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Rodney Ascher
Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns

Some movies stay with you forever...and ever...and ever.

In 1980 Stanley Kubrick released his masterpiece of modern horror, The Shining. Over 30 years later we re still struggling to understand its hidden meanings. Rodney Ascher s wry and provocative documentary ROOM 237 fuses fact and fiction through interviews with both fanatics and scholars, creating a kaleidoscopic deconstruction of Kubrick s still-controversial classic.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$29,693 on two screens
Domestic Gross


Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English PCM Lossless 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 9/24/2013

• Audio Commentary with Kevin McLeod
• “Secrets of The Shining: Live from the First Annual Stanley Film Festival” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• “The Making of the Music” Featurette
• “Mondo Poster Design Discussion with Artist Aled Lewis” Featurette
• Trailers and Previews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Room 237 [Blu-Ray] (2013)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 24, 2014)

With 2013’s Room 237, we get a documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 horror flick The Shining. However, it takes an unusual approach, as it focuses on the movie’s themes/meaning and not the nuts and bolts of its creation.

Across the documentary’s 103 minutes, we hear interpretations from journalist Bill Blakemore, novelist Juli Kearns, filmmaker Jay Weidner, historian Geoffrey Cocks, and artist John Fell Ryan. The participants don’t appear on camera; instead, we see footage from The Shining and other films as well as other relevant elements and recreated illustrative images.

We never see the speakers on-screen; instead, we view movie segments that usually relate to their remarks. This becomes important, as often those visuals illustrate the points being made.

Though the speakers get identified by name, the movie never gives us any biographical information about them. (I had to look up many of them online so I could offer “job descriptions”.) This is a mistake, as we don’t have any reason to care what they think. If I know that someone is an anthropologist or a film historian, I will invest in his opinions more than if he makes donuts. Perhaps that’s not fair – maybe Joe the Donut Guy is just as smart as the anthropologist or the film expert – but in this domain, I think it’s probable the experts will deliver more tangible insights. When I have no clue what a person’s credentials are, I find it tough to care what that person thinks.

It also doesn’t help that we never get any credits again, which makes the result confusing, as it’s easy to lose track of the speaker. Maybe that doesn’t matter – perhaps it’s unimportant if Theory A comes from Weidner or Ryan – but simple text credits when the participant changes would better allow us to focus on their comments, as we’d not have expend mental imagery in our attempts to figure out who’s who.

Though in retrospect, maybe that was a good idea, as our efforts to identify speakers distract us from the nuttiness of so many of their comments. Actually, we find some interesting theories here, so I don't want to disparage all of then as goofy. The program mixes genuinely viable interpretations with wacky ones, so it’s not just a grab-bag of lunacy, and given the detail with which Kubrick made his films, it becomes more difficult to dismiss the various viewpoints as coincidence.

That said, 237 does enter the realm of obsessive nit-picking – and plenty of the interpreted details are clearly wrong. That’s one nice aspect of 237: because it shows us the film elements to which the speakers refer, we can judge their interpretations more easily.

Thus we can go “huh?” when one speaker tells us there’s a minotaur in a skiing poster, and we can roll our eyes when another person sees a Hitler mustache in Nicholson’s hairline. We can also discern that a participant completely invents a sigh where one doesn’t exist during an early scene when the Torrances arrive at the lodge. We’re told that a secondary character – one allegedly crucial to the story – moans when told to move their luggage, but as we view the scene, it’s abundantly clear that this doesn’t occur.

As I mentioned, Kubrick’s style makes it likely that hidden messages/images exist in his work, but this doesn’t mean that all sightings of such material are correct. Indeed, 237 operates more as a cinematic Rorschach than a real exploration of what The Shining means. It’s like the JFK conspiracy theorists: the various viewpoints often contradict each other, so it’s not possible that all can be correct.

Thus it becomes up to the viewer to sift through these and decide which one(s) work the best. I’d think more highly of the interpretations if they left open at least a little wiggle room for mistakes/coincidences/sloppiness. Again, I understand that Kubrick was meticulous, but no director’s perfect; goofs will occur, and in Kubrick’s case, I could believe that he left in “errors” just for the fun of it, not to convey deeper meaning.

All that said, 237 can be an interesting exploration of the ways in which various people can interpret an identical event. This isn’t a crime witnessed from differing physical POVs – it’s a movie that never, ever changes at all, so the fact so many folks take away such radically different imagery and meaning can become fascinating.

