Writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) decides to moonlight as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Despite concerns for cabin fever, he takes his family to the desolate hotel, which gets snowed in during winter. His son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), often talks to an imaginary friend. Instead of giving Danny valuable information like the lottery numbers, this imaginary friend reveals extra sensory information about family trips to Danny on a daily basis. He warns Danny against visiting the hotel. Danny tells his mom (Shelley Duval) that he doesn't wish to visit the Overlook Hotel, but he gets dragged there anyway, imaginary friend and all.
Once at the hotel, one of the staff offers to look after Danny while his parents are shown around. Dick Hallorann (Scatman Cothers) gives Danny some ice cream and reveals that he knows Danny is psychic. Being telepathic is a condition Dick's grandmother described as 'the shining'. Most people would shrug it off as an ice cream headache, but not these two. Danny asks about room 273. Dick is visibly upset and demands that Danny stayed out of that room.
Some inexplicable incidents occur which cause Jack Torrance to experience an existential crisis. Are they hallucinations? Is Jack's crisis a product of his struggle with alcoholism? Is the hotel really haunted? Is Danny really telepathic or was this in the days before the dangers of too much tartrazine were known? Questions such as these eventually drive Jack to wield an axe against anything with body heat.
Based on the book by Stephen King. If you see that anywhere on a DVD cover, chances are it's a terrible movie. However, it is unfair to compare a book to films based on the book. They are different media with different strengths and weaknesses. Judging the film on its own, Kubrick does manage to capture the desolate winter. The immense loneliness of the Overlook Hotel is captured beautifully. Likewise, the sheer majestic size of the hotel compared with the insignificant size of its inhabitants is captured very well.
There is also a mini series version produced in 1997. This version owes more to the book than the Kubrick version, but lacks the distinctive nitpicking Kubrick style. As an illustration, Kubrick demanded that all the pages of Jack Torrance's book be typed. All they consist of are multiple instances of the line 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. Heaven knows why they couldn't photocopy it.
The pace is excruciatingly slow. It is very hard to have a film with such a plodding pace that still builds tension. Rosemary's Baby is an example of a slow film that does manage to build tension all the way through, but the Shining is not. Kubrick decides to focus on the story of Danny instead of on the ramblings of Jack's mind. This is the only source of horror in the film, since the hallucinations are not particularly scary nor striking. If I recall, the book had much more by means of paranormal events, with a very clear decent into both madness and poltergeists on behalf of Jack. This film relies on your ability as the viewer to put yourself in the shoes of Danny, imagining that you are at the mercy of your parents and one of them tries to root you out because of a vision of a lady in the water. A lady who is not your mother. Naughty, naughty!
The character of Dick Hallorann is the coolest, slickest black man ever to be portrayed on celluloid. Check out his porno pad! I bet even Hugh Hefner looked upon that pad with envy. That pad is so überporno he doesn't even need to play Barry White to convince women to part with their clothes in there. No wonder he was reluctant to go to the hotel in aid of Danny.
Judging the film by the 10 commandments of horror, it does have all the right characters. It does have buckets of blood, albeit not in a gory way. It sincerely lacks by means of fake latex heads and it does take forever to get to the end. But it does have a surprising twist once it does get to the end. This is a Kubrick film. When viewed as such, it is a product of high culture. It is however, not a very good horror film, despite the classic Jack Nicholson performance in one of his most lauded roles.