Modern Culture29 Oct 2008 01:34 pm
In 1980, Stanley Kubrick released the horror classic The Shining, an adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel of the same name (1977). It was Kubrick’s first movie since his ambitious period piece Barry Lyndon (1975) had flopped at the U.S. box office, and he reportedly wanted to make a more commercially viable movie for his follow-up project. It starred Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, an alcoholic novelist afflicted with crippling writer’s block, who fatefully accepts a job as an off-season caretaker of the haunted Overlook Hotel, a remote resort nestled in the Colorado Mountains. He moves to the Hotel with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possesses the gift of telepathy—the “shining” referred to in the title. As the winter deepens, the ghostly inhabitants of the hotel gradually close in on the vulnerable family, culminating in Jack’s descent into homicidal madness.
In explaining why he chose to adapt The Shining, Kubrick effusively praised the novel, stating in an interview that, “[i]t seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural world would eventually be explained by the psychological.” Interestingly, King was “dreadfully upset” with Kubrick’s adaptation, even going so far as to publicly denounce the director as “[a] man who thinks too much and feels too little.” This was an unusual reaction from the writer, who has consistently claimed to be unconcerned with the fidelity of the movie adaptations of his novels, often referring to them as, “[a]pples and oranges, both delicious, but very different.”
The troubles between the two men began with Kubrick’s desire to cast Jack Nicholson in the lead role, which King tried to talk the director out of, suggesting John Voigt or Michael Moriarty instead. King felt that the role of Jack Torrance required an everyman (which Nicholson was inarguably not), in order to make his final descent into madness that much more unnerving. King also felt that the important themes of his novel, such as the destructive effects of Jack’s alcoholism on his family, were overlooked in favor of the supernatural demons that populated the hotel. However, King has recently admitted that he was struggling with alcoholism and feelings of unprovoked rage towards his family at the time that he wrote The Shining. This might help account for his aversion to Kubrick’s adaptation, as much of the novel was very personal to the author, if not autobiographical.
King had the opportunity to remake The Shining himself in 1997, with a TV movie adaptation of the novel which he wrote and produced. Sadly for King, his adaptation was universally panned and considered vastly inferior to Kubrick version. Like many of Kubrick’s films, The Shining initially garnered mixed reviews from critics, but has become widely regarded as a masterpiece of the horror genre.
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