Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book to movie: The Shining (1980)

Book to movie: The Shining (1980)
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Based on the novel, The Shining by Stephen King

Even though Stephen King had just five novels in publication by 1979, Hollywood already knew that his stories were money in the bank. A big screen adaptation of Carrie and a television miniseries based on 'Salem's Lot had done well. Legendary director Stanley Kubrick, who’d hit genre paydirt with such hits as A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey, undertook his first major horror project in King’s bestseller, The Shining.

It’s clear from the opening scene that Kubrick has altered King’s tale. The movie opens with the same scene as King’s book – Jack interviewing for the job. Ullman however, is a good southern guy who says he’s got high recommendations for Jack from “our folks in Denver,” and is impressed with Jack himself. He's not the "officious prick" as Jack called him in the opening line of the novel.

Despite Stephen King’s decades of protest, I think Nicholson comes off as an everyman in the job interview.

Back in Boulder, Danny’s having his conversation with Tony. Danny verbalizes Tony’s reaction whilst moving his index finger. Tony is not confined to talking to Danny. Wendy has her own conversation with Tony about the prospects of moving into the overlook.

Jack and the family are soon on their way into the highest part of the Rocky Mountains to their winter destination. The camera work is stunning – showing not only the majesty of the mountains, but also the solitude. The seeds of claustrophobia are planted in the viewer’s mind.

The Torrances arrive. Jack gets his tour of his duties while Wendy gets hers. The boiler, so integral to the King story and the “other” movie doesn’t even come into play. We don’t go with Jack on his tour. Instead, we stay with Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and the cook, Dick Halloran (played by Scatman Crothers) as they tour the kitchen with Danny.

As in the book, Wendy picks up on Dick’s unexplained knowledge of Danny’s nickname. Dick brushes her off before mentally inviting Danny to stay for ice cream. Wendy joins Jack on a tour of the family quarters, leaving Danny in Dick Halloran’s care.

Dick explains “The Shining” to Danny and how the visions he may occasionally see are just pictures in a book that can be erased by closing the eyes. Danny’s already had a vision of blood flowing from the elevator, washing the furniture down the hallway like a flash flood. Halloran does not issue Danny the invitation to call for help as he does in the book.

It’s also apparent at this point that Jack’s alcoholism is going to be downplayed. It’s mentioned only in passing. Before heading to the Overlook, Wendy confides to a pediatrician that Jack had dislocated Danny’s arm after having too much to drink and that event made him stop. It only comes up in passing in one other scene later in the movie.

The Overlook staff departs and we flash forward one month. Danny is riding through the hallways of the Overlook on a Big Wheel. The cinematography here is similar to the cinematography of the drive up the mountain. A camera on a cart follows Danny through the twists and turns of the Overlook’s halls. The sound is ominous as the wheels rumble across the hardwood, then go silent as he hits an area rug. It’s a mood setter for the scene coming.

Danny rounds the bend and the two girls we know are the daughters of the former caretaker, Delbert Grady, are standing in the hallway holding hands. They hauntingly invite Danny to come play with them “…forever, and ever.” Kubrick cuts back and forth between the eerie girls standing before Danny and their massacred bodies lying in a hallway splattered with blood. Danny flees the scene.

Meanwhile, Jack is hammering away at his play. He’s set up writing shop in one of the ballrooms. We get our first clue that something is not quite right with Jack when Wendy walks in on him one day to see how he’s doing. Instead of greeting her warmly, or even tepidly, he berates and belittles her for disturbing him and tells her not to do it again.

At this point, nothing supernatural has happened to Jack. Unlike the book, he’s not developed a preoccupation with maintenance of the hotel nor has he discovered any of its hidden secrets. Kubrick is not going for the supernatural scare with Jack. He’s using claustrophobia as his fright mechanism. It’s apparent that cabin fever is developing in Jack.

On one of his daily journeys via Big Wheel around the Overlook, Danny comes to room 237 (not 217 as in the book). Tony has warned him about room 237. Danny arrives and the key is in the door and it is ajar. Danny pauses to look inside before losing his nerve and riding off. But later, he goes back. We don’t see what happens to Danny in room 237, but it’s bad.

Meanwhile, Jack has dozed off at his typewriter. He has a nightmare (to which the viewer is not privy) and begins screaming. Alarmed, Wendy runs from the family quarters to find Jack in a panic. She awakens him and tries to calm him. Jack tells her he had the worst nightmare of his life. He had killed Wendy and Danny and hacked them to pieces.

Just as Jack reveals this, Danny wanders into the room. Wendy calls out to him, but he does not respond. She crosses the room and sees the bruises on his neck. She screams at Jack, “You did this!” She takes Danny and runs to the family quarters. Jack is left dazed and scared, sitting alone at his typewriter.

Jack, now really feeling the strain of being isolated, wanders into the Gold Room lounge and sits down at a bar. He looks around at the empty room before addressing the bartender, Lloyd who is standing behind the bar. He orders Lloyd to put a glass, some ice, and a bottle of bourbon in front of him. He toasts, “Five months on the wagon and all the harm they did,” before hoisting the glass.

