Monday, December 1, 2008

The Shining

The Shining. One of my all-time favorite stories. I read the book at least once a year (synopsis here), and watch the miniseries once or twice a year. Every 5 years or so, I catch the Kubrick version of the movie, in the hopes it's started to live up to its bloody trailer. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) is like that gorgeous guy you let pick you up in the bar against your better judgement, hoping he's as good in bed as he looks and disappoints you with unsatisfying performance and body odor. The movie, like our beefcake friend, stinks.

While the photography of the Stanley Kubrick version is characteristically stunning in its execution, the story goes from what I believe King originally intended (a slow seduction of Jack Torrance by the Overlook Hotel), to a slasher film. Shelly Duvall is, sadly, dreadful in this version of the film, and I always find myself hoping Jack (Jack Nicholson) will kill her character off so I don't have to watch her anymore. I find that one of the key elements of the original story is that you actually find Jack a decent guy who's trying to set his life straight after the damage caused by his alcoholism. In the Kubrick version, Jack is creepy from the start, and his descent into Hell is a leap into the deep end, rather than the tide inexorably washing him away. Ruins the whole darn thing.

The miniseries (1997), by contrast, is much truer to the original story.

The miniseries was filmed at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, and was the hotel that inspired King to write the book. The Stanley was built in 1909, really comes across as a character in this version, if only from the architecture and furnishings. Stephen King was an integral part of the miniseries, unlike the Kubrick version.
If only they hadn't cast Courtland Mead in the part of Danny Torrance. I find him annoying. The series, though, does take its time to build the characters and the suspense. The more leisurely pacing allows you to wonder if the Overlook Hotel is really haunted, or if maybe Jack (played brilliantly by Steven Weber) is fending off a belated case of the DTs. Bit by bit, his good intentions are stripped away, leaving him an almost perfect tool for the Overlook and its denizens. (The Room 217 scene and 217 revisited are particularly creepy, and the tension was perfectly built up to its crescendo.) I liked Rebecca DeMornay as Wendy, as well. She's a strong Wendy, and you can see that strength as she's trying to keep the family together while the Overlook is intent on taking them all for its evil purposes. I always felt that Duvall's Wendy was a born victim, and wouldn't have the strength to whack Jack when push came to shove.
You can get the book here. Don't read the last half alone, in the dark.

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