'The Shining' (1997) A Not-So-Mini Movie Review
Stephen King’s 1980 Screening
What the hell is this?! What have they done to my book? My baby! That no-talent hack, Kubrick, is going to pay for this. If it’s the last thing I do, I will do what must be done… Kill him. Wait, that’s too drastic. Hold on. Let’s step back and take a breath of the dead roses here, King-Man. Alright. I won’t kill him. I’ll simply write him a strongly worded letter of all the anachronisms abhorrently featured in his screenplay! Ah-ha! That’ll show that son of a- no. This won’t do either. Letters are for wimps. Who writes anymore anyways? No, no, no. What I need to do is far more than one page of giving him his medicine, it’s an entire novel. Or should I say, an entire teleplay! Insert my evil laugh here!!
Seventeen Years Later…
Yes! I did it, I finally did it!! I have written and broadcasted the perfect adaptation of my novel that everyone will love and admire over that crap from all those years ago. Take that, Stanley!
Another Seventeen Years Later…
Now I have come full circle in my journey for the world of The Shining with my official sequel novel, Doctor Sleep. Lessons have been learned and I know to never let anyone adapt this baby into some cinematic blunder like before.
Five Years Later…
You’re making my book into a sequel for Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation, you say? Crap.
Shine On, Kid.
As established in a recent article of mine, ‘My All-Time Favorite Horror Films!’, I claimed that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was my number one favorite horror film. I grew up with the 1980 masterpiece from a young age and the film actually represents a fair amount of the relationship between myself and my own father. Sadly, I don’t recall the very first time that I saw the picture. Oddly enough, it feels like something that has always been and will always be a part of my life. How fitting, right? However, I do remember many times in my youth being absolutely mesmerized by the slow burn horror bestowed on the eerily glowing screen contrasting against the sheer darkness of my living room.
In hindsight, I honestly find it somewhat odd that I gravitated at all towards the Kubrick flick as it was vastly different from any other horror movie that I was watching at the time, yet it held my attention effortlessly. Largely, the horror movies under my belt in my early years were mostly more fast-paced or more consistently shocking with its visuals; such as slashers akin to Friday the 13th or creature features. The Shining was, and remains, extremely special to me.
With that said, I will do my best here in critiquing the miniseries strictly on its own merits and not that of the Kubrick horror classic or even the book for that matter. This will be a review that will take a lot of effort to not compare, but I also feel that it is important to include my feelings to understand the context of my perspective going in.
Whether we are talking about the premise of the film or the miniseries, the synopsis remains mostly similar to the novel. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson-1980/Steven Weber-1997) accepts a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, located in the mountains of Colorado, for the duration of the winter. Entirely vacated for several months, with the exception of Jack and his wife (Shelley Duvall-1980/Rebecca De Mornay-1997) and young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd-1980/Courtland Mead-1997). Over time, it becomes increasingly apparent that this family is not quite alone within the haunted walls of the hotel. Influencing Jack to turn on his family by means of his struggling alcohol addiction, transforming this loving husband and father into a crazed man who feels the need to “correct” his family. With an axe/croquet mallet.
Remake’s First Encounter
While I may not remember my first time watching Kubrick’s Shining, I do vividly remember the first time I had ever discovered the Stephen King miniseries adaptation. During my childhood it was common for my family and I to take a vacation down to the suburbs of Illinois or the Wisconsin Dells to stay in a quaint hotel, unwinding for a few days. Traditionally, on almost every one of our hotel stays, we would have a set bunch of movies that would normally play on the hotel programmed channels; the 1980 Shining was one of those movies that would play often at some point during our vacations.
Roughly in the late-1990s to early-2000s, I was flipping through stations on the television guide to find that The Shining was playing. Instinctively we turned the channel on only to realize that this wasn’t the Jack Nicholson adaptation my family was familiar with. Unaware of any remake, our curious eyes began to watch whatever this miniseries was all about. Frankly, we didn’t last long before venturing elsewhere for entertainment. Afterward, for many years, that bizarre encounter became a distant memory as Kubrick’s version was personally the definitive screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.
What Do I Think?
