chops. She'd had stellar roles in 1970's Brewster McCloud, 1971's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and 1975's Nashville, and had garnered widespread acclaim for her 1977 turns in 3 Women and Annie Hall. Kubrick picked Duvall because 3 Women was a highly psychological film, and because Duvall cried a lot in the film. He also felt she could project the sort of banal personality that was needed for the first hour of the film. Kubrick envisioned Wendy as a timid, emotionally fragile woman who was incredibly dependent on her husband. Nicholson and King tried to get Kubrick to hire someone other than Duvall. Nicholson had read King's novel to prepare for his role. The novel depicts Wendy as a stronger, more mature, even-keeled woman, and Nicholson wanted Kubrick to hire Jessica Lange (who had just turned in a highly acclaimed performance in 1976's King Kong). Stephen King had written Wendy as a smart, blond, All-American Girl type who had never experienced anything bad in her life. This made the things she goes through in the novel are all the more terrifying and difficult for her to accept and confront. King not only felt Duvall didn't look right, but could not deliver the confident performance need at the start of the film. Kubrick explained to both men that he intended to portray Wendy differently than the novel had. He also believed that Duvall could be both attractive and annoying, and that this irritating quality was what would lead audiences to believe that Jack Torrance would want to kill his wife.
For the role of the little boy, Danny, Kubrick initially considered Cary Guffey -- the young boy from Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He was only six years old in 1978, though, and Guffey's parents refused because they felt the horror elements of the film would harm their son. This forced Kubrick to begin a nationwide search for a child actor to play the role. More than 5,000 boys sent in photographs of themselves over a six-month period. James Liggat, Kubrick's long-time casting director, was extremely ill (and close to death), so Kubrick's personal assistant Leon Vitali and his wife narrowed down the list from these photos. Only children from Chicago, Cincinnati, and Denver were considered, because Kubrick wanted an actor whose accent was halfway between Nicholson's New York and Duvall's Texas/California accent. He also wanted an actor with very mobile features, and whose expressions were "wired" to his emotions. Jim and Ann Lloyd, five-year-old Danny Lloyd's parents, lived in a small town in Illinois, where Jim was a railroad engineer. They spotted the ad for child actors in a newspaper, and sent in their son's photo. Kubrick asked 120 of the boys to send in audition tapes, with Vitali instructing the boys to improvise some emotions and scenes. Kubrick began choosing actors from among the tapes. Lloyd was cast because he moved his finger when he was talking as Tony. This was something he did spontaneously, and it so impressed Kubrick that Lloyd won the role.
Scatman Crothers was cast as Halloran, the psychic cook, on the recommendation of Jack Nicholson. They were good friends, and Crothers asked Nicholson to talk to Kubrick about casting him. Kubrick did so as a favor to Nicholson, even though Nicholson warned him that Crothers would have trouble remembering his lines.
Kubrick's only choice to play the doctor was actress Anne Jackson, wife of Eli Wallach. Kubrick called Jackson personally to ask her to be in the film. Jackson, who had seen Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, was so scared by the killings in that film that she demanded that her character not to be murdered. Kubrick promised her that the role didn't require it. Jackson's wardrobe took weeks to find. Kubrick's wardrobe staff spent three weeks in Colorado taking photos of people on the street to get costuming ideas. But no matter what they proposed, Kubrick kept saying it didn't look right. Kubrick finally settled on clothes from Jackson's own wardrobe. (Jackson disliked airplanes for being too cold, and had worn some warm trousers, a shirt, and light jacket when she met with Kubrick. He remembered her outfit, and thought it was perfect.) A real physician taught Jackson how to examine Danny.
Kubrick wanted Harry Dean Stanton to play the ghostly Lloyd the Bartender, but Stanton was tied up filming Alien. So Kubrick cast Joseph Turkel, a character actor with whom he'd worked 20 years earlier in Paths of Glory.
Tony Burton was cast as garage owner Larry Durkin, the man who rents a Sno-Cat to Scatman Crothers. Kubrick had seen Burton in Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter's 1976 film about a police precinct in New York City which is surrounded and attacked by vicious street gangs during a blackout. He hired Burton without an audition. Burton spent a week on the set doing two scenes.
