The Shining ★★★

This one is always interesting to come back to. After the Kubrick film didn't live up to his expectations, Stephen King himself helped write and produce this 1997 miniseries version, which follows the novel beat for beat.

I don't think it's great by any means, but I also don't think it's awful. You have to take it for what it is, and as hard as it is, it shouldn't be compared to the Kubrick version, because that's like comparing a sportscar with a beetle. They both have steering wheels, but they're vastly different in quality and intent.

This is clunky in writing (a lot of lonely monologues to explain what characters are feeling inside), the CGI is some of the worst ever made (but it was made in 1997 on a television budget, so what do you expect?), and the acting is..wobbly, to put it mildly. But it does offer something that Kubrick never seemed even remotely interested in: human characters. That genuinely feel..human. Flawed but well meaning.

Steven Weber's Jack Torrance is a lot more relatable than Nicholson's. He's frustrated, has drinking problems and a family situation that is coming apart. But it's not happening in one fell swoop, it's a gradual descent, and the ghosts of The Overlook are a little more metaphorical in that sense: he was probably destined to become violent anyway. It's a common family situation, and King was smart enough to write about the worst side of himself: he was an alcoholic, frustrated with his kids and wife and sometimes he felt like lashing out at them. Violently. As people do. Fortunately I don't think he did, but one day when they stopped at a beautiful resort hotel in Denver, closed for the season, and sat alone in the vast dining room, the idea of the novel just landed on him.

Rebecca de Mornay also has more substance than Shelley Duvall, and she doesn't feel like she's going to fall apart by a gust of wind. She fights, literally, to the bitter end.

Perhaps the irony here is that this version is not that great at being horrific. Yes, when I was 10 and it was brand new it scared me senseless. I've spent many a nights and many a weekends with my brother and my alcoholic father in big hotels, wandering the halls to pass the time. And yes, he abused my mother physically, so that horror is close to home. But watching it now the horror feels silly and quaint (except the lady in Room 217, who is utterly fantastic here). It's the style, the budget, creative decisions, they all unfortunately serve to make it feel cheesy.

But I also understand the characters in a brand new way that I didn't when I was a kid. Then I related more to Danny. Now I relate more to Jack, especially because he's allowed to be frustrated, looked down upon, slyly dismissed at every turn in his life. It's no wonder alcoholism is a dark spiral - when you're marked a pariah by society and your own family, a part of them knows that's all you'll ever be, even if you try to make amends. You're reduced, lessened, and that breeds further frustration and ultimately you give up or lash out. It takes a great deal of courage to overcome, and even if your whole family supports you (and for how long?), you are the person who ultimately has to make the change and put up the fight. That's the story. Those are the ghosts that haunt you all your life. Bottles. Mallets. Fists. Words. The hotel is just an isolation chamber where they're forced to confront one another without societal interference. And I think that comes across rather well, warts and all. In that sense I guess you could say Kubrick made a film about a really scary hotel, but King wrote a story about a really scary notion, which is the worst outcome of a family unit, the abandonment of fathers and parents as an endless haunting cycle, and the bravery to end it.

Robin liked this review