Thursday, October 18, 2012

Heeeere's Disappointment!

Not Nearly as Creepy as They Should Have Been
Prolific Horror author Stephen King's third (and one of his best) novel "The Shining" is an epic masterpiece about ghosts, madness, ancient evil and familial terror. When I first read it, it was the most terrifying and fascinating novel I'd ever read. And I ate it up like manna. 

You can't begin to imagine how excited I was to hear that one of the greatest filmmakers of all time was going to adapt one of the best ghost novels of all time into a feature film. I remember sitting in the theater before The Shining started, nearly peeing my pants in anticipation of what I thought was going to be the scariest movie ever made. The film started out so promising... Wendy Carlos' (The Exorcist) and Rachel Elkind's booming score was amazing. Jack Nicholson and Scatman Crothers seemed perfectly cast. I could live with Shelley Duvall as Wendy and Danny Lloyd seemed just right as Danny. 

But as the movie unfolded, it soon became clear that Kubrick's vision had very little to do with King's. Nicholson, rather than a contrite alcoholic who wanted to make things right, seemed mad from the start and Duvall was hardly the strong-willed Wendy from the book. All of the hotel's backstory was made irrelevant and the roque court and wasp's nest were dismissed out of hand, while the topiary garden was replaced with a hedge maze. WTF!?!? In King's novel, everything has meaning and all of the events are tied together. In Kubrick's movie, nothing has true relevance and events that are explained in the book remain completely random in the film. 

It's not as if I don't get what Kubrick was going for. He obviously wanted to create a disorienting atmosphere for his audience. Okay. But why would he deviate so far from King's very effective novel? Why abandon so many of King's ideas? Why present glimpses of scenarios so important to the book's narrative without any context to the plot? When Jack killed Dick Halloran with an ax to his chest, I gave up. This was by no means the movie I had hoped it would be.

Now, before you all go nuts on me and start complaining about how brilliant this movie is, I must ask: Have you read the book? Because just about everyone I know who read the novel, hated the movie. Conversely, those who saw the movie without reading the book, loved it. And I totally get both points of views, though I will go to my grave saying that Kubrick completely failed in adapting King's novel.


Mick Garris' 1997 TV miniseries version is a little more faithful to the novel (and Rebecca DeMornay makes a much more convincing Wendy), but still disappoints on so many other levels.

The Shining remains on my list of 10 Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi Movies that Should Be Remade.

Meanwhile... King's son, writing under the pseudonym Joe Hill, had a brilliant debut novel with his own modern ghost story "Heart-Shaped Box," though his second (and inferior) novel "Horns" is being adapted for the screen, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. The film adaptation of "Heart-Shaped Box" remains in 'turn-around.'

More, anon.


David said...

Film critic Roger Ebert, who panned the film in 1980, now concludes that: “Kubrick is telling a story with ghosts (the two girls, the former caretaker and a bartender), but it isn't a "ghost story," because the ghosts may not be present in any sense at all except as visions experienced by Jack or Danny.” Meanwhile critic James Berardinelli notes that "King would have us believe that the hotel is haunted. Kubrick is less definitive in the interpretations he offers." He dubbed the film a failure as a ghost story, but brilliant as a study of "madness and the unreliable narrator." And then there is Steve Biodrowski, a former editor of the print magazine Cinefantastique, whose review of the film is one of the few to go into detailed comparison with the novel: “Widely reviled by Stephen King fans for abandoning much of the book (King himself said his feelings balanced out to zero), Stanley Kubrick’s film version, upon re-examination, reveals that he took the same course he had often used in the past when adapting novels to the screen (such as Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita): he stripped away the back story and exposition, distilling the results down to the basic narrative line, with the characters thus rendered in a more archetypal form. The result is a brilliant, ambitious attempt to shoot a horror film without the Gothic trappings of shadows and cobwebs so often associated with the genre.

Prospero said...

I get that. It's still not the movie King fans (or King himself, for that matter) wanted.