Golly, now this is a fool’s errand, isn’t it? I mean, why would I even try to jump in the pool of determining what makes a successful film adaptation of a book? Or which is better and which one isn’t? One item is an extremely successful author’s original vision of the story and the other item is an interpretation from one of the greatest visual filmmakers of all time. And who in the hell am I to try and decide between the two? Isn’t this a rather subjective call? Is it even possible?
All I can say is that my wife basically dared me to do it. She’s the clever foxy one and I took the bait like a reactionary (insert liberal/conservative/moron here) seeing something they disagree with on Facebook. (And yes, I capitalized Facebook in the hopes that I get some acknowledgement in the form of a check for treating the site so respectfully. Hopefully, my Zuck Bucks show up soon!) But anyway, she made me do it! I would never have even thought about reading this book on my own. No way.
Of course, my wife, being a fiction bibliophile, had read some of Mr. Stephen King’s novels before. Meanwhile, despite never having read a single page of King’s work, I had watched some of the movie adaptations and yes, I own Creepshow. And Creepshow 2. Yeah, that’s right, I’m okay with that, even if my wife isn’t. With her being the more literary-type, she usually takes a gander at books that get adapted into movies. Me? I’m just fine with knowing that not only does Maximum Overdrive exist as a wondrous film but I can also get through life without ever having to read the short story it was based on. Besides, I’m almost definitely certainly absolutely surely positive that the AC/DC music works better in the movie than on the printed page.
The challenge as it were was this: that both my wife and I would read a Stephen King book that was made into a movie. My wife chose Needful Things, as she enjoyed the movie due to the late great Max Von Sydow’s deliciously evil performance. I chose The Shining because a) my wife had already read the book years ago, so she wanted to read something different, b) King has been quite vociferous about his disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation through the intervening years and if I had to do this, I might as well see what he’s talking about because c) I already have the movie in and amongst my thousands of pieces of physical media.
From the start, the journey was fraught with problems. On the date that we thought the book would be available at the library…it wasn’t there. I was forced to wait a whole extra week or so before I could dive into King’s tome. During that time, I did nothing but live my life as I customarily would have anyway. It was true torment. I took to my bed to sleep at night and in the mornings would awaken refreshed. I would then take a shower and do perfectly normal things like wearing pants and going to work. How I managed to come through in the end would make for a perfectly wonderful story that I can certainly fictionally embellish at a later date.
Then The Shining finally arrived! There was an air of menace surrounding the library, but chances are it was only the librarians seeing my last name and remembering that they banned my sons from their hallowed halls some time ago. (Seriously? You ban some then four year olds who want to be in a library? Dane County libraries should be torn down and replaced with Barnes and Noble stores. What I wouldn’t give to force those snooty librarians into serving venti chai soy lattes to whiny millennials.) Then again, I’m only supposing that this atmosphere of contempt probably happened as my wife picked up the book. I wasn’t even there, so I’m using some creative license. After all, these pages just don’t fill themselves now, do they?
Speaking of filling pages, my first impression upon receiving this book was that it was fairly heavy. However, I came off easy compared to my bride’s choice. We discovered that the hardcover version of Needful Things required a team of yaks, several water buffalo, and even the usually deceased Fabulous Moolah herself to help lift the book to our dining room table. I’m sure I could have placed the dustjacket around a Chicago phonebook and it would have been comparable. Of course if I did that, the game would have been up as everyone knows that the phonebook has fewer words than most King novels.
So while I’m sure you’d adore hearing me ramble on about the nuances of the book compared to the movie ad nauseum, I shall try to refrain from doing that. Instead, as I am lazy, I shall instead throw up some random thoughts instead as I still have them waggling around in my brain instead. Also keep in mind that if you’re one of the nervous Nellies that fret about things such as spoilers, I have one thing to say: Suck it up, you pantywaist, because book and film are both over 40 years old.