Jack is enjoying his apparently imaginary drink when Wendy comes running into the lounge to tell Jack that there’s a crazy woman in the hotel with them. Danny has told her he went into room 237 and found a woman there that tried to strangle him. She wants Jack to investigate.

Jack goes to room 237 and find the key in the door and the door open. He goes in and finds the room in order. However, he hears the shower running. He enters the bathroom and finds a voluptuous woman showering. The woman steps seductively from the shower and walks toward Jack. They embrace and kiss passionately. As he’s kissing her, Jack opens his eyes and looks into the mirror. He sees that he’s kissing a desiccated corpse. He backs away in horror. In his room, Danny is aware of what is happening to his dad and reliving his own horror in room 237, watching the corpse rise from the bathtub to pursue him.

Jack returns to the living quarters and tells Wendy there was nothing there. Thoroughly pissed off at her for accusing him of hurting their son and for suggesting they leave and abandon his job, he returns to the Gold Room.

Meanwhile, Dick Halloran is in his home watching the news. The weatherman is talking about the massive snow storm that is hitting the Rockies. He starts worrying about the Torrances. He tries to call the hotel, but the lines are down. He calls the ranger station and asks him to use their CB to contact the hotel. The ranger on duty promises to do so. He starts transmitting.

On his way to the lounge, Jack hears the call from the ranger’s station. He stops in the radio room and dismantles the radio, cutting them off from civilization. When Halloran calls back, the ranger tells him he can’t raise the Torrances. Halloran heads for Colorado.

Danny’s visit to room 237 has triggered something that has brought the Overlook’s ghosts to life because when Jack arrives at the lounge, the party is now in full swing. A band plays big band music as Jack saunters to the bar where he finds Lloyd working. He orders his bourbon.

Lloyd pours Jack’s drink and Jack gets the money out to pay for it. The bartender refuses the money and tells him his money is no good here – orders of the house. Jack, still not quite possessed by the hotel is suspicious and tells Lloyd he’s the kind of man who likes to know who’s buying his drinks. Lloyd says he will learn in good time.

Jack wanders from the bar to join the party. As he’s walking through the lounge, he collides with a waiter who spills drinks all over him. The waiter insists that Jack accompany him to the men’s room to tidy up. There, the waiter introduces himself as Delbert Grady. Jack recognizes the name. He tells Grady he used to be the caretaker, but he hacked his wife and daughters up before killing himself.

Grady at first says he does not remember this, but then gets frank with Jack. He tells Jack that his son is trying to bring an outside party into the matter – “a nigger cook.” He tells Jack that the boy must be corrected. Grady then relates that his daughters hated the Overlook. One even stole a pack of matches and tried to burn it down. So, he “corrected” her. When his wife tried to intervene, he “corrected” her as well. Jack promises to correct Danny.

Wendy, suspecting that Jack’s gone insane, goes to find him to tell him that she plans to take Danny in the Snow Cat and leave the Overlook. On her way out the door, she grabs a baseball bat.

She stops in the ballroom where Jack was working on his play. She looks at the pages and is horrified. Hundreds of pages bear the same sentence, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” over and over again. Jack finds her there and asks her how she likes it.
They argue and Jack tells her that he’s going to bash her brains in. He slowly pursues her up the stairs. Wendy fends him off with the bat. Finally, Jack lunges for her and she whacks him on the head, knocking him unconscious.

She drags him to a walk in pantry and locks him in. She tells him she and Danny are leaving in the Snow Cat. Jack tells Wendy she’s in for a big surprise.

Wendy goes outside and finds that Jack has disabled the Snow Cat. She returns to her room and locks it. She tries to talk to Danny, but Tony tells her, “Danny’s not here Mrs. Torrance.” She puts Danny down to sleep and goes to her own bed and passes out.

Jack is in the pantry when Delbert comes to the door. He tells Jack that he’s not sure Jack’s heart is really in this. Jack insists that it is and Delbert frees him. Jack grabs a fire axe and heads for the living quarters.

Danny/Tony, sensing that Jack is on his way, starts mumbling, “redrum.” He says it over and over again and grabs a tube of lipstick. He writes on the inside of the door, redrum in awkward, backwards letters. He then begins shouting, “REDRUM!” maniacally, awakening Wendy. She’s trying to calm Danny when she looks in the mirror and sees the word, “MURDER” written on the door. Just then, the first axe blow falls on the door.

Wendy and Danny flee into the bathroom as Jack hacks down the door. He enters the apartment and starts hacking on the bathroom door. Wendy pushes Danny out of the window. He slides down a snow drift to the ground. He heads for the hedge maze on the hotel grounds.

Jack has hacked through the bathroom door. When he reaches in to open the door and Wendy cuts his hand with a knife. He’s just about to finish off the door when he hears the sound of a motor approaching the hotel. Dick Halloran has arrived. Jack leaves the apartment to deal with him.

Halloran enters the hotel and begins shouting for them. Jack surprises him with a fatal axe blow to the chest. He falls dead. Jack goes out to pursue Danny.
The chase through the hedge maze is some of Jack Nicholson’s finest work. He’s lurching along on a bum leg, toting an axe, screaming, “DANNY!” in a voice that’s full of malevolence. Danny is fleeing like a frightened rabbit.