Principal photography The film was scheduled for a 17 week shoot. Principal photography was to begin in December 1977, but pre-production delays moved it to May 1, 1978. Even so, the super-meticulous Kubrick forced the shoot to drag on to more than 46 weeks. Shooting did not end until March 1979!
Kubrick believed in psychologically manipulating his actors in order to get "real" performances out of them.
Kubrick purposefully chose to have a poor relationship with Duvall on the set. He heavily criticized her performances even if they were outstanding in order to break her down psychologically and emotionally and enable her to tap into the emotions he wanted. He'd repeatedly tell her, "Shelley, that's not it. How long do we have to wait for you to get it right?" Any time she allowed her character to show strength or resolve, Kubrick attacked the actress. Even though Kubrick was well-known for rarely giving his actors direction (except to say "that wasn't right"), with Duvall he would extensively criticize elements in her performance. Duvall tried to change her delivery of her lines to bring her performance more in line with Kubrick's directions, but Kubrick would scathingly observe that the lines didn't matter -- only her poor performance did. To further undermine her confidence as an actress, he cut most of her lines from the script during the production. Kubrick also instructed the rest of the cast and the crew to not console or befriend Duvall, in order to make her feel more isolated and despairing. When Duvall complained about Kubrick's behavior, he told her not to seek solace from her castmates: "It doesn't help you." Kubrick repeatedly lost his temper with her on the set, and told her that she was wasting everyone's time with her poor performance. The role required Duvall to be in a constant state of hysteria during the film's last hour. A single, unmodulated emotion -- fear -- was required at her at all times, which exhausted the actress. Shooting these scenes lasted four months. She cried so hard that she became dehydrated, and had to keep drinking bottle after bottle of water on the set. Only after the production ended did Duvall realize that Kubrick was manipulating her to get a spectacular performance. A decade later, she said it was a great experience -- but she would never want to repeat it. Nicholson thought Duvall's performance was nothing short of fantastic, and called her time on the set "the toughest job that any actor that I've seen had."
On the other hand, Kubrick purposefully cultivated a good working relationship with Jack Nicholson. Nicholson approached the film as Grand Guignol, concluding that nothing could ever be real about a supernatural horror film. Nicholson, therefore, played Jack broadly, exaggeratedly. "You can go on for years saying 'I'm going to get this thing real, because they really haven't seen it real'...and then you come up against someone like Stanley who says, 'Yeah, it's real, but it's not interesting'." Nicholson understood than an exaggerated, stylized performance entailed risks, because audiences since the 1950s had insisted on naturalism. Nicholson is also a highly technical actor, and Kubrick a highly technical director. Kubrick demanded that actors hit their marks exactly, an approach Nicholson loved. In the scene where Jack Torrance wakes from his nightmare, Kubrick set out a whopping 18 different marks on the underside of the table, to show which way Torrance should fidget and turn during the scene. Nicholson was thrilled when he saw what Kubrick had done. Nicholson was finishing work on his third directorial effort, Goin' South, during the first month of shooting, and thoroughly enjoyed the tips, comments, and input Kubrick gave him. Nonetheless, not everything went right between the two. Kubrick was often rewriting scenes during the night, and Nicholson became so fed up that he refused to touch the scripts until a few minutes before filming began in the morning. Furthermore, the 17-hour shooting days often left Nicholson so exhausted that he would return home at the end of the day and fall into bed without any dinner. But the constant script revisions allowed Nicholson to make at least one very important contribution to the film: The script called for Jack Torrance to write furiously at the typewriter in the Overlook's main lobby. Nicholson came up with the idea of writing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over and over. (Obsessively repeating the same act was something Nicholson himself had done during his 1968 divorce from actress Sandra Knight.) Kubrick's preference for endless takes also benefitted Nicholson, as they served as a form of rehearsal time for actor.
