Stephen King’s “The Shining” (the one what got televised)

Steven Weber looking ready to steal Christmas

The Shining is, at its core, a story about “human monsters”. The phrase is used more than once in King’s novel and deserves its place as a pivotal concept to his story because it is not a horror fable with social subtext, but one about social horrors with a supernatural backdrop. To those who are only familiar with Kubrick’s version, a brilliant film but poor adaptation, one very fundamental difference between the two should be addressed. In King’s vision, Jack Torrance is not The Madman in a Horror Film. He is a damaged, alcoholic, unfulfilled writer with a history of anger management, one who tries with all his might to be a good man and fails. The Shining is his story, and it’s a tragedy.

That’s why, after pretty staggering success with his televisual adaptation of The Stand, King jumped at network TV’s offer of another project and immediately set about telling Jack Torrance’s story his way. The result is a mixed bag of pros and cons that any real King fan can’t walk away completely ashamed of… it does, after all, bulge with all that Kubrick omitted. The lengthy characterization, the fits and starts of insanity by its lead (I love Nicholson’s performance to pieces, but I think we all agree he looked ready to kill his kid from the very first scene in the car and to hell with the hotel) and those creepy hedges that follow you around. Steven Weber, of Wings fame, does admirably with his twisted role; whether he managed Nicholson’s menace I think is beside the point. He certainly winds up healthy, convincing levels of drunk and crazy, which is all I’m after in a mini-series that won’t let anybody cuss or be disfigured.

If you have any strong objections to the production, in fact, my research suggests it will be thus: “it wasn’t fucking scary”. Well, I’m certainly not going to get into fisticuffs with anybody over that. The furthest I’d go is ‘occasionally creepy’, although I have to confess that if we’re going to be pedantic the only film that’s ever physically scared me was Alien. Even so, I think most people can save their moods if they approach the way I approach all King: I don’t come to the party to be scared. He’ll freak me out a little when he’s really in the zone, but what I love and pay for is the stark emotional realism that he’s so in tune with. In Pet Sematary, a father loses his infant son to a roaring highway truck and is tormented with the knowledge that he could, if he chose to, bring him back to life. The most horrific thing about that novel is the slow, agonized and terrifyingly inevitable actions of the father and the sick sense that they make – King is the kind of man who sees the infinitely horrific potential behind the infinitely human paradigm: there’s nothing a parent won’t do.

The Shining’s emotional realism is its foundation for all that is unreal and supernatural about it, and what’s emotionally real about the text is already pretty terrifying: alcoholism, misogyny and child abuse. On the screen we lose some of the internal deliberation by the characters which lend these themes credence, which is a shame because if there’s one thing King can do, it’s makes you forget how stupid a character is for staying in the creepy old haunted hotel when they could leave at any time by telling you exactly why they don’t. He can’t do that through images, but he tries.

When all is said and done, this production is one created from the mind of a novelist, not a screenwriter, and that shows. But it’s also one created by Stephen King and a director-actor team that respected what he was going for, and did it reasonable justice. The result is something of a guiltily pleasurable in-joke that only established fans of the novel will really appreciate, but I’m certainly not disappointed that it’s out there.

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~ by baileysmith on October 9, 2008.

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