Adaptations & Remakes: The Shining

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Today has been a big day for The Obsessive Viewer. First the podcast and now I’m introducing a new series of posts.

Adaptations & Remakes will be an ongoing feature where I take a movie or a book and compare it to its remake or adaptation (or sometimes, as you’ll see here, both). Each post will follow the same basic format. I’ll start by talking about the general plot then move onto the original work. Then, before I discuss the remake, I’ll share my thoughts on how I would adapt and/or remake it.

This being Stephen King Week, I would be remiss not to make The Shining my first Remakes & Adaptations subject. Stephen King’s terrifying novel about a family at the mercy of a haunted hotel spawned a horror movie classic and a miniseries King himself wrote. It’s a trifecta of terror and you can read my analysis of below.

And don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter and like The Obsessive Viewer on Facebook.

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Source Material: The Shining by Stephen King

The Shining was the first Stephen King book I ever read. I remember sitting in a recliner in my family’s living room with the paperback in my hands, being totally entranced by it. It was a summer afternoon with broad daylight spreading throughout the room. I was the only person home at the time and, just as Danny is about to enter room 217, my parents opened the front door. I jumped out of my seat.

I’ve read the book a couple more times since then. It still stands as one of my favorite King books. The isolation felt by the family in the Overlook really comes through on the page. Jack’s descent into madness is paced so well that it’s nearly impossible to just read a chapter or two at a time.

The last time I read the book was a couple of years ago. Now an adult, I did most of my reading at work. I work nights in an empty office building. It’s amazing how a book can transport you back to a time you’ve nearly forgotten. That’s what The Shining did for me. Even though I’ve had my job for several years now, reading The Shining at work made me feel like the building was my own Overlook. The fear and general unease that comes with reading The Shining actively changed my perception of a building I know incredibly well to the point where I felt like a stranger at work.

There aren’t many books that can do that.

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How They Adapted it: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)

Loving the novel and loving Kubrick’s adaptation are not mutually exclusive. As a movie by itself, The Shining is one of the greatest horror films of all time. As an adaptation, it’s not the most faithful. For budget reasons, the hedge animals were converted into a hedge maze. Making for a different climax from the book.  Some things are missing too, as to be expected.

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One of the more unsettling parts of the book (for a spheksophobe, such as myself) was everything involving the wasp nest. It doesn’t appear in the movie. In face, not much of the caregiver elements of the story are kept in. It’s understandable. The movie is about Jack’s descent into madness and the allure of the phantoms of the Overlook. We don’t need to see any of the everyday stuff he has to tend to on the grounds. I just think the wasp nest would have been really effective on me as a viewer.

Another issue related to the adaptation involves the way Jack is portrayed. In the book, Jack Torrance is a relatively normal guy who works to vanquish the demon drink after a couple horrible alcohol-related incidents. He’s an interesting and relatable character whose downward spiral into insanity is caused by the spirits of the Overlook getting their hooks into him.

Kubrick’s version of Jack (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) isn’t that relatable. At least, I should hope he isn’t. Nicholson plays the part as though Jack is already halfway to crazytown when he accepts the job. This isn’t a slight on the filmmaking (or, necessarily the film itself) at all. In fact, I have nothing but praise for Nicholson’s performance when viewed outside the realm of being an adaptation. He’s magnificently terrifying in this role and it makes the ride even more exciting. I just like the way the character was written in the book.

Kubrick does manage to improve upon the book in one way. Scatman Crothers’ Hallorann is better than his literary counterpart. In the book, every time there was a cut away to Hallorann, I felt like there was a disconnect in the storytelling. It felt unnatural to leave the Overlook for a chapter at a time every once in a while. That’s the brilliance of King’s storytelling ability. He writes about a haunted hotel seducing the winter caretaker and the hotel ends up entrancing the reader.

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SPOILERS: DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE

In the book, Hallorann comes back to save the day. In Kubrick’s depiction, Jack Torrance murders him suddenly with an axe to the chest. It’s absolutely brilliant and incredibly shocking. It gives Jack a far more dangerous quality and ratchets up the suspense tenfold.

Apparently Stephen King liked Kubrick’s change so much that he incorporated it into the book Misery.

