King v Kubrick: The Shining sequel will be as unfilmable as all great books are
ARE some books unfilmable? Does reading the book first spoil the film and vice versa?
Stephen King’s The Shining is a cracking read. Stanley Kubrick film adaptation of it is also fantastic, a capacious, sinister spine-tingler. But when the film came out many of the book’s fans were upset. Scenes had been omitted from the book’s version of life at the Overlook Hotel. But did you see that lift full of blood? Young Danny riding his tricycle over the wooden floor and then onto the oh-so-silent carpet? Once seen, never forgotten.
The book is not the film. The book is the book. The film is the film.
King might be relieved. As he says:
“I am not a cold guy. And with Kubrick’s The Shining I thought that it was very cold.
“Shelley Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that’s not the woman I wrote about…I met him [Kubrick] on the set and just on that one meeting, I thought he was a very compulsive man.”
King’s great novels work because they put us into the heads of his characters, because they convey psychological as well as external struggles, because their inner monologues can pour forth out of his prose. It’s part of what makes him a great writer. It’s also why there have been so many lousy films based on Stephen King books — because all of that is lost in the translation. And Kubrick would have been a lousy novelist, his meticulous detachment resulting in, we could presume, so pretty turgid and lifeless writing. But luckily, he was a filmmaker, and his gifts as an aesthete are what made him such a singularly fine one.
Laura Miller says King was right to be unimpressed by Kubrick:
King is, essentially, a novelist of morality. The decisions his characters make — whether it’s to confront a pack of vampires or to break 10 years of sobriety — are what matter to him. But in Kubrick’s “The Shining,” the characters are largely in the grip of forces beyond their control. It’s a film in which domestic violence occurs, while King’s novel is about domestic violence as a choice certain men make when they refuse to abandon a delusional, defensive entitlement. As King sees it, Kubrick treats his characters like “insects” because the director doesn’t really consider them capable of shaping their own fates. Everything they do is subordinate to an overweening, irresistible force, which is Kubrick’s highly developed aesthetic; they are its slaves. In King’s “The Shining,” the monster is Jack. In Kubrick’s, the monster is Kubrick.
Kubrick understood the importance of taking a story and meticulously reworking it for an entirely different medium. The director was a master of genre cinema, stripping it down and blowing it up in its purest form. In fact two other successful King adaptations, Stand By Me (The Body) and The Shawshank Redemption (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption) are both riddled with inconsistencies between book and film – although not quite as fundamental as The Shining. King has highlighted these two films, along with Misery (1990), as his favourite cinematic interpretations.
It’s all about entertainment. You get to gorge on the book and the film.