Child labor laws in Great Britain limited Lloyd's time to just 40 shooting days a year. He also had to be off the set by 4:30 PM every day. Kubrick had to be highly organized in order to accommodate these requirements. Since the rules did not include rehearsals, Kubrick would bring Lloyd onto the set one day for read-throughs and rehearsal, with shooting occurring the next. Rehearsal of the adult actors often included a life-size, heavy dummy of Lloyd, so that his precious time was not consumed with rehearsing adult actors. Kubrick assigned Vitali to be Lloyd's overseer. Kubrick rarely interacted with Lloyd except when shooting was occurring, and Vitali acted as Lloyd's protector and friend, and the primary point of contact in communicating with the child actor and his parents. Kubrick's relationship with Lloyd was much better than with his adult actors. He wanted a child actor whose natural instincts were the same that Kubrick wanted, and Lloyd delivered. However, Kubrick did coach him during some scenes. Kubrick would usually play music on the set to help establish the right emotional tone, and personally controlled the volume to help Lloyd emote. He would also shout certain directions at him through a megaphone ("Don't look at your hands!" or "Don't look down until you come around the corner!"), to keep Lloyd's physical acting on track.
Kubrick's constant rewriting changed much of the film. Whole scenes from the finished script were eliminated during shooting. This shortened the shooting schedule (keeping it under a year), and also reduced the running time of the film (which at 2 hours, 4 minutes, is already pretty long).
Kubrick was well-known for making actors perform even minor movements or shots repetitively. This appears to have been drawn from the theories of Russian actor, director, and acting coach Konstantin Stanislavski. Stanislavski, arguably the most influential theorist of performance in the 20th century, argued for an approach called Active Analysis. The director and actors sit down prior to the performance to discuss character, plot, narrative, themes, approaches, and so on. Then the actor engages in a series of improvisations, working with the director to draft and redraft a performance. Meaning is created through character. Kubrick was too much an an auteur to sit down with actors at the start of a production and allow them to interfere with his vision. But he did believe in endless reptition as a means for an actor to explore the parameters of a scene.
Additionally, Kubrick often did not know what he wanted from a scene until he had witnessed an actor doing the dialogue and action in numerous different ways. The actor was generally free to provide whatever different interpretations he or she wished; Kubrick provided almost no direction during this stage. (He was famous for saying, "That's not right. Do it again, differently.") A perfectionist, he also required numerous shots of the same thing in order to eliminate anything which he did not want in the shot (like camera jiggles, a movement of clothing, a stray shaft of light, dust motes, etc.). Generally speaking, after the first 15 or so takes, Kubrick would finally identify the performance he liked. He would then review the take he liked with the actor on a video monitor, and then begin refining the actor's performance through successive takes. This might mean another five or 10 or 15 takes. Kubrick usually then selected another two or three versions of the performance he liked, and force the actor to refine them again and again. By the time he was done, Kubrick would have a miniature "library" consisting of a wide range of emotions and visions of the same performance. Kubrick then could pick and choose from a wide array of performances to build up his film even further in the editing room.
Legends abound about the exceptional number of takes Kubrick demanded on the set of The Shining The scene were Wendy is backing up the stairs swinging the baseball bat at Jack was shot about 35 to 45 times. (Several sources, including the Guiness Book of World Records, get it wrong, claiming there were 127 takes. Cinematographer Garrett Brown categorically denies this, as does the film's assistant editor.) The scene where Halloran talks to Danny about "the shining" was shot 148 times -- and is a world record. Scatman Crothers kept flubbing his lines, which led to an excessive number of takes. But Kubrick also demanded more out of Crothers as well. Another infamous set of takes also involved Crothers. Kubrick told his crew that he anticipated shooting 70 takes of Crothers getting killed by Jack Torrance. Jack Nicholson asked Kubrick to go easy on the 69-year-old Crothers. After 40 takes, Kubrick finally agreed to stop. The scene in which Halloran shows Wendy and Danny through the kitchen took another 85 takes. Crothers broke down and shouted, "What do you want, Mr. Kubrick? What do you want?!?" Kubrick also forced Crothers to slam a car door 75 times. He shot a close-up of Crothers -- saying nothing -- 130 times. A portion of the scene with Crothers has 10 lines of dialogue, and is a close-up. Kubrick shot this more than 100 times. The next day, after Kubrick moved some lines around, they shot it four times -- and Kubrick was happy. Then there's the shot of Crothers walking from the Sno-Cat through the snow to the front door of the Overlook Hotel. This was done in real snow at the real Timberline Hotel in the dead of winter. Kubrick made Crothers do it 40 times in a row. Finally, Nicholson had to intervene, pointing out that the aged Crothers was close to physical exhaustion from struggling through the snow.
