Thursday, May 24, 2012

Give Me $30M and I'll Scare the Crap Out of You

Sorry about the delay. I started this post very late and then decided I needed to think about it some more.

Anyway... An actor friend and I have been trying to plan a Man Date for some time now. We both love horror films and decided that we must see see Dario Argento's Dracula 3D together. The movie is currently showing at Cannes, where it has received wildly mixed reviews. I sent Jimmy a link to a viciously bad one and he sent me a link to a glowing one. He also mentioned a documentary about the making of Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining, a film Uncle P really doesn't like very much at all (and I've said so here, before). And I'll tell you why.

Stephen King's third published novel caught me completely off guard when I first read it back in 1977. The story of an alcoholic playwright who takes a job as the winter caretaker of a Colorado hotel and is consequently driven mad by the many ghosts who inhabit it, The Shining was the first novel I ever read that actually gave me goosebumps. Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrence were a family about whom King made you care about and then fear for. When it was announced that none other than the great Stanley Kubrick was making the film version, I was practically ecstatic. And then Kubrick blew it. 

Woefully miscast (with the exception of Scatman Crothers as the cook, Dick Halloran) and with so many changes to and deviations from the source material as to be practically unrecognizable, Kubrick's film actually angered me when I first saw it. In the novel, a sober Jack Torrence is a reasonable and likeable fellow, who slowly descends into madness thanks to the machinations of the malevolent forces that haunt the hotel. In the hands of Jack Nicholson (who by then had already established a film persona), Jack starts out pretty crazy and his escalation into full madness is hardly shocking or surprising. Jack's wife Wendy, a strong self-aware woman in the book, comes off as a wimpy nerd in Shelly Duvall's performance. And the less said about the very annoying Danny Lloyd, the better.  As for Kubrick and Diane Johnson's screenplay, don't get me started. I understand that the technology for rendering a believable living  topiary garden wasn't available in 1979, but the hedge maze isn't really a very good substitute. And what about the roque mallets; the wasps' nest; the pornographic clock; the faulty boiler and all the back-stories of the hotel's former guests? Gone, gone, gone. Instead, we are given unexplained glimpses of things that happened (the dog-masked fellator; the woman in the bathtub; the twins). In the book, all of these characters are given credence for their inclusion in the story. In Kubrick's film, they are merely weird things to look at, which have no bearing on the plot. Kubrick even went so far as to completely change the ending; SPOILER ALERT killing Halloran and leaving Jack to freeze to death in the maze. In the book, Jack (an unrecognizable monster after repeated bashing his own face with a roque mallet) dies as the hotel explodes from the long-ignored boiler in the basement.

I know plenty of people who love this movie. Not one of them has ever read the book. Everyone I know who has read the book, doesn't really like the movie, either. Even King doesn't like the movie and has said that Kubrick drove him crazy while filming, often phoning in the middle of the night to discuss odd details or strange ideas he wanted to include. Objectively, as a movie on it's own, I won't deny that Kubrick's film is brilliant. It has several iconic moments and images. But it's just not very true to King's terrifying novel in any number of ways.

In 1997, director (and friend of King's) Mick Garris made a two-part TV movie of The Shining starring Stephen Weber, Rebecca De Mornay and Melvin Van Peebles. While Garris' version is holds closer to the novel than Kubrick's, the limits of television kept him from making a truly frightening version of the novel. 

The budget for Kubrick's version (according to IMDb) was around $22M. Adjusted for inflation, that's probably somewhere near $100M today. Garris' 1997 budget was $25M. I know and love this novel. I've read it probably five or six times. It's probably my third favorite novel of all time. So here's my challenge - give me $30M, a cast of unknowns and final edit, and I promise you I could make a version of The Shining that is truer to the source and scarier than any piece of crap that a hack like Oren Pelli could ever hope to make. 

I'm not bragging. I'm just saying.

More, anon.


David said...

In January, Stephen King will release his long planned sequel to The Shining called Dr. Sleep.

I'm not a huge fan of Kubrick's version, and while the TV version was limited to the scope of terror, I did like that it followed the book closely.

The documentary on the movie is fascinating, though. That many, yes a genius, but he was cray-cray.

Anonymous said...

I have never been able to watch that movie and I so loved the book.