END SPOILERS: CONTINUE READING

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When it’s not viewed against the Stephen King source material, The Shining is a very difficult movie to find fault in. Kubrick’s style, with his wide angles and long takes set to a hauntingly memorable score, is one of a kind. He playfully shows us the gargantuan size of the Overlook while he pits the Torrance family into a claustrophobic, isolated hell. He hits the nail on the head when it comes to the shrinking feeling of growing discomfort as the movie makes its various shifts into murderous, otherworldly cabin fever with impeccable pacing. The Shining is one of the best horror films in cinematic history.

How I’d Remake It

My one caveat about remaking The Shining is that it wouldn’t be a remake of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Some things just shouldn’t be trifled with in this world and one of those things is the filmography of Stanley Kubrick. I would never want to see a remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey or an updated Dr. Strangelove. A Clockwork Orange should only exist on film as Kubrick’s masterpiece. Kubrick had an innate talent for capturing the spirit, trepidation and social makeup of the times he worked in. His films remain timeless while also functioning as meticulously well-made time capsules. Anyone honestly willing to admit they have a chance in hell of recreating that by reworking what he did is delusional to the point of pure insanity.

So, if I were to remake The Shining, it would have to be considered an alternate adaptation of the book.

When it comes to adaptations, I am a purist. I’ve said earlier this week (and will say it again later) that I have trouble accepting altered versions of literary works in their adaptation to the screen. It’s a fact of the business, though. You can’t make a shot-for-page adaptation without sacrificing the essence of what you loved about the source material to begin with. Not to mention, the narrative style and structure of literature rarely lends itself to the auteur’s medium.

In adapting King’s book, I would first and foremost play up Jack Torrance’s inner struggle with alcoholism. I would remain faithful to his backstory and include the accident that got him to quit drinking. I would also make his relationship with Wendy and Danny more strained so as to show his remorse and eagerness to make things right. I feel like this would give the character more humanity and thus make his evolution into insanity carry more weight.

I would keep the wasp nest sequences intact. I would also include Jack’s obsession with the history of the hotel. Jack is a writer whose psychosis begins once he decides to write about the hotel. In my adaptation, this would be the lynchpin of all the horror to come.

I would also take a note from Kubrick and kill Hallorann. It seems like a no-brainer now.

Overall, I would make a more character driven interpretation of the story. One of those characters, undoubtedly, would be the hotel itself. My adaptation would dive into the history of the Overlook  and the evil that resides there. Jack’s flirtation with the history of his winter home would lead him down the path that will make it his tomb.

I’d also stay faithful to the ending of the book. In the end, Jack and the Overlook are the monsters of the movie. They both should be destroyed.

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How They Did It: Mick Garris’ The Shining (1997)

Before tackling The Shining, Mick Garris adapted The Stand into a miniseries. As I said earlier in the week, The Stand is one of Stephen King’s most revered works. I watched the first episode of The Stand miniseries (1/4 of the entire thing) and was completely put off by it. It may have been due to the fact I had just finished the novel and had a very distinct vision for the adaptation. Or, it may have been because the tone of the miniseries felt off and the acting felt stilted and awkward.

Going into the three episode miniseries version of The Shining, I had my reservations. A few things immediately stood out when I pressed play, however. First and foremost was Steven Weber’s interpretation of the Jack Torrance character. I grew up watching Wings. So I went into this adaptation with a far less cynical eye. I wanted Weber to knock it out of the park.

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And he did.

Steven Weber’s performance is much more in line with what I imagined Jack Torrance to be like when I read the book. A high-energy actor, Weber plays the role teetering between sane and insane very well. The miniseries puts an emphasis on Jack’s drinking problem. Jack pops aspirin and rubs his dry lips throughout the miniseries, as he does in the book. Jack’s transformation is more gradual as well. The mounting pressures of writing and the struggle with alcohol addiction make him more susceptible to the Overlook’s creepy charms.

There’s something about Melvin Van Peebles’ depiction of Hallorann that I immediately loved. He plays a more subdued version of the character, when compared to Scatman Crothers. He reacts to the roadblocks he experiences getting back to the Overlook with just enough dread when he could easily be over the top.

Being written by King means the plot is very faithful to the novel. The miniseries includes the topiary animals. When reading the book, I thought it would be nearly impossible to include them on film without being over the top. To an extent, I was right. The scene where the animals move when Jack isn’t looking is effective (and reminiscent of the Weeping Angels for you Doctor Who fans).

It’s when the audience sees the animals actually moving where we encounter a problem. The special effects are a little crude. But when you consider it’s the late-90s and working off a TV budget, it’s forgivable. That’s the only area where the special effects falter. The visuals of the decaying bodies are very well done and the blood is a realistically dark and thick.