Other incidents are just as legendary. It took three days and 60 doors to shoot Jack Nicholson chopping down a door and saying his famous line. In part, this was because the doors used on the set were made of lightweight wood. Nicholson, a former volunteer firefighter, chopped through them far too easily. Successively stronger doors had to be built until Kubrick got one the right strength to resist Nicholson's axe-blows. Actor Barry Nelson, who plays the Overlook Hotel manager, was forced to say his opening line ("Hi ya, Jack") 35 times. The scene where Jack Torrance first talks to the ghostly bartender Lloyd was shot 36 times. The scene where Wendy climbs the steps to the living quarters with a knife and then sees the two male ghosts having sex was done 35 times. Kubrick shot Anne Jackson's lengthy interview with Shelley Duvall following Danny's medical examination more than a dozen times. (Jackson was outraged when Kubrick chose the first take as the one to include in the final cut.) The film's final shot -- a slow, low gliding shot through the dim corridor of the Overlook Hotel into the Gold Room and up to a wall of old photographs -- took four days to shoot.
Some shots took time because they were technically complex. Throwing a tennis ball against the wall of the Overlook Hotel was Jack Nicholson's idea. The script originally said "Jack is not working," and Nicholson improvised this moment during rehearsals. Kubrick later incorporated it into two other scenes in the film. But when Kubrick got around to shooting, the scene proved harder than it seemed. That's because the shot required the tennis ball to land directly on the camera lens. It took four days to get this shot. Kubrick simply let the camera roll while each member of the cast and crew tossed the ball against the wall and tried to get it to land on the lens.
The film's most famous shot -- the blood pouring from the elevator doors -- was similarly complex. This was actually a miniature set, built half-scale. Huge amounts of fake blood were required to do the shot correctly. (In Vivian Kubrick's documentary of the making of The Shining, staff are shown sweeping four inches of blood-like liquid from the floor of the soundstage after each take.) Moreover, it took nine days to set up the effect. Tests of the effect were shot, but each time Kubrick said the liquid didn't look like blood. After nearly a year, Kubrick finally agreed that the crew had managed to get the effect right. Only three takes were needed to get one Kubrick liked.
Then there is that famous opening shot of the Torrance's tiny yellow VW Beetle climbing a winding mountain road toward the Overlook Hotel. Kubrick wanted to establish a certain ominousness right in the opening shot, and decided on a huge, isolating, landscape of steep mountains and encroaching forests to create this sense of eerieness. He also wanted to depict a winding mountain road, to establish visually the idea that these roads would be closed by snow during the winter. Kubrick sent a second unit team throughout North America to try to find the right location. It wasn't until the end of 1978 that that Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was chosen for the location. Then the production had to wait until summer, when the snow had melted, to shoot the scene. The second unit cinematographer said that the footage was uninteresting, and sent it to Kubrick for review. Kubrick found that the scenery was perfect, but his cinematographer was not very good. So he hired Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman, owners of McGillivray-Freeman Films, to shoot the sequence. McGillivray-Freeman Films was mostly noted for their surfing films of the 1960s (they are the ones that established the cinematic trope of slow-motion surfing footage you see all the time now), and were doing some spectacular helicopter work for feature films in the 1970s. They'd done helicopter shots for 1974's The Towering Inferno, and their 1976 IMAX feature To Fly! debuted at the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum and was featured there for more than three decades. (Jim Freeman died in a helicopter accident in 1976.) McGillivray developed a special mount for his camera to steady the images, and produced outstanding work that Kubrick accepted immediately. (More than 30,000 feet of footage was shot, though -- a stunningly huge amount.)