Alright, enough dancing around my opinions of the miniseries and finally state my initial thoughts on this particular project. Ultimately, I find Stephen King’s miniseries adaptation of his book to be extraordinarily faithful to its source material while simultaneously one of the absolute, most boring slogs I have personally ever sat through. In terms of Stephen King, I really love his work and find his writing to be phenomenally entertaining. A lot of his film and television adaptations have shaped the landscape of horror as we know it for the last fifty years now. However, this is a case where being more accurate to what the teleplay is adapting from page to screen somehow manages to diminish the pacing into a total snooze fest as a snail torpedoes passed.
Where I come down most on this televised recreation is the fact that, at the end of the day, it’s not scary. Easily someone can forgive an exhaustive pace, a cheaper aesthetic, subpar acting, lackluster special effects, and a runtime longer than the bible if there is at least something entertaining or scary in what is supposed to be a horror picture. The miniseries is neither suspenseful or remotely interesting for the entire 273 minutes’ worth of “spooky” closing doors, disappointingly lame jump scares, and endless conversations about practically everything under the sun explaining every single detail multiple times over. So, yeah… that’s what I think of King’s miniseries basically.
Episode One: The Phantom Boredom
In regards to how faithful this teleplay is to the novel’s narrative, no one can deny that this is definitely one of the most dedicated to capturing every single page to display on screen. Everything, and I quite literally do mean everything, is crammed into this overly extensive four and a half hour runtime from the book. With exceedingly minor changes written into the script occasionally. As admirable as that is of King to stay so true to his original story, that doesn’t automatically result in a good product.
Premise wise, it’s brilliant with limitless possibilities for a terrifying thrill ride; a small family isolated in an empty grand hotel in the middle of the mountains during a blizzard, with no way of escape or exterior assistance of any kind, all while being tormented by ghoulish visions. Truth be told, it is one of the most perfect horror scenarios ever created. Here’s the problem though with the teleplay, rather than building up the atmosphere or suspense, it spends the majority of its running time filling every second with exposition. Seriously, this miniseries is broken up into three segments, or episodes if you will. The first episode takes a whole hour to explain Jack’s alcoholism, Danny’s psychic power seizures, every detail about the Overlook with its dark history and how it presently functions, the job that Jack and his family will be taking, etc.
Which, granted, it is most certainly important for this information to be included of course. Except the way that the dialog is written and repeated over and over again, it never comes across as natural, but rather annoying when they’re constantly explaining the same thing like clockwork. Instead of having engaging dialog between two characters, we are given soulless robots expositing to one another about things from their own lives that they should already know yet are only talking about these subjects because now there is an audience watching them on their television sets. No one feels authentic in their roles or within this world because the dialog continuously gets in the way of any actor feeling natural as their character.
The Climactic Turn of Episode One
After going through an hour’s worth of screen time following on a tiring tour through the Overlook Hotel, not a joke when I say an hour, our leads finally take on the position as caretakers for the winter. Building up anticipation for eventually something truly terrifying to rear its ugly head before the credits roll on this first episode, we are treated to Jack Torrance dealing with a nest full of wasps… Riveting. Not only do we see Jack’s initial encounter with the wasps; we go through the whole ordeal of him searching inside the work shed, finding a bug bomb to kill the wasps, later on having Danny take the wasp nest as a souvenir because it looks cool, the wasps come back to life (because symbolism) and disrupting the happy family from their slumber, follow Jack through the hotel so he can find something to trap the wasps inside of, him going all the way back to the boy’s room to capture said wasps, walking back all the way through the hotel to keep the wasps locked up and away for safety. Wow. The suspense is killing me. Fingers crossed that we next get a glimpse at every step of seeing the characters washing their hands.
Aside from that buzzing intensity, the episode insists on squeezing in as many conversations of the characters explaining the spooky things going on. Apparently the audience experiencing those spooky things would be too much for our minds to handle, so it’s just best we only hear the characters refusing to shut up about them. Much better. Although there is one scene where Danny has a psychic vision on the toilet, but nothing really amounts from that other than even more talking. Talking about the crazy zombie wasps instead of having something scary truly come from it, talking about Danny’s psychic powers yet when he does have visions they feel like deleted scenes that contribute zilch in the way of story and aren’t the least bit impressive to his parents either (making them seem all the more pointless), talking about the ghosts and the many terrible atrocities that occurred within the Overlook’s walls and not actually witnessing anything all that creepy from them, talking is all that this episode is focused on. The scariest things this first act supplies is a poorly rendered CGI firehose with teeth, a bloody croquet mallet randomly sitting shotgun in Jack’s car, and a bunch of slightly moving inanimate objects (doors/chairs/bench swings) when none of the characters are looking. Boogedy-boo!
