LOST IN ADAPTATION
STANLEY KUBRICK AND DIANE JOHNSON: Kubrick and Johnson’s method was to reduce the book to it’s most basic story and plot, then replace the literary mood pieces such as the wasp’s nest, the creaky elevator, the topiary animals and Tony the floating teenager with cinematic imagery: The two little girls, the hedge maze, and the long steadycam shots of hallways. Where it really takes a sharp left turn from the book however is in the way that the characters are handled, especially Jack Torrance. In the book and miniseries King portrays Jack as a victim of the Hotel’s influence, a man trying to do good but eaten alive by addiction and the demons of the Overlook. While Kubrick, on the other hand, feels that this character is separate of the supernatural goings-on and that Jack’s murderous intentions predate the Hotel. Just look at the scene in the 1980 movie where Danny comes back from Room 237 nearly catatonic, mumbling about a crazy woman hiding there. Jack goes to check the room out and indeed finds a woman there, a beautiful young woman lying in the tub naked. She rises, walks over and begins to kiss him. For some reason it doesn’t occur to him how strange this is and, in the film’s most testicle shriveling moment, she transforms into a rotten old dead woman while he’s trading spit with her. So what does Jack do after barely escaping her clutches? He walks back to his family and acts as if it was all in Danny’s head. The only explanation, for me, is that Jack is completely fucking nuts and he’s been completely fucking nuts since long before he ever set foot in the hotel. No sane person tongue kisses a corpse and then acts like nothing happened.
Another major change that I feel Kubrick brought is that the existence of the ghosts in the hotel, as sentient entities that can do harm to the Torrance family, is questionable. Is there something in the Hotel? Yes, by all means. However, there are clues scattered throughout that lead you to believe that the ghosts could be manifestations of Jack Torrance’s insanity.
Most people don’t notice this, but the first “ghost” that Jack sees isn’t even a ghost. It’s an imaginary bartender called Lloyd (a definite mirror image to Danny’s imaginary friend Tony). Lloyd seems to be a ghost and seems to be acting on behalf of the hotel, but you have to wonder if maybe Jack can’t shine a little bit himself and if he might not have created a lot of what we’re seeing. Take for example Delbert Grady, the previous caretaker who killed his family and then himself. Jack meets him during a bizarre spectral party where both men discuss the role of corporal punishment in the family. All fine and dandy except for one little thing. At the beginning of the movie when the Hotel Manager Stuart Ullman is giving Jack a bit of history about the Overlook he mentions a CHARLES Grady, not a Delbert. Which leads me to believe that crazy Jack can’t keep his names straight and that there are no ghosts.
Of course, the above is just a theory I’ve formulated over time. There are plenty of other people who will tell you otherwise. Still, I have seen this movie about thirty times so I think I might be onto something.
STEPHEN KING: He calls himself the literary equivalent of a Big Mac, but the idea is bull. The man can write damn well when he wants to and no matter what the snobs may say he is quite artistic. “The Shining” was his third published novel and arguably one of his most personal works. This is why I think that it pained him so much to see it so loosely adapted.
King has been frank to the public about his own alcoholism, and the fact that this kind of addiction plays such a huge role in “The Shining” was no coincidence. Writers don’t write just to fill up pages. A book is like one long monologue about whatever’s going on in your head at the time of it’s writing that you wrap around a story.
You’ll notice that much of the narrative deals with Jack Torrance struggling to stay on the wagon and deal with the consequences of his actions when he was drunk. The ghosts are secondary to the plot. This is as honest and brutal (in a Stephen King kind of way) as anything Bukowski wrote; and it no doubt fictionalizes a true period in King’s life. So I perfectly understand his desire to make a 100% faithful version. It’s not a pleasant thing to have poured your soul out into a book and to have nothing of what you feel was important make it into the movie.
However, there is a wide chasm between novel and screenplay and just because you’re great at one doesn’t make it a sure bet that you’ll be good at the other. In fact, it would probably hurt since each depends on opposing qualities in their scribes. A man who can get to the point in as few words as possible would make a great playwright, while a man who can talk for hours about nothing (and still make it interesting) would be a brilliant novelist.
So am I trying to say that King dropped the ball adapting his own book? Oh yeah. He dropped the ball and tripped over his shoelaces before the game even started. He inadvertently made a good argument about keeping the novelist as far away from the film as possible.
King’s method was to reproduce the novel’s story, plot, characters and rhythm in screenplay format. It’s a laudable idea and the technique can work, just look at “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Exorcist”, but it requires some judicious edits of the material and the book itself needs to be a fairly short work.
You see, there’s a simple technical reason that some things are removed during an adaptation. It’s that books and movies aren’t paced the same way. You can take detours in a book that would be unwise or even impossible in a film. So if the book digresses about a character’s past or about events that are not single mindedly advancing the story, out it goes for the movie. This isn’t Hollywood snobbery, but proper editing.
Just look at the whole Denver Croquet bit from the miniseries. What was that doing in there? You have five hours to try and compress as much as you can from the book and you’re going to waste five minutes explaining some silly oversize croquet game that doesn’t even exist? Where’s the sense in that? It’s as if King was so pissed at Kubrick’s cuts that he decided to include everything he could whether it made any sense at all. Sure, it’s just five minutes, but the above is indicative of the entire screenplay’s style, which places “Being like the book” above cinematic pacing.
Then you have the dramatic family situations from the book that are just thrown into the pot one after the other without bothering to really set them up. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for adding MORE drama to movies. In fact, I think Hollywood should take a cue from ol’ Steve. No, the problem is that too much is just too much. There is a point where it stops being character development and becomes a Doctor Phil show. It’s just like anything else, whether it’s action or horror or comedy. If you throw too much of it at the audience all at once, they can’t digest what they’ve seen and it soon deteriorates into theatrics. I hate to repeat myself but this is another case of trying to make it too much like the book. In the book, King had the time to walk us through the Torrance family, we understood them even if we didn’t agree. In the adaptation, we’re like voyeurs and just watch them do these things that seem completely histrionic and over the top.
The story continues in part four of THE SHINING VS. THE SHINING>>>
Posted on February 9, 2005 in Features by Jeremy Knox
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