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.

I have not read Stephen King’s novel yet, so I cannot comment on how the film compares to it.  I have heard there are major differences.

The plot of The Shining is–oh, heck, you all know it: Jack Nicholson goes crazy and chases his family around with an axe in an isolated hotel.

A problem I noticed early on–and, I have read, something Stephen King also complained about–is that Nicholson seems insane from the first shot he’s in.  He looks absolutely crazed in an early scene where he’s driving his family to the hotel.  This sort of makes it less shocking when he does go crazy later on in the movie.

This is compounded by the fact that when he does go insane, he’s ridiculously easy to defeat.  Two of the most famous scenes of madness end with him being easily subdued by his screaming and frightened wife, Wendy.  The “All Work and No Play” scene ends with her somehow knocking him out, and the “Here’s Johnny” scene ends with her giving him what amounts to a minor cut that somehow completely stymies him long enough for her to escape. This makes him seem less menacing and more like a blundering, angry buffoon.

Speaking of Wendy: she does nothing to counter my belief that Kubrick was a misogynist, and incapable of having interesting female characters.  She goes to pieces constantly, and seems like an overwhelmed hysterical idiot all the time.  And somehow she’s still able to thwart Jack, apparently by panicked flailing. People criticize Shelley Duvall’s performance, but I think it was a problem of direction rather than acting.

The Shining is strongest in the quiet, mood-setting shots. It does an absolutely  excellent job conveying the eerie atmosphere of the haunted hotel.  There is a famous tracking shot of Jack and Wendy’s son Danny riding a Big Wheel around the interior, and its fame is justified.  I knew going in how that scene worked, and it still was effective.

Kubrick has a reputation for being a genius cinematographer and having  no ability to relate to people.  The Shining totally fits that.  The atmospherics are awesome, and the characters are ridiculous. The best performance is Philip Stone as Delbert Grady, the ghost of a previous caretaker of the hotel.  He has a long dialogue with Jack that is the scariest sequence in the movie.

It has some good elements, don’t get me wrong.  There is a Turn of the Screw-like ambiguity as to whether the ghosts are real or all in Jack’s imagination. (Though this is undercut in the finale.) In broadest strokes, the plot is similar to The Haunting: Jack Torrance and Eleanor Lance both go to the haunted house, feel the haunted house “wants” them, and ultimately die and are implied to be claimed by the house.

Bottom line: the movie has gorgeous visuals, good music, and some eerie concepts.  But it fails to be truly scary because the malevolent spirits have chosen as their agent an incompetent, drunken, abusive idiot.  It would have been scarier if they had tried to use Danny to carry out their plans.  Come to that, why on Earth didn’t they? He was psychic!  He should have been the one most prone to ghostly machinations. Granted, then it might just turn into The Exorcist or The Omen on ice, but still, it would be creepier.