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Room 237 (2012)

IFC Films/MPI Media
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/24/2013

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/24/2013

If you think about it, movie viewing is a very singular experience, as we sit passively watching the movie. This is an activity which we could easily do alone. But, most of us like to watch movies with others. Why? So that we can talk about it afterwards! Even those with a passing interest in film will engage in a discussion of why they did or didn't like the movie, their favorite parts, etc. Some may want to take the conversation to the next level and throw in some film theory ideas about the true meaning of the film and the director's hidden agendas. This sort of idea permeates Room 237, a mis-guided documentary which may turn you off of movies altogether.

For Room 237, Director Rodney Ascher has gathered five individuals to talk about Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film, The Shining. But, the speakers -- Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, and Jay Weidner -- aren't here to discuss their feelings about The Shining. No, they are here to tell us what they film is really about. From the plight of the Native Americans to the Holocaust to the Apollo 11 moon landing, each his their own notion of what Kubrick was really trying to say with the movie. We never get to see any of those who are talking, but through watching clips from The Shining, they each outline in detail their comprehensive theories on the multiple hidden messages in the movie.

Room 237 is certainly an interesting experiment, but I can tell you that everything in the movie which sounds cool or intriguing simply doesn't work. The idea that we never get to see any of the participants is unique, but it quickly wears thin, as we watch clip after clip from The Shining, sometimes seeing the same scene multiple times as different speakers may reference that one scene. I didn't necessarily want to see those who were talking, but it would have been nice to see their faces to get an idea of what they looked like and to attempt to gauge just how sincere they are about their ideas.

Why is that last point so important? Because the ideas spouted here are so insane, that's why. Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and most everything is fair game when it comes to film theory, but some of the ideas here are so far-fetched that one can't help but wonder if the entire film isn't a big joke. The most questionable thing here is that several of those involved view continuity errors are signals from Kubrick. A typewriter changing colors or a chair disappearing aren't gaffs, they are clues. The implication here is that Kurbrick was such a master filmmaker that he could make no mistakes, and that these events happened on purpose. There are also in-depth discussions of the layout of the hotel and how every seemingly benign thing in the background has a deeper meaning. The movie really goes off the rails when the idea is introduced that if you run the film forwards and backwards simultaneously and superimpose the images, you'll see that the story works in both directions. Oh, did I mention that Kubrick hid himself in the clouds.

Taken in small doses, these theories could be interesting, but Ascher makes two huge mistakes here. First of all, he allows the speakers to just keep talking and talking for 100 minutes, with no interruptions. Listening to these people drone on and on, again, sometimes about the same things, is draining and it all gets old very quickly. Secondly, there is no counter-point here. The talkers make their crazy points and are never questioned or challenged. Perhaps Ascher wanted the viewing audience to make those counter-points -- and you will, as you scream at the TV -- but, in the end, this all sounds like a terrible session of group therapy.

Lastly, the structure of Room 237 is weird. Again, we get clips from The Shining which illustrate the points the speakers are trying to make. Fine, that makes sense. We also get clips from other films form Kubrick, whether or not they are being mentioned at the time. Then, things get really weird, as the film is littered with clips from the Italian horror films Demons and Demons 2. I can tell you that Kubrick and Lamberto Bava are worlds apart, so that's just odd. Even stranger, Room 237 offers music from other movies as part of its soundtrack. I definitely spotted the theme from Phantasm in there, and there was a song I recognized from an Italian film, but I couldn't put my finger on it. This music was specifically recorded for this movie. Why? Perhaps the most cloying thing is that we never hear from Ascher to learn how he got this group of speakers together and what his true aim was. Is The Shining a movie which is worth discussing? Definitely, and Room 237 shows the wrong way to go about doing so.

Room 237 convinced me that Kubrick's ghost was going to appear at any moment and push eject on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of IFC Films/MPI Media. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. As the entire movie is made up of clips from other movies, the video quality varies somewhat. For the most part, it appears that the clips were taken from the best elements possible, as the image is sharp and clear. Most of the clips are free from grain or defects and the colors look fine. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The speakers are always clear and audible, although one sounds as if it's a phone interview. The music...that odd music...sound fine, and often produces mild stereo and surround effects.

The Room 237 Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. "The Mstermnd Speaks: Commentary with Kevin McLeod" is an AUDIO COMMENTARY from a blogger who has written exhaustively on The Shining. "Secrets of The Shining: Live from the First Annual Stanley Film Festival" (50 minutes) has a panel discussion with Mick Garris, Rodney Ascher, Jay Weidner, and Leon Battali, who talk about the movie, its history and the puzzles. The Disc contains eleven DELETED SCENES which run about 24 minutes. These are simply dialogue from the various speakers, set against a computer screen background. "The Making of the Music" (3 minutes) is simply footage of the composers and musicians in the studio while the music plays. There's no explanation here of why the music was pilfered. "Mondo Poster Design Discussion with Artist Aled Lewis" (3 minutes) offers a still shot of the poster while the artist points out specific elements of the image. The extras are rounded out by a TRAILER for the film, as well as three ALTERNATE TRAILERS.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.