Great Movie Openings will be an ongoing article which focuses on 1 film that know how to grab you from scene 1.
Today’s Scene is from: The Shining
Stanley Kubrick was many things. A maniac. An antagonist. A meticulous tyrant. But, he was also a total genius. His brilliance can be seen in any of his films. Love him or hate him you cannot deny his influence and his career in cinema. I could focus on any one of his film’s but today I want to focus on The Shining which is my all time favorite horror film.
Kubrick’s attention to detail and his subtext can be found in almost every cell of The Shining. Whereas some director’s choose to place some foreshadowing or metaphor into their films, Kubrick was a master of layered subtext. From the opening shot of the film to the slow pull in of the final frames each set-piece feels like it was specifically placed to add up to the entire film.
The film opens with a wide angle lens view of a lake with an island in it while the camera is shooting from a helicopter. Water, which is usually used as a symbol of life and the island used as a point of salvation, is quickly passed by to the rocky crags of the mountains surrounding it. This quickly cuts to an overhead view of a desolate road twisting through a pine forest as a miniscule car drives along through. This is the first shot that reflects the mazes and patterns that follow throughout the film including the final maze and the patterns on the carpet. Fifteen seconds into the film and Kubrick is already subconsciously placing the idea of confusion that will pay off at the end of the movie.
What follows in the opening are these gigantic sweeping shots of the Rockies following this car’s journey up the mountain. Sometimes the shot swoops right up beside the car and then flies above again, causing a dizzying effect. The Shining on the whole is a very claustrophobic film. Most of the film takes place inside the hotel which feels like the walls are closing in but extremely huge at the same time. Kubrick knew how to build this feeling of isolation from the first frames of the film. If you notice closely, there are no other cars going in the same direction as the Torrence’s car is. The other cars seem to be escaping down the mountain in a knowing way.
As the car gets closer to its destination, the lakes and fields are replaced by the snow and sparse trees. You can feel the coldness, the emptiness, of their journey towards the Overlook Hotel. Then the shot cuts its focus from the car to the hotel itself. Located almost at the top of the mountain a tracking shot closes in on this giant on the mountaintop. The color almost matches the background, making the hotel feel like a living place, part of the mountain itself. This builds the idea of the hotel being alive from the start, as much a character as Wendy, Danny, or Jack.
I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention the opening theme by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. When the film starts the music is filled by these deep almost muffled tones in 4/4 time. It’s loud and feels giant as well. However, the closer to the Overlook the Torrence’s get, the more disjointed the music gets. It’s filled with discord and what sounds like the wailing of the unrest of the dead. It’s a score that gets under your skin and sets you off edge as much as the visuals of the openings.
To me, the rest of the film is absolutely as brilliant and look soon to see an in-depth analysis of the movie. The Shining is a Kubrick and genre classic and a must see for any lover of film.
Check out the Opening Scene Below
Check back soon for the next installment!