And it occasionally is fascinating here, though I admit 237 sags as it goes. It just throws too much at us, so eventually, the long progression of theories tires us out. Less can be more, and that’s the case for 237, a good but spotty documentary.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Room 237 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Consisting almost entirely of film clips and archival materials, the visuals looked fine but unexceptional.

Sharpness usually looked good. Some movie clips appeared slightly soft, especially in wide shots. However, the majority of the pieces were acceptably concise and distinctive. Minor instances of shimmering and jaggies appeared, but edge haloes weren’t a problem.

Source flaws occurred, mostly due to the older archival materials, though a few movie clips showed them as well. Some specks and marks appeared, but these never became too intrusive.

Colors varied dependent on the sources and generally looked decent, though they tended towards some blandness. The tones were a bit flatter than I’d like and came across as a little wan, though usually reasonably accurate.

Blacks also varied and went from fairly deep to somewhat inky, but they were usually decent, and low-light shots followed suit. Those were acceptably visible but not tremendously concise. This was a watchable presentation.

Similar thoughts greeted the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio of Room 237. The talky program mostly concentrated on the forward speakers, as speech dominated the program and stayed in the center. A lot of music also appeared throughout the show, and those elements demonstrated pretty positive stereo imaging and spread to the rear.

Audio quality appeared fine for this material. Speech seemed concise and distinctive, with only a smidgen of edginess at times. Music sounded full and rich, and the occasional effects elements appeared accurate enough. Nothing here seemed impressive, but the mix suited the material.

When we head to the set’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from writer Kevin McLeod. A Shining theorist, McLeod initially declined to participate in Room 237 but he liked the film so much he decided to add his views, which he does in this running, screen-specific track.

This makes for a commentary that’s all about interpretation, so it’s essentially an extension of the material found in the main program. Like many of the discussions in the main film, it’s reasonably interesting, but it also runs too long. A little of this material goes a long way, so an added 103 minutes of theories can become tiresome. Still, McLeod has given this subject a lot of thought, so if you’re interested in the topic, his track deserves a listen.

Secrets of The Shining: Live from the First Annual Stanley Film Festival runs 50 minutes, 19 seconds and involves Shining mini-series director Mick Garris, Room 237 director Rodney Ascher, Kubrick’s friend/assistant Leon Vitale and theorist Jay Weidner. They talk about what makes Shining memorable, resonant and long-lasting, themes and interpretation of the film, and other topics related to the movie.

After so many “conspiracy theory” interpretations of The Shining, it’s nice to get some alternate viewpoints here. Vitale offers the most active anti-conspiracy take, as he negates virtually all of the theories; Weidner occasionally looks like he’s about to pop in the face of these denials! I’m not sure how much we want to accept Vitale – heck, the guy doesn’t even remember when 2001 was made and he doesn’t seem to understand you’re supposed to hold a microphone to your mouth – but this is still an intriguing piece.

11 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 23 minutes, 51 seconds and include more notes from the film’s participants. (They don’t receive identification here.) The content expands on the material in the final film, so we get a lot more theories and interpretation. This works less well than in the finished product, though, due to a lack of visuals; while 237 uses relevant film clips, here we simply see a computer screen that shows the playback of the audio file.

Without those visual cues, it becomes more difficult to dig into the presented concepts. The speakers continually refer to movie sequences but we’re unable to see them and follow the theories. Fans will still want to listen to the scenes, but they lose impact due to the bland visuals.

Under the three-minute, 28-second The Making of the Music, we get a glorified music video. We learn nothing about the score; instead, we just watch aspects of its recording. It’s forgettable.

Finally, Mondo Poster Design Discussion with Artist Aled Lewis goes for three minutes, one second. As expected, Lewis chats about his work for the film. We see his poster in a mix of variations that spell out his concepts. Though brief, “Design” gives us a nice glimpse at Lewis’s poster.

The disc opens with ads for My Amityville Horror, The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, Maniac and Byzantium. We also get the film’s theatrical trailer as well as three alternate trailers. All four ads are variations on a theme, so don’t expect a lot of variety.

In Room 237, we find a wide variety of interpretations of The Shining. The documentary has good elements and can be intriguing, but it runs too long and grows wearying after a while. The Blu-ray provides decent picture and audio along with a reasonable collection of bonus materials. I like the concept of 237 but think it only occasionally entertains.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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