Sunday, January 27, 2013

'The Shining': Stanley Kubrick v. Stephen King

     Stephen King recently announced hes working on a sequel to The Shining, one of the first of his monster horror hits. Then last week ran a story on the “lost” ending of Stanley Kubrick's almost-as-classic film version.

     That got me thinking about the novel The Shining. Im not sure if I read it before seeing Brian DePalma's adaptation of King's first published novel Carrie, but it was definitely the first of his books that I read, and I loved it. On one level, it was a classic haunted house mystery, but there was more going on there, including a weak father who loved his child but was almost helpless to avoid hurting him. Still, the Overlook Hotel definitely was haunted, and not by anything as simple as a single spirit. In some sense, the house was the haunting entity, possessing those who entered it. It may not have been extremely profound, but it was a complex and nuanced story. (My favorite haunted house novel is Richard Mathesons Hell House, which was made into the excellent film The Legend of Hell House.)
     When Kubrick decided he wanted to make a horror film, he settled on The Shining ... except he didnt want to make a supernatural horror film, so the father was not the pawn of the Overlook, but an insane would-be killer in his own right. By casting Jack Nicholson in the role, the audience can see this immediately.
     By deciding not to use voice-over narration, Danny Torrance -- the child who possesses the telepathic shine and carries the bulk of the plot and the burden/role of hero -- is reduced to an autistic. I cant recall if in the film it is ever revealed that his imaginary friend is himself in the future returning to warn his younger self of what is going to happen. Even if it is, the solution to redrum is only revealed to his mother when Danny autistically scrawls the word on the wall in crayon and she sees it in the mirror.
     Then Dick Halloran, who shares Danny's gift of shining, is even more impotent than in the book. He arrives to save Danny and Wendy, only to be killed with an ax. (In the book, he is hit with a roque mallet, sort of a croquet mallet, which is also a little ludicrous, but at least it doesn't kill him. He survives to redeem himself.)
     Finally, Jack Torrance is so pathetic that he is led into a maze and freezes to death (in the book, he dies when the hotel furnace explodes because the possessed Jack doesnt properly maintain it), while Wendy and Danny escape in a giant and comfortable snow cat, not the small and exposed-to-the-elements snowmobile of the book.
     The one change Kubrick or his screenwriter added that I like is the reams of paper on which Jack has typed “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” a nice representation of writer's block. 

     The worst part of the film is that Kubrick kept some supernatural elements which seem out of place if Jack is just mad.
     Still, many people consider the film a classic, and some who have read the book prefer Kubricks version. That King may not be completely happy with the film is suggested by the fact that he wrote the script for a miniseries that followed the book closely. (I don't care for that miniseries either, which probably proves something.)
     When King is asked what he thinks of a film that the asker says “ruined” one of his books, he quotes or paraphrases another writer to the effect that no, the books aren't ruined; they're still there on the bookshelf. So, I'll continue to enjoy Stephen Kings The Shining, Stanley Kubricks Dr. Strangelove and many Jack Nicholson films including Five Easy Pieces and Chinatown. You can keep Stanley Kubricks The Shining.


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