· Stephen King. Stanley Kubrick. S.K. and S.K. Eerie isn’t it? King wrote a story with a lead character named Jack. Kubrick filmed a story with a lead actor named Jack in real life! Jack’s son in the book is named Danny. A child actually named Danny plays Danny in the movie! Both Lincoln and Kennedy have 7-letter last names! The parallels are scary! Why haven’t more critiquers brought this up before? Oh and apparently both stories take place at a hotel! Weird!
· The book has way too much character backstory and the movie doesn’t have enough. The book takes forever to get to the hotel and have things happen. The movie gets you to the hotel right way and then takes forever to have things happen. Different paths, same destination.
· In the novel, Jack’s wife Wendy is a cute blonde that can reasonably take care of herself. Movie Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall is not a cute blonde and spends a lot of time screaming. Now to be fair, both Wendys are devoted mothers and that trait comes across both mediums. But the biggest leap of faith that I have to take from the movie is believing that Jack Nicholson would have married Shelley Duvall. I can believe elevators filled with blood, hallways with dead twin girls talking, and locked pantry doors being opened by ghosts, but the harness has yet to be built that can successfully suspend my disbelief that Jack and Shelley tied the knot.
· After bringing the prior point up to my wife, she put down her own 74 pounds of novel and said that perhaps Jack would have married Shelley because he knew that she was practically the only thing he could control in his life. Upon reflection, I can go along with that thought as it makes Jack a bit more twisted. It certainly explains to an extent why Movie Jack would have been so susceptible on his journey to ultimately become the “Here’s Johnny!” Looney Tune. Perhaps Kubrick thought that it just wouldn’t be as interesting for Jack to have a worthy adversary, so he cast Duvall instead. But that’s pure unsweetened conjecture on my part.
· Speaking of casting, Scatman Crothers is fantastic as he completely embodies his character of the Overlook Hotel’s chef, Hallorann. Crothers was a great character actor who only enhanced features such as Silver Streak and Bronco Billy with his terrific presence. Now Hallorann is alive at the end of the book, which I understand within the confines of that story. Kubrick has Hallorann die in the movie, which I also understand given the way the movie’s story has been developing. There’s something to be said about the rug being pulled out from under you. Just when you think that the cavalry has arrived, suddenly Jack takes Hallorann out. I’m sure Kubrick did this for several reasons: 1) to have Jack kill someone as his sanity slowly degraded throughout the movie, 2) to defy expectations and conventions because that’s what Kubrick does, and 3) to really piss off the avid fans of the novel and not really care.
· King spends quite a bit of time on the characters, and while I can understand that this is a book with a word count, it was not all necessary. However, Kubrick took a different tack, ultimately deciding that the most intriguing character was the hotel itself. Not that he delves into the backstory of the hotel very much. There is a scrapbook about the Overlook’s spicy history that Book Jack pores over at great length across King’s many pages of text. However, this scrapbook is only seen in passing on the table where Movie Jack was writing and even then it isn’t mentioned what it is. Yet the way the sets are filmed, the hotel just projects an air of menace throughout. The camera movement makes it seem as if the hallways themselves are monitoring the proceedings. Say what you want about Kubrick, his visual style was not only unparalleled but is also just about the only reason for me to reluctantly watch Barry Lyndon. (Oooooh yeah, that’s a good one! Barry Lyndon jab! Take that!)
· Book Jack is a jerk, quite frankly. A self-destructive prick that I had only one real moment of sympathy for: when he tells Danny to get away from him because the hotel is about to take him over completely. Beyond the other fact that he fights the madness for a while, he’s a douche. Movie Jack is also a jerk, but he takes the expressway to madness without much of a battle. With a few edits, you could make me believe that Movie Jack just wanted the caretaker job so he could kill the family to get some peace and quiet to write and I’d completely believe it. There’s no inner conflict, really, save for one moment where Duvall mistakenly accuses him of attacking Danny. But that’s a rare needle found in the movie haystack.