Episode Two: Attack of the “Snow One Cares”
Did everyone enjoy all the exposition about Jack’s past alcoholic downslide, the family bickering about how the hotel is a dangerous place without getting anything visually all that threatening, and depressingly uninspired “scares”? Not to worry, there’s plenty more of that lackluster content for the world’s viewing displeasure. Repeating copious amounts of background info we had already learned in the previous episode; Jack getting too drunk one night that resulted in accidentally injuring his son’s arm and taking the road to sobriety, Danny having spooky visions that affect nothing except sometimes spawning more vocal disputes between the married couple, then on top of that we also get long-winded arguments pertaining to Jack and Wendy’s dwindling sex life. Will the intensity ever cease?!
When reaching this point of the miniseries, I usually tend to face the peak of my boredom because every plot point overwhelms the pacing with seemingly no consequences. Wendy takes Danny to see a doctor, what value comes from this act? Nothing and never mentioned again, only reason for existing is to explain Jack’s drinking problem again. Danny breaks into the forbidden room, 217; how do the parents react to hearing about the possibility of a crazy woman invading the hotel and attacking their son? By talking about it, of course. Talking about how to handle the situation, how Danny could be fibbing, how there are ghosts trying to kill them and they should figure out an escape plan. Do they actually do anything about their situation? No, they go on like nothing is happening until the next time another door mysteriously closes.
One of the few key differences between this second episode compared to the first is that this one includes the introduction of evil shrubbery! Dun, dun, dun!! I’m sorry, but topiary is not scary. Doesn’t matter to me if it’s “alive” or not, bushes shaped like animals with terribly rendered CGI effects is not the least bit intimidating. Which is no excuse to have such abysmal appearing special effects with an estimated 25 million dollar budget, regardless of the project being a direct-to-television production. There is no excuse to incorporate such a laughable visual effect when there are probably dozens of ways to have achieved those plant creatures practically. Granted, the concept still would not have been scary, but at least the production value would not look so horrendously cheap.
Episode Three: Revenge of the Croquet Mallet
Three hours. It takes three full hours to finally gain some form of legitimate entertainment from this blackhole of “horror”. Unfortunately none of the entertainment provided is scary, but the tone does become hilariously goofy in its failed attempts to be scary and a wildly wacky performance helps slightly in keeping my attention. Jack is shifting radically into being a Looney Tunes villain, there’s a ghost running around in a novelty rubber wolf mask terrorizing Danny, psychic visions of Danny flailing about in midair like a fish out of water, the cast is getting beaten up by croquet mallets and balls, and so on. There’s a fair amount of unintentionally funny moments scattered throughout this final 90 minute episode. Again though, there’s a couple of major issues here; it took three hours to actually get this entertainment value and yet it still isn’t scary while wasting several minutes of explaining to the audience about what they are supposed to be afraid of.
In the closing act of this over four hour slog, I will admit that there are some decent effects sequences and even a touching moment or two pertaining to Danny and Jack (largely due to Steven Weber’s performance). Overall, still underwhelming as a climax and extremely silly in execution. Apologies in advance for the comparison I’m about to make, but I feel that it is necessary to discuss the correlations between the climax of the miniseries and Kubrick’s 1980 picture. In the climax of Kubrick’s movie, there was a very real sense of danger that came from Jack as he viciously tried to harm his family with an axe. A fear that can be easily empathized with by its audience as anyone would feel fear in any similar circumstance. All while strange hallucinations and ghoulish hauntings partake in the chaos. Moving onto the miniseries, Jack is wielding a croquet mallet instead of an axe is too absurd. Before anyone says it, yes I am fully aware that the croquet mallet is more accurate to the book. I get that. Here’s the thing… croquet is not scary. Jack running around with this cartoon mallet, whacking away at his wife and the décor of the hotel like Buggs Bunny is a total joke. Then when the inclusion of anything supernatural comes into play, it’s so corny that I can’t take any of it seriously.