Knowing that he can’t keep up the flight, Danny has an inspired idea. He carefully backtracks across his tracks in the snow and flees in a different direction, covering his tracks behind him. He then finds an exit from the hedge maze.

Wendy has left the living quarters. She encounters several ghosts as the Overlook’s never ending party rolls on. She arrives in the front lounge to find Halloran dead and the front door open. She goes outside just as Danny is running out of the maze. Wendy and Danny get into the Snow Cat that Halloran brought and leave. The movie then cuts to an image of Jack Torrance, frozen to death in the hedge maze, his face a rictus of rage.

As the movie closes it fades into a picture of a long ago party at the Overlook. As the focus draws closer, we see Jack Torrance at the head of the party. It is dated, July 4, 1921. Grady told him that he’d always been the caretaker. . .

I will say up front that this is my all time favorite horror movie. The tension never lets up. Nicholson, without costume or makeup is the most fearsome of monsters. Even in the expansive hotel, Kubrick’s cinematography makes the viewer feel claustrophobic. The movie’s climax with Jack hacking through the door, delivering witticisms such as, “Honey, I’m home!” and “Here’s Johnny!” are masterful. The dark, blue filtered lighting in the hedge maze is gripping and the pace of the scene has the viewer on the edge of his seat.

However, the movie is not without its faults. I may be writing heresy to some, but the story is not especially tight. Kubrick gives us enough clues to telegraph that, instead of an intelligent, malevolent, entity in the hotel, the cause of Jack’s insanity is cabin fever. But we don't know what the Overlook is all about other than being a haunted hotel.

We know that Danny’s abilities allow him to see past events in the hotel. What is not clear is Danny’s connection to the Overlook. We know this only from reading the novel. In the novel, the winding of the clock is the trigger that brings the Overlook and its “manager” to full power. It seems that Kubrick meant for Jack’s visit to room 238 to be that trigger, but we never understand why.

We also have no motivation for the ghosts that inhabit the Overlook. What do they want of Jack and what do they want of Danny? Grady hints of a “matter.” But we never learn what that matter is. Perhaps it was just a story of cabin fever run amok in a haunted hotel.

As much as I admired Jack Nicholson’s performance, and Danny Lloyd’s (who played Danny Torrance), I was underwhelmed by Shelley Duvall’s performance. King envisioned her as a somewhat willful harpy, always testing Jack and checking up on him to make sure he wasn’t drinking. This was part of Jack's insanity in the book. Duvall came across as mousy and wimpy. Yes, she did deliver the blow to Jack’s head. But before that, all she did was a lot of screaming and crying. Also, it seemed like she was working too hard to loose her native Texas drawl. It came out from time to time, making her dialogue inconsistent.

King’s complaints about this film are legend and he ought to give it up. He claims that his biggest problem was the casting of Jack Nicholson who he claims looked insane from the beginning. King’s tale was that of a man desperate for redemption and trying to rebuild his life who was overpowered by the force of the hotel.

Kubrick was apparently telling a different story. Kubrick was telling a story about a man already on the brink who let the natural phenomena of cabin fever get the better of him. Nicholson looked and acted the part of the common guy at the beginning of the movie. But there was that Nicholson persona we saw in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, lurking behind it. Jack Torrance as played by Jack Nicholson was a man who could have easily gone insane.

King ought to give it up because Kubrick made one hell of a scary movie out of King’s novel. Yes, King wrote one hell of a scary novel, but Kubrick made it work on the screen. Stanley Kubrick (to my knowledge) never told Stephen King how to write books. Stephen King ought not be telling Stanley Kubrick what makes a good movie.

King translated his own vision of how The Shining should play out on screen into the three part miniseries. The teleplay, penned by King, was abysmal. Great film location, some decent directing by Mick Garris, and a great performance by Rebecca DeMornay are all that saved it from being a complete disaster.

Sorry Mr. King. You wrote a great book. But Stanley Kubrick made a great movie. The two should have stood as testaments to your separate and different geniuses.

1 comment:

  1. What's odd about King's inability to accept Kubrick's movie is that he's typically very much a go-with-the-flow type guy when it comes to movie adaptations. In theory, if he was so bothered by what Kubrick did, shouldn't he be equally upset at the massive changes made to, say, "Hearts In Atlantis" or "Apt Pupil" or "Dreamcatcher" or ... well, heck, just pick one.

    It's the inconsistency that bothers me. It also, perversely, makes me happy. I sometimes feel like I get a bit too close to idolizing King; it's rather reassuring to have something to disagree with him about once in a while!

    Ultimately, I'm able to enjoy the novel for what it is, and the movie for what it is. I wish I could enjoy the miniseries for what it is, but apart from a few scenes, I can't.

    By the way, I totally agree that Nicholson comes off as an everyman -- and not, therefore, as crazy from the very beginning -- in the interview scene. The acting in that scene has always reminded me of the acting in the space-station scene in "2001": it's flat and lifeless, but actually serves to make the words themselves more important as a result.