· Book Jack attacked with a roque mallet, which is like a croquet mallet only less Frenchified, while Movie Jack attacked with a nice shiny axe. Hm. I can’t imagine which I’d choose when attempting to be more intimidating and scary. Wait just a second. I’ll get back to you after I mull over this poser. Hmmmm… I suppose this ultimately explains why it is more visually satisfying to have Jason Voorhees use a machete and not a spork. (Even though Jason could definitely use a spork if he so chooses; I wouldn’t dare to limit his choices.)
· Hands down, the book has the better overall ending. Having the entire hotel blow up in a tremendous maelstrom of fire due to an untended boiler is quite a stunning image. Conversely, the movie just decides to end, and as the importance of maintaining the boiler is never gone over in the film, there is no explosion. Shelley and Danny get away in Hallorann’s snow-cat, Jack is a Nicholsonsicle with the greatest expression ever captured on film, and there’s the slow reveal of Jack being in the 1920s party picture. So Kubrick goes low key as opposed to King going all out. Perhaps King wanted it this way to make up for the endless pages of revealed inner thoughts and backstories that ultimately made the reader so angry that they wanted something to blow up.
· Fine, I’ll come right out and say it: a maze is certainly a better visual medium than a bunch of topiary animals that come to life when your back is turned. Now I’m sure that 1980s technical limitations restricted bringing Kubrick-approved attacking greenery to screens, but I think it certainly would have taken viewers out of the story. The hotel is the main character in the film, not the surrounding grounds. This is probably why there’s nothing supernatural, perceived or otherwise, in the garden maze because it is just a garden maze. Sure, 1920s parties can crop up at the drop of a top hat in the hotel ballroom, but those shenanigans aren’t going on outside. That being said, what if instead of trimmed bushes there were statues and they moved around inside the maze…
· Why the pantsless costumed tomfoolery near the end of the movie? (I hesitate to call it a climax because this is a family value blog.) Was it just to disturb Shelley, which it obviously did? Was it just to disturb us, which again it obviously did? What exactly was going on there? Was that a Kubrick moment that he threw in just to have someone on the car ride home from the theater suddenly remember this scene and say, “Waitaminute! What the hell was the deal with that?!” I mean he could have used the Star Baby from 2001 near the end and get the same effect.
· I have to agree with Movie Jack that Lloyd the bartender, played by Joe Turkel, was the best. Even for a ghost, Lloyd got Jack his drinks right away, on credit, from suddenly appearing shelves of liquor. That takes skill indeed. I would love to see a movie just about Lloyd’s interactions with the various caretakers as they go right off their respective nuts every winter.
That should just about do it. While I’m glad I did this, I don’t think I’ll do it regularly in the future. I mean, if given the choice and if I really had to do it, I would rather watch Ben-Hur or Gone with the Wind rather than crack open their dusty tomes anytime soon. And while I lean towards the movie The Shining more, there are some admittedly some good things in the novel as well. The movie isn’t perfect as Kubrick is willing to gloss over plot details for long running times, spending little eternities on admittedly lovely shots. The book isn’t perfect as King is willing to fill page after page with more character development than you can shake a stick at, all the while rushing through to the ending once backstories are mercifully out of the way.
So which The Shining is the better The Shining overall? Truthfully? Well, neither. They are different animals. I think the biggest frustration I had is that somewhere in between the two is a good story just begging to come out. If you can meld the best parts of the book with the best parts of the movie, you would have something indeed. But I’ve got to go now, kids. Turns out that my wife needs help to lift Needful Things back to the library. Hope my back holds out! I have also decided to turn down the offers to join the Stephen King book club. As I don’t have a front end loader, I could never get the books into the house. And who wants more shelves of books, right?
On the other hand, shelves full of movies are where it’s at since movies are far better than any book! Right, Honey? Honey? Dear, why the fire axe?