Wendy in Kubrick’s iteration starts seeing crazy ghosts covered in blood, giving each other blow jobs in bear costumes, and rivers of blood pouring out of elevators; that gets under my skin as I am in awe from the incredibly deranged visions. Wendy in the miniseries sees a ghost who mugs directly into the camera with the line, “great party, isn’t it?” and then shatters into a thousand pieces in this awful CG effect; my eyes roll to how forced the terror is trying so hard to be. There is a clearly drastic gap in quality between which is more effective in the thrills and chills department. Kubrick captures the intensity of its climax and atmosphere masterfully, while the miniseries tries way too hard with only delivering cheap jump scares and falls flat on its own face. Normally, I wouldn’t compare this heavily between two separate productions, but here is a scenario that I found it appropriate.
If there is anything remotely positive that I can say about the miniseries… and trust me, I am stretching my limits here… it is that the character of Jack Torrance does have an attentive arc from start to finish, while being performed rather perfectly by Steven Weber. Weber brings something new to the table that is different from Nicholson’s portrayal, but still engaging. Unfortunately, there is a lot of exposition that gets in the way of Weber’s character arc and layered performance. The actor still does what he can and turns in some solid work as he transitions from the average family man to the crazed lunatic with a bloodlust. Weber is, by far, the only redeeming element to this entire four and a half hour run. Any time Weber goes nuts or has to evoke a healthy dose of emotion, he’s fantastic as he injects real life into his scenes.
Now, if I had to vote on which performance between Nicholson and Weber was scarier, Nicholson would honestly win in a heartbeat. On the other hand, if I voted on which was relatively more developed with a more fleshed out character arc, Weber would take the cake. Granted, with four and a half hours devoted to that character arc, of course Weber wins. That’s a no brainer. Regardless, Steven Weber gives the role of Jack everything he had and I believe it paid off. At least to an extent, as he is the best part of the miniseries.
When it comes to the most iconic characters of cinema, Tony is by far one of the most famous and creepy characters that is never actually seen in a movie. Young Danny Torrance walking around the hotel screaming “Redrum” in a raspy voice is something everyone remembers vividly after seeing Kubrick’s film. This was an ambiguously written character where there was no real telling if this was a once living spirit, another person with the ability to shine, or something more insidious. Tony was an element played fantastically within the narrative and by young actor Danny Lloyd. Tony from the miniseries is shown in the flesh, multiple times, as a dweeby looking teenager straight out of the ‘90s that has the power to float in midair… that’s all I have to say on the matter. As I believe the differences speak for themselves.
As I mentioned already, there isn’t a shred of intimidation supplied by any scare seen on screen. Oddly enough, a significant amount of the jump scares come across as simultaneously lazy yet somehow tries too hard. Any time something “spooky” happens, a scenario reenacts inside my mind involving the crew members behind the camera.
Director: Hmm… let’s see, I want there to be an obnoxious jump scare every ten minutes so it is severely obvious that this hotel is haunted. Throw subtlety out the window! Although I don’t want to spend a lot of money. Frank! Get under the camera move this door open and closed so people think there are ghosts or some sh*t.
Frank: Wouldn’t it better if maybe we build up tension with a rich atmosphere and real effort put into the scares? Opening and closing doors, pushing swings back and forth, rolling croquet balls seems a little juvenile. Don’t you think?
Director: Do you want to be fired so you can raise your family in a hotel as it slowly drives you to madness and you begin your murderous descent upon the ones you love? All because you couldn’t shut your God damn mouth and open the mother f*cking door for five seconds of screen time!
Frank: …where do you want me, sir?
Poor fictional Frank was subjected to so many tasks of opening and closing doors, while ever so slightly off screen. Yet the boom mic for principal photography somehow managed to show up more than once in the camera shots. Seriously, look around to see the boom mic pop up a few instances within the frame throughout the episodes. Honestly, the boom mic is scarier than anything from the teleplay.
