Despite being considered one of the greatest movies ever made, it is no secret that Stephen King is not a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of his novel, The Shining. The movie greatly differs from his 1977 novel much to his disappointment, and he maintains Kubrick failed to handle the story’s themes. He also did not appreciate the drastic changes the script made to the Torrance family. The changes have meant Kubrick’s movie has become separated from the source material and the film has paved its own way for many different interpretations and theories. Most of these were explored in detail in the 2012 documentary Room 237, which funnily enough, King has also expressed great dislike for. King made an attempt to right the wrongs in The Shining by writing and producing a miniseries that followed his novel more closely. The miniseries aired with three episodes in 1997, and due to the movie’s popularity, it has been all but forgotten despite its intentions.
King Drew From His Own Alcoholism When Writing ‘The Shining’
When King wrote the novel, he was a recovering alcoholic, and he mirrored his alcoholism in the book’s lead character, Jack Torrance. In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King confessed that he did not even realize he was writing about himself when he began The Shining. Alcohol caused King to fear losing control in front of his family, and this powerful guilt became a vital part of establishing Jack’s character. Kubrick did not address Jack’s alcoholism in his adaptation, and as a result, a huge part of Jack’s personality is dismissed. The casting of Jack Nicholson – who at the time was best known for his role in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest – has also been called a mistake by King, as it makes Jack’s descent into madness less impactful. Nicholson’s mad expression and unhinged personality are apparent from the movie’s opening, whereas he is supposed to be more of an everyman whose insanity unfolds slowly.
Jack Torrance Is a Victim
King wanted audiences to see Jack as more of a victim of supernatural forces rather than a madman who should be feared immediately. Steven Weber took the role after a lengthy casting process and embodied the character closer to King’s vision. He is a depressed, recovering alcoholic determined to turn his life around after he loses his job as a teacher due to his short temper, and it makes his descent into madness more cruel and tragic, and this all begins with his alcoholism. This crucial side to his character is depicted well in the way it demonstrates his mental state, his suicidal thoughts, and the potentially damaging effects it has on his relationship with his wife and child prior to any supernatural occurrences.
Which Depiction of Wendy Is More Faithful to the Book?
There are numerous stories about the way Shelley Duvall was treated on the set of Kubrick’s movie. Her performance as Wendy Torrance was initially met with a mixed reception, but retrospective reviews have seen her highly praised. It can be exhausting to watch her – especially when knowing the details of how the demanding director isolated her during shooting – but there are significant differences between King’s Wendy and Kubrick’s Wendy. In the miniseries, Rebecca De Mornay portrays Wendy as she was intended; a resilient and tough independent woman who shows none of the hysteria or emotion of Duvall.
Kubrick significantly reduced Wendy’s strength, and there are several implications that she fears her husband before he even succumbs to madness. She spends much of the movie sniveling and screaming in fear, whereas De Mornay’s Wendy is more determined to defend herself against Jack. Upon the release of his film, Kubrick explained his reasons for changing Wendy’s character to film critic Michael Ciment in which he questioned why Wendy would stay with Jack if she was so self-reliant and strong-willed. As a result, he and co-writer Diane Johnson changed her personality to more meek and submissive.
Tony, Danny’s Imaginary Friend
One of the most obvious visual differences in the King-helmed miniseries revolves around Danny’s imaginary friend, Tony. Famously in Kubrick’s version, young Danny Lloyd improvised the flickering finger which he uses to talk as Tony in a high-pitched voice. There are many fascinating interpretations surrounding the character, and the minor role he has in the 1980 movie could be considered a missed opportunity. The importance of the figure in King’s novel demonstrates the author’s skills as a storyteller. In the miniseries, Tony is shown as a young man in his mid-twenties (played by Wil Horneff) who levitates around Danny and talks to him enthusiastically. While this is not exactly scary, it does tie in cleverly to the story when it is revealed that Tony is actually a future version of Danny. It allows audiences to see the world from Danny’s perspective with some more clarity. The novel reveals this by revealing the boy’s full name to be Daniel Anthony Torrance. King went on to continue Danny’s story in his follow-up novel Doctor Sleep in which the boy inherits his father’s struggles with alcohol.
Aside from the characterization and thematic elements, the miniseries also closely follows the book’s plot. So much so, that this literalism has been met with criticism. Various aspects that worked in the novel suffered onscreen due to the miniseries’ budget not being high enough. This is most apparent in the scene where the garden’s topiary animals come to life, and the subpar special effects make it almost laughable. The miniseries is at its strongest in its buildup, as once Jack is consumed by madness, it becomes unintentionally cheesy and extravagant with over-the-top violence which borders on comedic. It is a shame that the meticulous, slow pace amounts to an underwhelming payoff. While reviews of the miniseries were positive at the time of its release, it has since gained a bad reputation. Kubrick’s movie still holds up, and the miniseries, frankly, looks dated in many ways now. However, it does not deserve to be completely dismissed. It may be inferior, but it is still an adaptation worth seeking out, and fans of King’s novel are bound to still consider it more satisfying. Just because it is not as good as Kubrick’s version does not mean it is awful.