movie: The Shining (1980)

The 1977 novel by Stephen King which I just reviewed was made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. Husband and I planned to watch it on Halloween (as I’d just finished the book) but we couldn’t even wait that long.

I struggle to retain a little perspective as I write this review. I loved the book very much. Movies made from books are often disappointing, and I keep reminding myself, this is not because they are less good, only different. The format requires that they compress the action, often curtailing development of characters and plot, to fit into two hours or so. Interior thoughts and motivations are often lost (see recent discussion). None of which means that movies can’t be good; they just can’t be books.

As you’re already gathering, this movie disappointed me in that it wasn’t just like the book. In fact, they have relatively little in common. Both are about the Torrance family: Jack, Wendy, and Danny. Jack is still a recovering alcoholic, still takes the caretaker job at the Overlook Hotel. Dick Hallorann still befriends Danny, although their friendship is much less profound. My first great let-down was in Hallorann: I found him sort of bumbling in the movie, less developed, certainly less capable and fun, less someone I want to hang out with. For that matter, my earliest warning was in the character of Ullman, the hotel manager: a real creep in the book, he was an oily but not exceptionally unpleasant nonentity in the movie… I guess these are the sacrifices we make to time restraints. And of course, the monsters are reduced in number and in detail, again presumably because of the time limitations. Most damningly, a certain key character meets an entirely different ending in the movie, which I have a hard time forgiving. I have to keep reminding myself, these are different stories.

But the real departure from book to movie, it seems to me, is in the source of the evil. As I noted, in the book, Jack is an essentially good – flawed, but human – man, husband, and father. The Overlook Hotel is an evil entity that preys upon his weaknesses and takes him over. Jack as man is redeemed somewhat. In the movie, though, Jack goes insane and tries to kill his wife and child. No redemption there.

But how was the movie as just a movie, without these unrealistic comparisons to the book? Okay, I’m trying. As a movie it was indeed spooky. It created atmosphere. The scenes with Danny riding his Big Wheel through the halls alone were powerful. For that matter, the images were all powerful – and absolutely iconic today. (I could have identified all of the images in this post for you before I saw the movie. And I am a pop culture dunce.) Stanley Kubrick did his Stanley Kubrick thing. I think it would have been an enjoyable and impactful movie experience, had I seen it first. Clearly, however, the book ruined me for it. Which is so often the case. However, I also think that the movie would have ruined me for the book. Scatman Crothers’ portrayal of Hallorann was not at all what I’d pictured, and I like my conception of him better. So there’s a conundrum. If you have to pick one format, kids, I recommend the book.

Rating: 5 advantages taken.

5 Responses

  1. “the book ruined me for it. Which is so often the case. However, I also think that the movie would have ruined me for the book.”

    This is the key for me. I don’t have a prejudice one way or the other, in general, but there are times when I don’t want a second version (even if it’s technically the first). There’s a great movie called Let the Right One In, and I have never wanted to read the book, because of how moving I found the movie. I think they’re pretty similar (the screenplay was written by the writer of the book), but similar isn’t close enough. I know there are differences, and I like Oscar and Eli as they are on the screen.

    • Yea, it’s a difficulty. I know which way I’m inclined 🙂 but also enjoy a good movie. I can count on one hand the number of movies I’ve seen after having read the book and liked.

    • In a strange and wonderful coincidence, I just came across a list of “10 ‘Unfilmable’ Books That Made It to the Big Screen.” Check out number 8 and this lovely Nabokov quotation: “I do not wish to imply that Kubrick’s film is mediocre; in its own right, it is first-rate, but it is not what I wrote.” That’s about what I was going for, too.

  2. […] Rating: 8 roque mallets. Movie review to come. Briefly: not as good as the book (who’s surprised?), and really only vaguely related to it. EDIT: movie review here. […]

  3. […] somewhat revolting gender roles in Rosemary and Guy’s marriage. Funnily, it reminded me of The Shining, made fuller 12 years later in 1980: the opening scene has Rosemary & Guy being shown around […]

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