Critiquing this specific aspect is going to be difficult because I don’t believe that 90% of these actors are bad by any means, but the script is so poorly written that I don’t see any conceivable way in which to make this dialog sound natural. There’s simply too much exposition to believe that these are regular, everyday conversations. Resulting in the acting feeling stilted and cheesy. Rebecca De Mornay is an actress that I really do like, I think she can be a genuine treasure in front of the camera. In The Shining though, she struggles with this forced dialog. Which I can’t blame her, the entire cast is struggling with the same issues. So in the end, I feel that it’s imperative that I give these actors a pass on questionable performances because it isn’t their fault. More of the fault of the writer and the director.
Although, there is one example of acting that I cannot get over; that of Courtland Mead as Danny Torrance. Before I get too much flack on my criticisms of this young actor, I completely understand that it isn’t the easiest job in the world for a child actor to flawlessly inhabit a role and to find a true talent at such a young age is probably damn near impossible. With that said, I can’t stand this kid or his acting. I’m sorry, but Courtland’s line delivery is annoying. Every word out of his mouth makes me want to punch him in the face. Is that too mean? Probably. Too bad because after dealing with it for four and a half hours straight, six hours with commercials, the last thing I give a f*ck about is being nice. In reality, I’m sure that Mead was a great kid who probably grew up to be a decent dude. Doesn’t make his performance any more tolerable. Here is a bit of advice for any casting directors out there; if you can’t find a kid who can truly act for your production… don’t settle, keep searching.
Stephen King has a cameo in the third episode… not really worth mentioning, but he seemed to have had fun on set so why not give him a cameo in my review as well!
There is a reason why Kubrick’s vision became the classic we know today and King’s miniseries was lost in time. Despite there being a handful of admirable intentions to flesh out the Jack Torrance character and to provide a more faithful adaptation of King’s novel, but when all is said and done, Kubrick’s film is the superior horror epic. 1980’s The Shining is more focused, atmospheric, thought provoking, surreal, masterfully well-crafted, entertaining, and most of all it’s actually scary. 1997’s The Shining, not so much. Kubrick let his themes speak for themselves through visuals and engaging dialog, King forces his themes by having his characters nonstop talking about them during every scene. What else can I say? This review is likely on the verge of repeating itself about as much as the miniseries does. If someone is curious about seeing a more accurate screen adaptation of King’s book then they have it in the form of the ’97 miniseries. Whether or not they will like it, I haven’t a clue.
In my opinion, this is a prime example of why films/TV shows should never strive to be 100% faithful to their source material. There absolutely needs to be changes made in order to translate it best into a visual format. What works on the page does not always work on the screen. Books are great in their own format because they have the advantage of letting the reader use their own imaginations and pace themselves in whatever manner they prefer. However, when it comes to bringing that to life with a visual medium, it’s a whole new animal. What may be brilliant in text, may wind up moronic on screen when not properly executed. Discussions need trimming, ideas need thought and effort, and terror needs to be built upon visually rather than vocally. Something the miniseries doesn’t quite understand.
To break down each episode into what bears most importance to the plot and narrative structure, there really isn’t enough to support the 273 minute runtime.
Episode One – Plot Points:
- Establish Jack Torrance as a recovering alcoholic.
- Establish Danny having psychic powers.
- The Torrances start their jobs as caretakers of the Overlook Hotel.
Episode Two – Plot Points:
- Jack starts his slow decline of mental instability.
- Family discovers there’s something sinister afoot going on within the confines of the hotel.
- The married couple comes to the conclusion that it’s probably best to get out.
Episode Three – Plot Points:
- Jack goes loco and teaches his family the game of croquet… and also tries murdering them. Only a little bit though.
- Wendy and Danny live through the night of terror and croquet mallets, escaping the Overlook in Hallorann’s snowmobile.
- Jack sacrifices himself to destroy the hotel once and for all with the plot device clumsily established as a faulty boiler rigged to explode.
Long story short… it’s too damn long and too damn boring.
Which Shined Brightest?
Which iteration is your favorite from the world of 'The Shining'?
That’s All Folks…
The Shining, 1997… not very good. What do you think though? Does a more faithful movie/television adaptation make for a better product or is it important to take liberties with a source material in order to translate best to a visual medium? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wish this was an article about how to play croquet? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a shining good day!
© 2019 John Plocar