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Neither this film, nor any view or opinion expressed in it, nor the context in which film footage and images are used is approved or endorsed by, or is any way associated with the Kubrick 1981 Trust, Stanley Kubrick's family, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., or anyone else connected with the making of the motion picture The Shining ('The Shining Filmmakers'). The views and opinions expressed in this documentary film are solely those of the commentators in it and do not reflect the views of Stanley Kubrick or The Shining Filmmakers.

Room 237
I used to think that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was just a film ‘non-film people’ (i.e. the people who have better things to do with their time and energy than me) would go to because they thought it made them sound informed. When confronted with the question of their favourite horror movie, every Tom, Dick, and Harry seems to cite ‘ The Shining’ without even really thinking about it. I’ve since realized that the majority of these people aren’t just spewing out a random title they know has critical pedigree and a general air of respectability – they’re citing a movie that meant something to them, perhaps even more than most of them realize. Kubrick’s film is a cold and calculated machine that burrows its way into the viewer’s memory banks in ways that they aren’t capable of understanding. It’s the kind of thing that simply melts into the greater film-viewing experience for most of us, but others find themselves driven to obsession while contemplating the intricate clues Kubrick may or may not have left us concerning the film’s true meaning.

Documentaries about movies are usually focused on the behind-the-scenes process or, in the case of older films, the retrospective cultural impact (or lack thereof). There aren’t many documentaries that theorize on the filmmaker’s subtextual and subconscious intensions. Without the input of said filmmakers, such a practice would seem difficult, to say the least. I must admit that, when confronted with the concept of Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, I thought the whole thing sounded more worthy of a YouTube conspiracy video than a long-form documentary subject. But Ascher isn’t another run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorist – he has creative integrity, and Room 237 is the most handsome film of its type I’ve ever seen (which I suppose isn’t saying a lot, since I can’t actually think of any comparable films that were any good). The film works as a piece of entertainment because Ascher isn’t presenting any of these theories as facts or even as his own ideas – he is illustrating someone else’s thought processes and, quite cleverly, he’s illustrating them via footage from movies, many of them otherwise unrelated to The Shining (including Lamberto Bava’s Demons and Demons 2, of all things).

Room 237
These ideas are attributed to Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, and Jay Weidner – each of whom speculate on Kubrick’s intentions during their overlapping interviews. The best bits aren’t the conspiracies, but the notes on Kubrick’s sharp, obsessive filmmaking (like lining up dissolves), the sets’ impossible geographies, or bawdy little jokes (Jack reading a Play Girl magazine). These are the objective substance most of us would never have otherwise notice and may be the secret ingredient that drives so many of us revisit The Shining (or, I suppose, what makes some people default to calling it their favourite horror movie). Ascher is smart to frontload the movie with these more fact-based observations, because it makes it a lot easier to swallow some of the frustrating leaps in logic that come later. Following a detailed account of Kubrick’s fanatical perfectionism, it’s pretty easy to buy into presumption that he meant to represent/interpret historical events, like the Holocaust and the genocide of the American Indian. Even better, when Ascher edits these various viewpoints together, the tableau drives the viewer to realize that these theories often end up supporting one another, except for Jay Weidner’s ridiculous Apollo moon landing hypothesis, which is delightfully contradicted by other readings.

Room 237

Video


Room 237 is presented in 1080p video and framed at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Like most documentaries, its footage has been culled from a variety of different formats. This including the movie clips, most of which have all been taken from digital sources (not spliced from the original film). The short story here is that it is a fine looking disc that overcomes most of its problems, because they serve the greater stylistic texture of the film. These problems pertain to the quality of the material that Ascher was able to get his hands on. Some of the footage, specifically the footage from most of Kubrick’s films, looks crisp, clean, and colourful. As a matter of fact, I re-watched WB’s Shining Blu-ray immediately afterwards and was surprised to see that Ascher’s footage might actually be sharper and more vibrant than theirs. Other footage appears to have been taken from DVDs and even YouTube or similarly compressed sources. Ascher even ‘grains up’ some of the images he should have the control to make totally clear, specifically the titles. The only time the blocking effects and resolution issues actually bothered me was during some of the frame-by-frame scenes, especially ones where subtle banding effects radiate from the center as the image gets brighter or darker. It is interesting to note that Ascher has chosen to frame the footage from The Shining in 1.78:1, instead of Kubrick’s preferred 1.37:1…

Audio


This Blu-ray features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that sounds best while subtly working the stereo and surround channels around the basic interview dialogue. The sound design takes its cues from some of Kubrick’s films, mostly The Shining, adding eerie noises and driving music that sit beneath the narration without overwhelming it. These bleed from the front and rear speakers with wicked subtlety, especially the sounds of Nazi rallies that play during discussion of The Shining’s possible Holocaust connections. The narration is relatively consistent, though the volume levels do change up a bit as participants move away from the microphones. During one discussion, the interviewee’s young child becomes agitated and can be heard crying from the stereo channels (the interview and film are paused, so he can look into it). The music, which was composed by Jonathan Snipes and Willaim Hutson, echoes Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s original Shining themes and includes some original keyboard compositions. The end title theme is a wonderful pop-rock take on Carlos and Elkind’s opening title theme that I’d love to have on my iPod.

Room 237

Extras


The extras begin with a commentary track from Kevin McLeod, aka: ‘The MSTRMND.’ McLeod is, apparently, the internet authority on Stanley Kubrick and his films and had declined to be interviewed while Room 237 was being made. As expected, this is an extremely technical look at the way Kubrick’s work and the way he interacts with audiences on a cognitive and psychological level. This is more of an audio lesson plan than a commentary track and McLeod’s occasional lack of screen-specific discussion leads one to wonder if this might have worked better as a picture-in-picture/interactive commentary. He makes references to images we, the viewer, aren’t necessarily looking at. At best, though, McLeod is engaging and adds an additional level to Ascher’s film.

Secrets of the Shining: Live From the First Annual Stanley Film Festival (50:20, HD), a Q&A panel featuring Ascher, The Shining miniseries director Mick Garris, conspiracy theorist Jay Weidner, and Kubrick’s friend and collaborator Leon Vitali, hosted by Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci. The panel was recorded from Colorado's historic Stanley Hotel and covers the themes of both Kubrick and Ascher’s films for nearly an hour without growing stale or overlapping too much. Leon Vitali and Garris’ contributions end up being the most valuable because they represent the personal views of Kubrick and Stephen King better than anyone in the Room 237 did (not that Kubrick or King’s P.O.V.’s are necessary elements for this particular film). Vitali is a bit of a bummer, though, because he has very little interest in the idea of the conspiracies and writes basically everything off to continuity errors.

The disc also features Making the Music (3:30, HD), a brief, music-video-like look at the process of recording Snipes and Hutson’s score, eleven ‘deleted scenes’ (dialogue tracks with only the ProTools editing screen to look at, 23:50, HD), a discussion with Mondo poster design artist Aled Lewis (3:00, HD), the theatrical trailer, and alternate trailers.

Room 237

Overall


Room 237 wasn’t the life-changing event I was secretly hoping it would be, based on some of the more fervently positive reviews, but it’s certainly a unique documentary experience. Perhaps the best compliment I can give director Rodney Ascher is that I wasn’t ready for his movie to end – even the most cockamamie theories were fascinating and the more objective study of Kubrick’s technique spurred me to watch the original movie again with new eyes. This Blu-ray features about as good a 1080p transfer as we can expect from the source material, the DTS-HD MA sound is perfectly spooky, and the extras include an almost excessively in-depth commentary from Kubrick expert ‘MSTRMND.’ All in all, a great package and a very entertaining film.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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