The Shining (Kubrick): I’ve given the movie four stars, so it’s obvious which one I like best. However, I will say that for a supposed mainstream movie, Kubrick’s “The Shining” isn’t very audience friendly. Half the time you have to guess what the hell is going on, and if you’re not familiar with Kubrick’s narrative style you’ll be completely lost. Subtle is one thing, but being impenetrable is another. It’s no wonder that theatrical audiences didn’t get it. Thank God for video because there’s stuff here that just begs for the rewind button so you can see it again.
Want proof? While writing this article I watched the movie again to refresh my memory and saw something I’d never caught before. Remember that scene where Danny is playing with his cars on the carpet and this yellow ball rolls up to him from nowhere? Well, I just now noticed that this is the same damn ball that Jack Torrance is throwing around the room when he’s not working on his book.
Once you’ve seen it three or four times you begin to appreciate the film’s slow creepy mood, but to get to that point you need to have the patience and perseverance for repeat viewings. Many people don’t, and can you really blame them? The average viewer (even the average movie geek) doesn’t tend to study a movie.
The Shining (King): The worst problem in the miniseries has to do with the tone. Dramatically it’s very serious and some of Jack Torrance’s monologues on alcoholism border on being King’s best writing. So, it’s a wee bit of a disappointment to see that the horror side of the story is so watered down. I’ve seen episodes of “Goosebumps” with more creepiness.
Dialogue is also a big culprit. King tends to write some very wordy colloquial text for his character’s to speak. It might sound right to someone in Portland Maine, but to the rest of us it’s like listening to nails screeching on a blackboard and none of the cast looks totally comfortable trying to sound realistic with the lines they’re given.
However, if we gotta talk about bad, let’s talk about Tony…
This element gets it’s own little segment because it’s so representative of what not to do ever in a movie. It’s also a dire warning about how just because something works in a book, doesn’t mean it’ll work in a movie.
To the uninitiated, “Tony” is Danny Torrance’s imaginary friend. In both the book and miniseries Tony is a floating teenager. It kind of works in the book because your mind sees the best possible version of a floating teenager, but the miniseries can’t possibly come close and we end up with a floating fucking teenager. It looks horrible. Kubrick had the good sense to hide Tony and instead made it look like Danny was mentally ill, which was creepy. In the miniseries it’s a floating guy who talks to Danny with reverb in his voice. This is not creepy. It looks stupid.
It’s amazing just how un-alike these two films are. Kubrick’s “The Shining” doesn’t tell you anything; King’s “The Shining” spells everything out in big bold letters twice in case you missed it. Kubrick goes for a slow creep out, King goes for the “cat jumps out of nowhere” type scare. Kubrick is visual, King is verbal. Kubrick’s version uses music as ambient noise, King’s uses the music to announce each scene.
But I’m making it sound like I hated King’s version, which isn’t the case. I’m not gonna bullshit you and say that I loved it, because I didn’t. But now that I finally watched King’s “The Shining” with some measure of attention to detail, I have to say that this is a pretty good two hour film that’s about three hours too long. If it were shorter and more tightly edited, with the removal of the silliest horror bits, it’d earn a good three stars.
So which version of “The Shining” works best?
This is an easy one, Kubrick’s. The discrepancy between the film and miniseries is so huge that it’s not even a contest; the cinematography, the acting, the directing, the editing, the screenplay, are superior in the Kubrick film. In a hundred years it’s Kubrick’s “The Shining” that is going to be playing in revival theatres, not King’s. Kubrick made a film with some deeply disturbing images that have remained in the public consciousness for decades. It may not be easy to decipher at times, but it’s always enthralling.
The King version tries to be a serious drama and a light horror movie, which can’t work. These are completely opposite genres and all that’s going to happen by trying to mix them together is that they’ll cancel each other out. The realistic drama is going to take all the fun out of the horror and the comedic horror is going to take the punch out of the drama.
Towards the middle, the film is mostly dramatic and you see how well it can work when it’s focused on one thing. Then comes the “scary” ending and it becomes obvious that Garris has no real interest in making the movie’s horror elements as dark as the dramatic ones. You have obvious phony makeup effects; ghosts disappearing in large puffs of smoke, Jack even goes “Boo!” while he’s trying to kill Wendy. It’s this imbalance that topples the film. Some spooky scenes work, like the one at the very end where Hallorann is helping Wendy up after they’ve both been attacked and they hear almost inhuman screams coming out from the elevator shaft as Jack rides the lift down to the basement trying stop the Hotel’s boiler from blowing up. “My god, was that Jack?” Hallorann says. Oh no.” Wendy tells him listlessly. “Jack’s gone.” It’s a nice, quiet and creepy moment. Most scenes however, don’t even come close to that. The whole “Ghost Party” sequence, where Jack finally meets all of the Overlook’s ghosts and the aforementioned Delbert Grady, looks so fake that it nearly plays as a parody of the same scene in the Kubrick version. A little bit of it works, mostly dialogue and Weber’s reaction to what he’s seeing, but that phony ghost makeup is tough to accept. It’s like a big giant herpes sore on a pretty girl’s face; it’s so distracting that you can’t pay attention to anything else.
I find it ironic that Kubrick’s film succeeds despite having barely any plot or character development, while King’s version which is much more colorful in those elements fails due to having an inconsistent tone and pacing. It also says a lot about Kubrick’s talent (and it gives weight to Truffaut’s theory of the director-as-auteur) that he could take such a no-frills screenplay and give it depth without having to rely on written material. Mick Garris, hobbled by a so-so adaptation, the restrictions of TV and his own disinterest in making a serious horror movie, didn’t stand a chance. It was like trying to run with lead weights in your shoes.
In the end, these two movies are as divisive as a George W. Bush speech. Most people’s minds are already made up about whether or not they’ll like either Kubrick or King’s version before they pop in the DVD. All I can say about it is that you should give each of these a chance. I gave King’s adaptation a lesser score because it’s a lesser movie, but not a truly terrible one, it’s just inconsistent with what it’s trying to achieve. As for King fans who sneer at Kubrick’s version, watch it without expecting to see anything from the novel and you might be surprised at how well the movie functions as a separate entity from the written word.
Remakes offer a unique experience to understand the craft of filmmaking. You have two different films based on the same story and ideas; two different cast and crews, two different levels of talent, two different points of view. More often than not, one of these films is quite good, and the other is terrible. By comparing the two we can analyze where one went right and the other went wrong.
Have your own VS. match at Back Talk>>>
Posted on February 9, 2005 in Features by Jeremy Knox
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