Film Review

Stephen King’s The Shining

This is going to be a tough one to review no matter how I slice it, so I’ll be upfront with my thoughts and afterwards I’m open to any and all discussions regarding them: I finally got a chance to watch the entire miniseries of Stephen King’s The Shining from 1997 (not in the right order I might add, as the discs in my DVD set were somehow labelled wrong) and in quite a few ways I much prefer it to Stanley Kubrick’s film, which I also love and consider a stronger piece in some aspects as well. Please hear me out: it’s no secret that King prefers this one and that it follows his book far more closely than than Kubrick’s film, but this was irrelevant to me as I’ve never read the book. What I enjoyed a lot about this is that it dives far deeper into the character of Jack Torrence, here played by Steven Weber in a performance I much prefer over Nicholson’s, his alcoholism and inability to control the addiction and anger issues, how that mirrors the evil forces at the Overlook Hotel who are trying to win over his soul and prompt him to murder his wife Wendy (Rebecca DeMornay) and son Danny (Courtland Mead). Here we see Jack go from a loving husband and father and slowly disintegrate into the deranged, possessed lunatic that stalks his family through the hallways in the third act. But what struck me here is how we clearly see a good yet troubled man with demons in his past who encounters new and very literal ones in the present yet fights fiercely against them, we see a clear trajectory from decent man to stressed out cabin fever victim to unwitting host of dark forces to full on, mentally deranged homicidal maniac and it’s an actual *arc* as opposed to Jack Nicholson, who just seemed like a loony oddball right off the bat and never earns or even asks for your sympathy or understanding. Now, what falls flat here? I mean obviously it’s made for TV miniseries so it feels chopped up by the obligatory commercial breaks and just, you know, has that ‘TV feel’ that’ll knock it down a peg in the eyes of cinephiles by default alone. There’s some startlingly terrible CGI including hedge animals that come to life, that could have totally been done with practical effects and just look laughable. The weakest link though is this young actor Courtland Mead who plays Danny, he is just painfully unbearable to even look at and when he talks you just want to flip the coffee table over, *very* bad casting choice. The dynamic between Jack and Wendy is explored far more in depth here with entire sequences devoted to dialogue that feels like a beautifully dark stage play unfolding, scenes that are incredibly well acted and affecting. The supporting cast is terrific with work from Pat Hingle, Melvin Van Peebles, Miguel Ferrer, Shawnee Smith, Elliott Gould in a brittle cameo as the Overlook’s bluntly skeptical owner and Stanley Anderson in a chilling turn as the place’s former caretaker, the ghostly Delbert Grady. One way in which this truly outshone Kubrick’s for me is location: this was shot at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado where King actually wrote much of the book and my god does it ever show; breathtaking Rocky mountain vistas surround the place, the architecture is baroque and creepy and gorgeous all at once and there’s just this atmospheric alpine feel outdoors and this spooky, lived-in aura within the building that drew me right in. Weber is truly terrifying, deeply sympathetic and even frequently very funny and candid as Jack, it’s an overlooked performance that struck many chords with me and felt palpably threatening, despite the fact the he carries around a Denver croquet mallet instead of an axe. I could go on, but the simple truth is this is more up my horror alley overall, it feels like a campfire tale, decidedly genre and very hot blooded, dramatic and full of rich storytelling whereas Kubrick’s, no doubt an incredible film that I also enjoy quite a bit, simply comes across as colder, more detached, scant on King’s mythology and ideas with a far less developed and intriguing Jack Torrence and very much like an art film in many instances. I love both, but this version just vibes with me more, and I don’t know what else to say, really.

-Nate Hill

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