31 Days of Horror: Film #19 THE SHINING
I’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining many times. It’s a great film. This was the first time watching the film since reading Stephen King’s much-loved book.
It’s interesting to me that Kubrick’s The Shining was not well liked when it first debuted in theatres. I don’t put much thought into the yearly bad film awards the Razzies – nobody should – but it’s worth noting that the Razzies nominated Stanley Kubrick for Worst Director and Shelley Duvall for Worst Actress. A lot of films were ahead of their times and only became appreciated later on, but Kubrick getting a Razzie nomination seems like such a far cry from The Shining’s reputation today, where it is viewed as a horror movie masterpiece that’s both an achievement in filmmaking and storytelling.
While audiences have generally come around to liking the film, one notable figure stands firm in his dislike for Kubrick’s adaptation: author Stephen King. I never quite understood King’s dislike for the movie before. But I thought that reading the book might change my understanding of the situation. And it did. Somewhat.
The main difference is tone. Kubrick’s film is a cold, claustrophobic, psychological thriller about madness and a violent parent, with strong hints towards the supernatural but very few answers. King’s book on the other hand has a great deal more warmth – Jack may become something monstrous by the end but there exists a humanity to his character that’s missing in much of the film. Also, the book is clearly a ghost story – the Overlook Hotel in the film is mysterious, the Overlook in the book is undoubtedly haunted – and King gives reader’s answers that are missing from the book. That’s what I enjoyed most about reading the book recently, the chance to get to know the hotel and its ghostly occupants.
The book has hedge animals that come alive and stalk Danny. Such a thing wasn’t possible to create back in 1980 when the film was made. Today it’d be accomplished with CGI quite easily. This sequence is very frightening in the book – it plays out a bit like the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who – but it makes sense as to why it didn’t make it into the film. In place of evil hedge animals, Kubrick gives us the maze, which was not present in the book.
The ending is totally different. I won’t spoil anything. Other than to say that the book gives us a somewhat happier ending, while the film ends by presenting a brand new mystery to the viewer.
Both the book and the film are great pieces of horror entertainment, in my opinion. At times I found the film more frightening – the camera is so menacing. However, the book is deeper in terms of what’s actually going on, and I enjoyed learning some answers that the film withheld from us.
Considering how many bad films have been made based on Stephen King’s books, it’s still strange to me that he dislikes The Shining so much. In 1997 King was involved with the ABC miniseries adaptation of The Shining. The miniseries sticks closer to the book’s content but it lacks the style and dramatic impact of Kubrick’s film. I’ve never liked the miniseries much.
It’s King’s right to dislike the film. I mean, of course it is. On some level I understand where he’s coming from. Kubrick took the skeleton of King’s book but left the heart behind. In the end, Kubrick and King are two totally different types of artists.
I really like this film and I really like the book. They’re different and I’m cool with those differences. As a fan of both artists, I like owning both the film and the book. The existence of one does not lessen the legacy of the other.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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