The miniseries is genuinely scary. There’s a very unsettling scene where a barking ghost in a dog mask threatens to eat Danny. The wasp nest is presented very well in the miniseries. And, of course, the image of a decaying corpse rising from a bathtub is frightening no matter what format it’s presented in.

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Some of the acting is over the top. It’s not nearly as off putting as the acting in The Stand miniseries but it is a slight concern here. Courtland Mead is the weak link as Danny. Child actors are always a wildcard and Mead doesn’t quite work for me. It doesn’t ruin the miniseries, though. By the beginning of episode 2, I made my piece with it. Toward the end of episode 3, I actually enjoyed his performance. But there were bits here and there where he wandered into dangerous, Jake Lloyd level, territories.

In the end, Mick Garris’ iteration of Stephen King’s classic novel is surprisingly good. My expectations were lowered considerably after I gave up on The Stand miniseries. But watching Brian Hackett terrorize his family with a croquet mallet as it’s depicted in the novel has me reconsidering writing off The Stand. Creatively it obviously isn’t a match for Kubrick’s masterpiece. But the miniseries is a respectable and very enjoyable iteration of one of Stephen King’s most celebrated works.

Stephen King cameo

Stephen King cameo

4 responses to “Adaptations & Remakes: The Shining

  1. I’ve never understood why people would want a direct adaptation of a book onto the screen. Isn’t your imagination good enough to show you the story for the book? Don’t you want to be surprised while watching the film? Yes, it should stay true to the story, but sometimes in order to do that, you have to change parts of the plot.

    My analogy has always been that I don’t want to go to a museum and see a landscape painting and then a picture of that painting. I want to see a picture of the landscape. It’s two different mediums; they do things differently.

    However, even though I don’t agree with the “don’t change anything” concept, if someone adheres completely to that, that’s their business. But you say that you’re a “adaptation purist” and then say you would also kill Hollorann, which is a HUGE change from the book. If you’re willing to change one thing that makes the movie work better, why not other things?

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    • Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

      You make a good point about different interpretations. I think you hit the nail on the head when you asked “Isn’t your imagination good enough to show you the story for the book?” That’s precisely the problem for me. When I read a book, I mentally cast the characters and I watch the story play out in my mind. When I finish the book, I have a very clear picture of the story that I just read. Often times, I like it.

      That’s where the problem is. I spend days or weeks mentally constructing everything about the story. So by the time I sit down to watch a 2 hour movie of it, it’s hard not to judge it against my mental adaptation. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy? lol.

      As for Halloran, I’m a bit of a hypocrite, I guess. But if someone comes up with something that suits the story better than the original author did, I can’t ignore it. See also: the ending to The Mist.

      It’s when adaptations go completely off the rails that it bugs me. Kubrick took a ton of liberties with the story, but he gets a pass because he’s Kubrick and in the process he created a masterpiece.

      But if you take World War Z, where they quite literally only kept the title, it just makes me wish it would be adapted properly.

      I guess it just comes down to the fact that when I go into an adaptation, I’m naively looking to reform the connection I had with the book for the first time.

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      • I just re-read the book and was looking at comments on IMdB, which is how I found your post. I understand wanting to recreate that connection you had with the original material. And there obviously are valid critiques to be made about Kubrick’s version, most notably Nicholson already appearing to be a bit insane.

        I’m more bothered by people who complain about a change from the book simply because it’s a change from the book. I know people who get upset when a character’s eyes are a different color from the book when that literally has no bearing on the story. (Don’t they prefer the best actor/actress get the part?)

        From your article and subsequent comment, I don’t think you are one of these people, so calling yourself an “adaptation purist” might paint you in a more fanatical light than you really are. (Haha.)

        And yes, World War Z would be an example of something that was changed so much it loses all connection to the source material. When I heard they were adapting it I figured they’d have to lose the multiple stories angle (though it could be cool if done right, it would be hard to pull off), but they didn’t bother to include anything from any of the stories.

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      • Haha oh wow, I’m so happy I don’t know anyone like that. If someone honestly tried to tell me they didn’t like a movie because a minute feature of a character wasn’t used in the casting, I would probably laugh in their face.

        World War Z would be hard to pull off but all I kept thinking when I read it was “This needs to be an HBO miniseries a la Band of Brothers.” It’s the only way to do it properly, in my opinion.

        Have you seen The Shining miniseries?

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