Before I get too deep into this rant let me say, right up front, that I think Kubrick was a genius. Aside from Barry Lyndon there is not one of his films that I have not enjoyed watching on some level; if I’m being honest Lyndon just put me to sleep. Over the years I have heard many complaints from Stephen King fans about Kubrick’s version of The Shinning. Apparently even King himself was not happy with it. So I decided to see what all the bitching was about; I read the novel after all these years and then watched the movie again. My conclusion for this little experiment is that as a Kubrick film The Shinning is a stroke of genius, but as an adaptation of the novel it leaves a lot to be desired. Now I understand that when it comes to film adaptation of novels A) it is near impossible to get everything on screen word for word and B) you can’t please everyone that read the book. But in this particular case I believe that Kubrick left out and or changed some very significant events in the novel that in some ways ruined the story.
I’m sure you’re wondering at this point what is wrong (in my opinion) with Kubrick’s version of The Shinning. Before I share my thoughts on the subject I should warn you; if you haven’t read the novel (it took me 20+ years) or you have not seen the movie (you need to get out more) then DO NOT read any further. There are spoilers ahead.
Jack + Wendy + Danny=tragic family
In the novel, the relationship between the three is the driving force of the story. Jack’s desperate fight with his past, Wendy’s dedication and love for her son, and Danny’s undying love for his father are all missing in Kubrick’s version. You do see flashes here and there; but never enough to truly help you connect with these characters. Jack’s back story is lightly touched on in the film, but we are not given enough of it to truly care about this character; when The Overlook finally does take over there is no sense of defeat or loss for Jack. And Wendy’s slow decline into desperation is non-existent in the film; from the minute she steps into The Overlook we should follow her down a path that no matter what she does ends tragically. As for Danny, well his battle to try and save Jack from what happens is gone, we never get to see the moments when Jack and Danny are close and that kinda of takes all the wind out the ending.
I loved Scatman Crothers as Mr. Halloran. I had no issue with the initial meeting between Halloran and Danny; it was Halloran’s race back to the hotel from Florida that was lacking. In the novel Danny calls out to Halloran psychically when he realizes that The Overlook has taken control of his father, the psychic scream knocks Halloran for loop and he races back to Colorado. In the film Halloran’s venture back to Colorado is very blasé and leisurely, there is no sense of urgency to show how afraid Halloran is for the Torrence family. Halloran is very aware of what The Overlook is capable of and the trouble Danny is in. Halloran doesn't die in the novel either and he is a big reason why Wendy and Danny are able to escape; in the film he arrives at The Overlook to save Danny and is killed by Jack before he even gets through the lobby. You are left wondering why he even he brought back?
Room 217 (237)
In the novel the famous haunted room in The Overlook is number 217, but in the film it was number 237. There are many theories behind why Kubrick changed this small detail-my favorite is the theory tied to Kubrick’s involvement in the fake moon landing footage-and it is not the changing of the room number that threw me. It was the fact that in the film the room opened for Danny on its own. In the novel Danny was told by Jack that all the guest rooms were off limits, but Danny’s “talent” combined with the curiosity of a 6 year old drove him to steal the room key from the manager’s office and enter of his own free will. This action sets up the first violent confrontation between Jack, Danny and Wendy and is the initial indicator that The Overlook is getting into Jacks head. By allowing Danny into the room with no deceit involved all of the tension is sucked out of the sequence and does not allow for that initial confrontation; which in turn sets up Wendy’s later accusation that it was Jack that injured Danny and not the women in the bath tub. This all kick starts Jack’s descent.
The drastic change to the ending is very jarring for anyone that has read the novel. In the movie Jack just losses track of Danny in the maze and ends up freezing to death; where is the tension in that. In the novel Jack shirks his duties as caretaker, the pressure in the boiler builds, and the hotel explodes. The boiler pressure building is a physical manifestation of what is happening to Jack during this final pursuit. I think that the maze its self was meant to be the manifestation of Jack’s entire state of mind, but I did not find it as effective. In the novel this final chase takes place inside the hallways of The Overlook, Jack corners Danny who believes his father is still in there somewhere. Danny succeeds in briefly bringing him back to the surface long enough to remind him of the forgotten boiler. This drives Jack to the basement just in time for a final confrontation with the true caretakers of The Overlook. In the final minutes Jack has one last battle with the ghosts of The Overlook and he realizes that it was not him that they wanted; they had been using him all along because they needed Danny’s power to stay with forever and ever and ever….
Again, I know that when it comes discussing novel to film adaptations that not everyone is going to be happy. But with Kubrick’s version of The Shinning what was left out were important details that helped the audience care for these characters so that the dangers they face are that much more jarring and unsettling. As I watched The Shinning again and thought about its comparison to the novel one thing came to mind; Stanley Kubrick was a cinematic genius. But maybe it was his genius that ruined the wonderful story within The Shinning? There was so much emphasis on the visuals and hidden messages that the core character traits and situations were lost. For those interested, there was a television miniseries starring Steven Webber and Rebecca DeMornay that was more faithful to the novel. It was not on the same level visually to Kubrick’s, but the acting was actually much stronger and there was more of the original story present so that you connected with the characters.
Additionally, just for kicks, fans should watch the documentary Room 237. This doc is filled with every possible conspiracy theory and hidden message the film has to offer.
So there you have it, in the end I have to agree with the many Kings fans that do not like Kubrick’s version. What are your thoughts?