The Superior European Cut of The Shining Needs to be Protected

The longer US cut of The Shining is becoming the go-to version of the film on physical media and in cinemas despite being substantially worse than the UK cut...

Region-locking has been the bane of many a film fan and physical media collector for decades, but with 4K Ultra-HD Blu-rays the pain has vanished. All discs are region free, allowing consumers to import at will, circumvent rights issues, and have greater access to world cinema. Often, the discs themselves, sold, say, in the UK and the US, are now identical. Foolishly, I hadn’t seen any problems with this, lapping up releases greedily, until I decided to upgrade one of my favourite films from Blu-ray to 4K: The Shining.

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece is presented beautifully but because the UK edition has the same disc as the US, it’s the extended US cut of the film. 25 additional minutes – scenes both new and extended. I had never watched this version and it was fascinating to do so for the first time, but as the credits rolled the novelty was over. I didn’t like it anywhere near as much as the UK/European cut. Not only is the US cut not the version I first loved and hold nostalgia for, but I consider it a far weaker edit of the film.

This idea that the longer cuts of movies must be superior needs to die. That somehow they all contain more of the director’s vision, more of everything good. It’s untrue; often the cuts were made for good reason. Each example needs to be looked at case-by-case and in the case of The Shining the longer US cut is, quite simply, worse. And yet, with the latest home media release, both on 4K and standard Blu-ray, the US cut is the only version available. No alternate EU cut, no second disc. The better version is being erased.

It was Kubrick himself who cut down the film for European markets, although there are conflicting statements on whether it’s because he thought audiences were smarter than those in the US and therefore needed less backstory, or if he was generally unhappy with the US cut and wanted a better version, or if the studio was unhappy with the initial mixed reviews. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it happened.

The EU cut moves at a much better pace, with the Torrance family getting to the Overlook hotel quicker, and not stopping to explain unnecessary details. The US cut has Mr Ullman explaining why the hotel is closed for the winter (not needed) and he discusses how tricky it is to navigate the hedge maze (duh). Ullman’s extended tour also includes the Gold Room, an addition I dislike. It ruins the later reveal of the room, the magic of it. It’s effective seeing the room both completely empty and then later full with ghostly party guests. I don’t want to first see it while some cleaners are hoovering the carpets as the guests leave.

In the US cut, a doctor checks on Danny after his first vision, and then she and Wendy discuss Jack’s alcoholism and Danny’s broken arm. It’s all very straightforward exposition regurgitated uncreatively. Jack’s abuse is more interesting as something initially talked around and then revealed later, as he once again becomes violent. It makes the audience wonder how much the hotel is affecting Jack, supernaturally or psychologically, and how much is his innate character. The US cut casts him immediately as a bad guy and ruins the ambiguity. His alcoholism is better when it is explored abstractly, part of the metaphor and ideas at play, open to some level of interpretation, but the US cut hits the viewer over the head with it.

A moment I actively hate from the US cut is a scene where Jack states he has a feeling he has been to the hotel before. My interpretation of the ending and the photograph has always been that Jack was absorbed into the hotel. I hate the reincarnation idea, that Jack is somehow destined to return to the Overlook after working there in a previous life. It lessens Danny’s role. He’s the special one, the one with the shining. I like that the hotel was using Jack as a tool, preying on his weaknesses, to get Danny. In the European cut it can be interpreted any way the viewer likes but the US version guides the audience towards Kubrick’s specific reincarnation idea.

The European cut wisely excises some additional Halloran scenes of his long journey to the Overlook, with him on a plane and then making phone calls to both the cops and a garage. There’s still plenty of scenes with him remaining to make his sudden death a shocking and fun twist; the extra moments are unnecessary overkill that take us away from the tension at the hotel for too long. And at the Overlook, there’s a moment of lame silly generic haunted house stuff where Wendy runs through a room of cobwebs and skeletons. It’s not scary and ruins the ominous threatening tone. It doesn’t fit with the stranger and more unique horror of the film. 

I do fear that the superior European/UK cut of The Shining is being replaced. My local multiplex had Halloween showings of the film in 2019 and 2020 and they were of the UK version. Most recently in 2022 it was the US cut with no explanation or even indication, other than the runtime. We need to save the UK version. Ideally both cuts should be available. This would still be the case if the US version was better but the fact that it is the worse offering is damaging to the film’s legacy. My 4K copy of Apocalypse Now has all three versions of the film, the best still being the theatrical cut. The same too for Alien

All hope is not lost, however. The European cut was shown on BBC Four recently, remaining on iPlayer for a month. I took a trip to see Stop Making Sense at the Prince Charles Cinema in London and was happy to see The Shining playing there later that day, pointedly described as the UK version. As for home media, I’m keeping my old Blu-ray, shelf space be damned. I’m being forced between picture quality and actual film quality. Outside maybe another viewing of the US cut just for the novelty factor, it’ll forever be the UK cut I sit down to watch. 

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