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