The sets Production designer Roy Walker had worked with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon. While the script was in development, Kubrick sent Walker across America to photograph old hotels. Walker provided exacting measurements of everything inside the hotels he visited. Vast quantities of images were sent back to England, where Kubrick identified the ones he liked. The "Colorado lounge" set was based on the main lounge at the Ahwanee Hotel in the Yosemite National Park. (The look of the Ahwanee Hotel is mimicked so closely, visitors often think the movie was filmed there.) The red men's restroom is almost identical to a bathroom at the Biltmore Hotel in Arizona, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Meanwhile, Kubrick had become acquainted with the Steadicam, a gyroscopically-leveled film camera which was small and light enough to be carried by a single man. The Steadicam freed the camera from being mounted on a dolly or on a wheeled mount. The Steadicam could be lowered almost to floor level, and Kubrick was fascinated with its smooth, gliding motion. The Steadicam gave Kubrick the idea of having every room in the fictional "Overlook Hotel" linked to every other room, like a maze.
Most films are shot out of order. This is because it is more efficient to use the same set, costumes, make-up, hair, lighting set-ups, and camera set-ups all at once than to set them up, tear them down, set up something else, tear it down, and go back to the first set-up. This also means that most sets are only just pieces of what is supposed to exist (e.g., just a bathroom, just a hallway, just a portion of the kitchen). Whole walls, ceilings, and portions of buildings are never built, but are assumed to exist "off camera" by the audience. But Kubrick wanted to shoot The Shining in order. This meant that the entire set had to be built as a single unit, and remain standing for the entire 46-week shoot. The massive Elstree Studios were used to create the interior of the Overlook Hotel. Every single room you see in the film was built, connected, and pre-lit.
Kubrick was also a fetishist for realism. In order to duplicate the look of real sunlight streaming in the windows of the hotel, he had a special rig built which could generate the huge amounts of light needed. More than 860 thousand-watt lamps were secured to a huge 80 by 30 foot scaffold. Each light could independently move, so that the movement of the sun at various times of the day could be perfectly replicated. The independent movement also allowed the director to adjust the lighting as the Steadicam moved through the set (keeping the lighting at the level required by the film stock).
The lights were so intense that if a person walked between the lights and the diffuser in front of them, their skin would burn. In January 1979, the lights actually caught part of the soundstage on fire. Much of the Overlook Hotel set was damaged, the Gold Room set in particular. (A large number of photographs from the 1920s had been loaned to Kubrick from the Warner Bros. photo archive. Nearly all of them were destroyed.) It took three weeks to rebuild the stage and set, and reconstruction of the soundstage alone cost $2.5 million. (The rebuilt soundstage was constructed taller than before. This was the soundstage which accommodated the Well of the Souls shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was the next film made at Elstree.) George Lucas had been due to take over the soundstage in March 1979 to film The Empire Strikes Back, but the fire forced him to move his film to nearby Lee International Studios. Meanwhile, Kubrick had his team duplicate part of the Overlook Hotel set on yet another Elstree soundstage so a second unit could film there (allowing Kubrick to lens two scenes at once).
Cinematographer John Alcott manufactured a miniature version of the set, complete with props and correctly colored interiors. He then shot these with a still camera, and experimented with lighting designs for two months -- showing Kubrick the results of his work on a near-daily basis. Once satisfied with the lighting design, Alcott visited the set on a weekly basis during its construction to run more tests, ensure that everything was being built and colored to specification, and to make sure that no new problems were cropping up once the set had gotten to full scale.
Construction of the set took four months. All light switches on the set turned on actual lights. All props were real, not tied down to stay in place. The typewriter worked, the freezer worked, the stoves worked, the television picked up real TV signals. But the set also hid a large number of antennas in the walls. The Steadicam sends out a television signal to a nearby video monitor, so the director can see what the cameraman is shooting. Repeated problems with Steadicam tests on the set required installation of these antennas so that the video stream was not interrupted.
The Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon was used for the front exterior of the fictional Overlook Hotel. A small-size replica of the Timberline's exterior was built on Elstree's back lot so that Kubrick could do repeated exterior shots. (The novel and the script called for the Grady murders to take place in Room 217. The Timberline Lodge asked Kubrick to change this to Room 237 -- a nonexistent room at the Timberline -- for fear that guests would not want to stay in Room 217. Kubrick agreed.)
The interior of the Torrance apartment was built full-scale and complete in every detail on a third soundstage at Elstree. Garrett Brown had been told that his Steadicam would be used primarily for shots of Danny pedaling his Big Wheel around the Overlook Hotel. But Kubrick liked the camera so much that nearly 70 percent of the film was shot with the Steadicam. This includes all the footage shot in the interior of the Torrance apartment. Brown was able to make such tight turns and weave around the tables, chairs, and other props that Kubrick kept using the camera.
Other fantastic shots are those of Danny Torrance pedaling his Big Wheel around the Overlook Hotel. The lengthiest shot is the once in which Danny is going around through the Colorado Lounge. Initially, cinematographer Garrett Brown ran behind Danny Lloyd on foot. But this shot, which lasts more than three minutes, left Brown (who was carrying the 60-pound Steadicam) wheezing and winded. Realizing that Brown would be left physically unable to capture the many takes Kubrick wanted, Kubrick tried using a modified skateboard to help propel Brown. That failed. They then tried a modified wheelbarrow, which also failed. Finally, the team modified a wheelchair for Brown to sit in. The Steadicam's battery pack and the sound equipment were towed behind it on a cart attached to the wheelchair by a rope.
The Sno-Cat garage set was two sets. Both were designed from a real garage Kubrick's team had photographed in the Pacific Northwest. The exterior set was built on the Elstree back lot, and snow machines were used to simulate the snowstorm Crothers and Burton move about in. The interior of the garage was built on an Elstreet soundstage.
The hedge maze is one of the most important elements in the film. It does not exist in the novel. In the novel, the Overlook Hotel is surrounded by shrubs and trees shaped into the form of animals. These come alive, and Danny has to avoid them as he tries to escape his father outside. Early tests of stop-motion and robotics convinced Kubrick that this element of the novel could not be done realistically. So during the scripting process, he and Diane Johnson conceived of a giant maze outside the front of the hotel. They worked the idea deeply into the script. The set design for the hotel interior is intended to confuse and bewilder just like the hedge maze does. The model of the maze which Jack looks at in the Colorado Lounge is just like the map of the maze which the audience sees outside the maze itself when Danny and Wendy go to play there one day. But the overhead shot Kubrick uses to show the maze model is vastly different -- both symmetrical and confusing (because it differs from what the audience has just seen). Jack sees tiny images of Wendy and Danny in this overhead shot, further confusing the audience. Are we seeing a real overhead shot of the maze, or is Jack imagining them inside the model? Or is there some supernatural force at work which allows Jack to actually see them in the center of the model? Or is any of this real at all?
The hedge maze set was one of the few sets not built in its entirety. Only a small portion of the maze was actually built, primarily the hotel-facing and side-facing entrances and a portion of the interior around both. The rest of the maze was a matte painting. But the maze was large enough to require a map to get around in. (Kubrick played practical jokes on his crew by giving them fake maps, and letting them get lost in the maze. When they cried for help, he used loudspeakers set in the hedges to broadcast his voice from all sides as he gave them useless advice for getting out.)
The maze was constructed at an abandoned airfield near Elstree studios. Chicken wire was stapled to empty plywood boxes, and living hedge branches woven into the wire. Arborists worked to keep the branches alive as long as possible, and they were replaced if they showed the slightest drooping. To make the hedges appear wider and longer than they were (and thus more ominous), the hedges were shot with an extremely long lens. This widened the horizontal viewing angle to almost 90 degrees. This made the hedges appear to stretch across the entire field of vision. To simulate the snow in the maze at the end of the film, more than 900 tons of salt and pulveerized styrofoam were used. The extremely intense lighting used in the maze raised temperatures inside the hedgerows to more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Actors Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd were required to wear heavy winter clothing (because it was supposed to be late fall and cold outside). Their makeup was laced with antiperspirant so they would not sweat on camera. They could film for only a few minutes until they became so hot that they had to run off camera and strip off their clothes to cool down.
