“The Shining” vs. “The Shining” vs. “The Shining”

Original Publication Date of Stephen King’s “The Shining”: January 1977

Release date of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”:  May 23, 1980

Air date of the TV Mini-series “The Shining”: April 27, 1997


When you’re re-making a cinematic classic, there are always going to be people who say it’s “not as good as the original.”

However, if the original is an adaptation of a book made by a director who – though talented – is more about style than substance, then maybe it’s valid to take a second swing at your project.

The original film version of Stephen King’s “The Shining,” was directed by Stanley Kubrick.  Kubrick absolutely rocked at creating onscreen visual images that stuck with the viewer long after the film was over. Who can forget Jack Nicholson busting through a door, or the hallway of blood, or the twins?

However, it’s said that Stephen King himself didn’t find Kubrick’s film to be a good adaptation of his novel, though he admired the movie.

As a huge fan of the novel, and the Kubrick film (even while recognizing how different they are)  I sat down with some friends and my wonderful husband and watched the 1997 Made for TV version of “The Shining,” starring Steven Weber and Rebecca DeMornay.

All 4.5 hours of it, mind you.

I wanted to see the similarities, and the differences.  This is one of my favorite books of all time, and I was curious to see the different treatments it received onscreen.

Truthfully, while it won’t be winning any awards, the TV version is far from bad.  It’s certainly closer to calling itself “Stephen King’s The Shining” than the Kubrick version.  King himself did the teleplay, produced the project, and even makes an appearance (as the Bandleader, conducting happily away) so clearly his stamp of approval is all over it.

Steven Weber made a ballsy move by signing on to play Jack Torrance.  Imagine taking a part this great, only to know that people are going to be judging you every step of the away against the cinematic giant who originally played the role.  Though Weber is rather flat at points, he has one thing going for him that Nicholson never did.   Weber is a regular dude.  This simple fact makes his  descent into madness, and the shift in his character from well-intentioned Dad to crazed maniac, much more dramatic shift than Nicholson going crazy.

(God Bless him, but Nicholson plays crazy spectacularly.  It’s the sane part he sometimes struggles with.)

As Jack’s wife Wendy, Rebecca DeMornay certainly has more to do than Shelley DuVall did.  Through flashbacks and added scenes, we get a lot more of the difficulties in the Torrances marriage, and it enables Wendy to be fleshed out more as a character.  DuVall was largely asked to be hysterical, while DeMornay gets to play an actual woman with actual problems.

Granted, Kubrick is said to have hated Shelley DuVall, so maybe that has something to do with her wittled-down role.  Whatever, she knocks the little she’s given out of the park, in her quirky, otherworldly way.

The marriage of Weber and DeMornay is more believable, I feel, than the marriage of Nicholson and DuVall ever was.  The TV version actually takes time to focus on this husband and wife duo who, though having obvious issues, obviously have a deep love for each other.

(Note: My friend Amanda declared there to be “excessive” kissing between Weber and DeMornay in the TV Version. )

In both cases, the young actors playing Danny Torrence deliver remarkable performances.   Danny is the true heart and soul of “The Shining,” and it’s only fair to pay him some attention.

The TV version of “The Shining” features Courtland Mead in the role of Danny Torrance.  Mead is a great Danny, every bit the smart and precocious kid the part asks for.

However, I prefer Danny Lloyd.  He’s a marvelous and charming little boy, and I just believe him more in the role.  (Granted, like everything else, his role is drastically changed in the Kubrick version.  This Danny isn’t a super-smart kid with psychic abilities.  He’s a regular little boy that weird stuff happens to a lot. )

In addition to the changes in the characters, there’s the issue of the hotel itself.

Kubrick shot his entire film on a soundstage in England, which was (At the time) the largest set for a movie ever built.  A full-scale exterior of the hotel was built for outside shots, but most outside filming was done at a few different scattered hotels.  Meanwhile, the TV Version was actually filmed at the notorious Stanley Hotel in Colorado, which was the inspiration for King’s novel in the first place.  Some interiors were actually shot in the actual hotel, which had to be an amazing experience for actors and crew alike.  This hotel is legendarily haunted, and for King addicts, it’s a pilgrimage.

There are actually tons of differences in the two films – some more important than others.

For example, the fate of hotel cool Dick Halloran is night and day. Killed by the axe of Jack Nicholson in the Kubrick version, Dick survives and winds up living quite happily ever after in both the TV version and the original novel.

There’s also the issue of room numbers.  The gateway for all hauntings/weirdness at the Overlook hotel is Room 217 in the novel and TV version, and Room 237 in the Kubrick version.

And then there’s the issue of the moving topiary versus the maze of hedges, but whatever… I’m sure a maze struck Kubrick as a more powerful visual or something.

FYI – The Twins are a totally Kubrick invention.  No trace of them is mentioned in the original novel.

At the end of the day, I could keep talking about the differences – but it doesn’t matter.

Some will always prefer the Kubrick, some will choose the TV version, and some will side with the novel.

Me, I remain now and always on the side of the novel.  Read it and imagine your own version of Jack, Wendy, Danny, Dick, Ullman, and everyone else.  Imagination is a powerful thing, and what you can make up in your mind is far more powerful than anything any filmmaker (regardless of skill) can put on a screen.

