As I promised when I reviewed the movie, I finally read Stephen King’s novel. Interestingly, I’d say I have about the same overall opinion of it as I had of the movie: it was interesting, but very flawed.
That’s not to say, though, that they are similar–there are huge differences between the book and the movie. Let me start with the ways I though the book was better than the movie:
- Wendy seems like less of a shrieking idiot, and more of a fully-realized three dimensional character.
- Mr. Halloran has more of a role to play than just “show up and die” so that Wendy and Danny can escape at the end. The scariest part of the book was the moment when the malign influence of the Overlook briefly tries to take hold of his mind, just as they are about to escape. (However, there are also problems with Halloran’s survival–I’ll get to that.)
- The suspense of whether or not Halloran will reach the hotel in time is very, very well done.
But then are the things the movie gets right:
- Getting rid of the stupid attacking hedge animals–that would have been even worse on screen than on the page.
- Also, getting rid of the wasps. Actually, most of the hotel’s early attempts at harming the characters are pretty laughable in the book.
- In my review of the movie, I complained that Jack Torrance seemed “like a blundering, angry buffoon”. This is lessened in the book, but there is an even bigger problem–a problem so big I’m going to drop the bullet point format to discuss it.
The problem is that instead of Jack seeming like a buffoon, the hotel itself seems like a buffoon. At the end, when the Overlook has almost fully possessed Jack, it forgets about its own boiler, causing it to explode.
If you accept the strong suggestion that the Overlook is a conscious entity, then this is equivalent to someone forgetting to make his heart beat. This makes the hotel seem less scary and more of an obnoxious idiot. Which is even worse than Torrance seeming like an obnoxious idiot.
Then there was the problem of Mr. Halloran’s survival. I was sort of conflicted about this, because I really liked the character; but in the movie the fact that he is killed by the possessed Jack makes the supernatural forces seem like a more credible threat. In the book his survival cheapens the haunted hotel’s powers even more.
Finally, the other thing that annoyed me were the repeated references to Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. I felt like it was suffering the same problem I noted in the movie Prometheus and its references to Lawrence of Arabia: “this story isn’t so great–maybe inserting a few bits from something better will spruce it up.”
Both the book and the movie had interesting concepts in them, but neither one quite works. I read that King apparently disliked the Kubrick movie so much he backed a miniseries that was more faithful to the book. I’ve yet to see it–I’d be curious to see how it handles the hedge animals.