To create that shot of a tiny Wendy and Danny inside the model of the hedge maze, an overhead shot was made of the model in the Colorado Lounge. Then a life-size central section of the hedge maze was built next to an apartment building near Elstree studios. Duvall and Lloyd were shot from the rooftop walking about in this section. The two shots were composited together.
The film's final chase sequence in the hedge maze took more than a month to shoot. Vaporized motor oil was pumped into the maze, which, under halogen quartz lights, looked like ice-fog. The oil was so poisonous that cinematographer Brown and the crew had to wear gas masks to prevent hacking and choking. Brown discovered that he couldn't get enough air to run after Danny Lloyd through the gas mask, so Brown jettisoned his Steadicam. A Steadicam prototype -- developed three years earlier and composed of just the lens, battery, and film magazine -- was used instead. This was less physically taxing on Brown, enabling him to spend more time in the maze and avoid using the gas mask. For the shot where Danny backtracks in his own footsteps, Brown had to wear stilts. The feet of the stilts where made from shoes exactly like those worn by actor Danny Lloyd, and Brown had to exactly step backward into Lloyd's footprints just as the actor was doing.
The film is famous for having almost no musical score. Like many directors, Kubrick listened to thousands of hours of classical and modern music to identify the music he wanted. He then hired composers Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind to write a full electronic score for the film. But almost all of this was tossed out. Carlos and Elkind adapted a part of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, and this survives in the film. It is played during the opening credits and while the family drives to the hotel. A few snippets were used in other places in the film, too. Legal issues with Kubrick and his estate (he died in 1999) kept the full electronic score from being released. It finally appeared on the disc Rediscovering Lost Scores Volumes 1 and 2 in 2005 (although it is not listed as part of The Shining but rather as unreleased music).
Some extra trivia about the film:
- The ghostly Grady (Philip Stone) never blinks throughout the entire film.
- The ghostly bartender Lloyd (Joe Turkel) blinks just twice: First after telling Jack he's not busy, and a second time after he tells Jack at the bar that his money is no good.
- Kubrick was a huge fan of extreme low-angle shots, which were first introduced to cinema by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. They are used throughout the film, but the most impressive one is when Jack talks to Grady through the locked storeroom door. (Kubrick himself laid down on the floor to hold a gel over a light to get the right effect.
As everyone knows, the film's second-to-last shot is a famous image of Jack Torrance sitting dead inside the hedge maze, frozen and covered in ice and snow. A jump cut takes the audience inside the hotel, where the camera glides down a dim hallway into the cavernous Gold Room. A wall of photographs is shown, and the camera gets a close-up of a photograph taken on July 4, 1921. Jack Torrance is shown in the photograph.
Interestingly, the film had a different ending when first released. After the shot of Jack's body encased in ice, a dissolve showed police standing outside the Overlook Hotel in the snow. A jump cut took the action to the interior of a hospital room. Wendy is shown resting in bed and Danny is shown playing with his toys in a nearby waiting room. Hotel manager Ullman (Barry Nelson) arrives and tells Wendy that they cannot find her husband's body. Ullman leaves, and walks past Danny playing on the waiting room floor. He then tosses a ball to the boy -- the same ball that mysteriously rolled into a hallway in front of Danny just before he was attacked in Room 237. Ullman laughs and walks away. A dissolve then takes the audience into the dimly-lit Overlook Hotel corridor and the film ends on the photograph.
That ending clearly showed (as Shelley Duvall said) that Ullman knew full well what was going to happen at the hotel. He knew Jack Torrance was unstable, and knew Torrance was likely to go mad and try to kill his familhy. Ullman is in cahoots with the spirits at the hotel, and an evil man.
A week after the film opened, Kubrick ordered all theaters throughout the United States to physically remove the scene from the film. All of this footage was returned to Kubrick, who destroyed it.
The removal of the scene leaves the film much more ambiguous.