Read the book.  Just do it.


About JamieP

Books. Adventures. Chicago. Married. Mommy. Cat.

Posted on October 25, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. probably it will seem unthinkable to you and many others, but i strongly think that a film (a film of a great director like stanley kubrick, obviously) is much more powerful than common people’s imagination. could you ever imagine that soundtrack? could you ever imagine those faces expressions? could you ever imagine those visionary scenes? i don’t think so, unless you are a very talented genius like kubrick. this was one of the points in my graduation thesis about the comparison between kubrick’s eyes wide shout and arthur schnitzler’s traumnovelle.
    don’t be so self-confident about the greatness of your imagination, because your own mind version could be much poorer than the film’s one, even if you have read a great novel.
    so here’s my two cents: read the book, and watch the film. then, think about what you have seen, before making any odd comparison with the tiny, little world of you mind. just do it.

  2. Hello manmanbrijit,

    While I thank you for visiting, I do need to say that I’m not entirely sure what the point of your comment was other than to try and imply that only smart people (such as yourself, apparently) can appreciate a genius like Stanley Kubrick.

    You wrote –

    “so here’s my two cents: read the book, and watch the film. then, think about what you have seen, before making any odd comparison with the tiny, little world of you mind. just do it.”

    If you had actually read my post, you would see that I did, indeed, read the book. I also watched both film adaptations. The point of the post was to compare and contrast the three pieces. So before you go criticizing my “tiny, little world” in run-on sentences badly in need of a grammar and spell-check, please take the time to actually read the post. (Someone who wrote their “graduation” thesis on Kubrick should probably not have missed that “Eyes Wide Shout” is not the name of one of his films.)

    Thank you.

  3. I have to agree with Jamie wholeheartedly. The reason this would be “unthinkable to you and many others” is that it is utter and complete nonsense. I actually feel sorry for your lack of imagination if you think you are incapable of ever imagining more than any other single human being.

    Regarding the overrated “genius” of Stanley Kubrick; you want to know who didn’t actually apparently read the book? Stanley Kubrick. What he made was a very silly, exceedingly not scary movie that needlessly butchered a lot of the content. To the point that King himself felt the need to state that it was not a good adaptation of his book. Wendy’s complete character reversal? Jack actually hitting Danny and Wendy? Jack’s complete lack of awareness about going bonkers? Those are just the surface things. There is so much more that is wrong with what Kubrick did to the Shining. In effect, Kubrick disregarded the entire point of the novel and made a boring, mediocre film. A film that has since been latched onto because it was made by the director we are all told we must worship regardless of how much we might not actually like his work.

    Given his lack of understanding (I prefer that to the theories that he might have been simply “mirroring” or creating an inversion of the book) regarding The Shining, and never having bothered to see Eyes Wide Shut, I shudder to think what butchery Kubrick’s version of Dream Story involved.

  4. (omg… ò_O)

    dear jamie,
    despite not being a native english speaker, i perfectly understood what you wrote. it took me a couple of minutes to read it fully, but i’ve read it, so i know that it was a comparison between film1/film2/novel, as the title claims. i only wish i had read my comment better before posting it, just to avoid my terrible grammar mistakes (could you please tell me where my post is badly in need of a grammar and spell-check? there’s always something new to learn. thanks)… 😉

    i’m sorry it wasn’t clear enough, i was neither referring to “your” tiny little world nor criticizing it, i was speaking to a general addressee, like people sometimes do… my closing statement was only my personal advice to the reader, following your pattern at the end of your post.
    don’t get angry, it’s only my personal opinion as i wrote, not the undeniable truth. and sorry again for my mistake in writing “eyes wide shut”, i hope you are not used to tease every blogger who makes a misprint, especially if he/she is writing in a foreign language… if you are self-confident enough about your argument, you don’t need it… it’s not very classy. 😉

    anyway, i just meant that MANY PEOPLE use to say “our imagination is better than every film version”, i’ve heard it so many times to say that it’s just a commonplace. i think that before saying it we should deeply understand what the imagination of a director like kubrick brought to reality, no matter if he was faithful to the novel he was inspired by… in other words, we should take a bath of hubleness before thinking we could surely do better than him.
    secondly, the greatness of a film should not be measured by the slavish following of the original novel: the latest film version is obviously more faithful to the book, but it is not absolutely comparable to kubrick’s version, who went definitely beyond the novel with his film.
    this was my point, so you totally misinterpreted my speach; probably it’s only my fault, because i should have been more accurate in explaining my point of view, and probably it sounded too rude to you, but i just meant to be ironic.

    @eshadowp unfortunately kubrick died before calling you to ask for an elucidation about the books he adapted into his films, and especially about making films… i’m sorry i haven’t recognized the genius in you.

  5. The book is silly,tedious,and not the least bit scary.The problem is,is king created characters you don’t believe in.Wendy in king’s story,would never put up with a jerk like torrance.And Danny is unaffected by his gift,and his familial troubles.King’s wendy and danny seem to be witnessing a haunted house at a carnival,than actually being frightened.Kubrick took a cheesy fantasy,and created a film that haunts you with images and sound.And i’d LOOOVE to here what scary movies ESHADOW can recommend.This ought to be good. ; )

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