Monday, October 31, 2011

HALLOWEENAGE #31: THE SHINING (1997)

So Stephen King was legendarily displeased with Stanley Kubrick's liberty-taking adaptation of THE SHINING.  A friend told me this story when we went to the Kubrick SHINING and it's tremendous, so let's pretend it's true: 

"Kubrick didn't have any contact with Stephen King before the movie except one time he called him late at night and the conversation was like...

KUBRICK: Is this Stephen King?
KING: Yes.  It's 2 in the morning!
KUBRICK: Stephen King, your novel suggest that you believe in an afterlife.  Do you believe in an afterlife?
KING: Uh...yes.
KUBRICK: (pause)  Well, I don't.  (hangs up)"


Whatever the case may be, Kubrick's film excised whole swaths of King's book and changed a lot of things around, so there was more reason for this remake than the usual "people know the title, so maybe they will pay to see this by mistake".  Plus it was a mini-series on ABC and occupied multiple nights like roustabouts occupy Wall Street, so very little had to be trimmed due to time constraints.  This is both a good and a bad thing.


I guess addressing the differences would be a good place to start.  Tony is this edition is not a croaking finger, he's a fully-formed floating nerd from the future who dispenses warnings to young psychic Danny.  Much more is made of Jack's alcoholism, including scenes at the AA meeting and him swinging around a copy of the Big Book.  Also, Jack's bitter relationship with his dad comes into play here, making me wonder how much of that is autobiographical, since King also mined it for the "Jordy Verrill" portion of CREEPSHOW.  Of course, a big difference is that this has a different cast.


Did you know that I hate child actors?  I'm not as fond of Kubrick's SHINING as some, but one of its strengths is the way that Danny never becomes annoying or cloying.  Bad remake, bad!  Because Courtland Mead as this Danny swallows way too much screen time with inane dialogue and songs about snow.  Plus he has an annoying nineties haircut, like he took a picture of one of the cannibals from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and told his beautician that he wanted to look like that.  Child actors should be seen, not heard, if they can't be sentenced to live on a farm where cameras are not allowed.  Too cute and cloying.  Advantage: Kubrick.


I like Rebecca DeMornay.  She is a knockout and a solid actress and I would love the chance to disappoint her, but perhaps this is not the right role for someone of classic beauty.  To me, Shelly Duvall works better in the role and seems more fragile and imperiled.  But Mornay delivers a really energetic performance and definitely should not ever feel jealous of Duvall.  I love you both equally.  Advantage: Kubrick.  

The casting of Steven Weber from that show WINGS was an interesting choice and he wisely opts to not channel Nicholson.  Pretty good performance, although it does feel hindered by TV content restrictions, as it's hard to take a person seriously as a crazy person when he keeps calling someone a "damned pup".  It's hard to top Nicholson's screeching screaming and camping around as well.  Advantage: Kubrick.


There are things that this SHINING does better, though.  It's much more a straight horror film, so the horror elements that come into play are sometimes more effective.  The tub lady is an easy highlight here, as she's memorably grotesque.  Sometimes the ghosts look iffy or laughable...


...but sometimes they make the whole four hours of this worth watching.  And there are fun cameos!


I've never read the book (and probably never will), but occasionally the dialogue is a little corny, especially the earnest interchanges between Jack and Wendy.  When people are shrieking and going nuts, it's fine, but those scenes could maybe benefit from a heavy editing hand.  Danny's dialogue, too, feels unconvincing, like kid dialogue from the fifties cut and pasted into a 1970s(?) setting.  The more obvious supernatural elements work just fine here and I wouldn't say that either film's approach is superior.  Of course, this SHINING lacks some of Kubrick's pricey helicoptered camera shots and stuff, but director Mick Garris of MASTERS OF HORROR renown does a good job at framing shots and keeping camera movement interesting and none too showy.


One more weakness and then I am never watching a horror movie again because I am so tired: the CGI hedge animals here.  Oh my god, this bungle!  They look terrible!  Thankfully, they show up at the midpoint of the film and then only briefly, but they are not even a tenth of the greatness that Kubrick's hedge maze is.  I actually became embarrassed for the film.  Such a poor choice. 


This is quite long and demanding of your time, but if you enjoy the story or books in general or the Kubrick version, you should probably check this out.  It's pretty interesting, if also pretty flawed.  

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