When I was about 15, I saw an interview on the Today show with Stephen King. The interviewer (Deborah Norville, I believe, but I can’t stand her, am Team Jane Pauley, and this was around 1990, so I hope it was Norville) asked King if he had envisioned Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance as he sat at his word processor (strike one: I’m sure he used a typewriter, since The Shining was published in 1977) and wrote the line “Here’s Johnny!”—you know, the one Nicholson emotes with a wide, wicked smile and an insane gleam in his eyes as he splits the bathroom door apart with the axe?
(Strike two: Jack Torrance NEVER says “Here’s Johnny!” ONCE in the novel version of The Shining—that’s Nicholson’s ad-lib or the screenwriter’s clever little line. I should look for this on YouTube because I would be willing to gamble what little money I have that it was Deborah N., who clearly hadn’t read the book. I’m sure there was a strike three in this interview, but this is moving close to three decades ago, and I’m not an elephant about these things. I wish King would have responded, “No, you stupid #%%#, I didn’t write that line, and how dare you steal Jane Pauley’s job!” Alas, Norville is the host of Inside Edition, and Jane is host of the venerable CBS Sunday Morning now, so karma worked it all out.)
I read The Shining sometime in the late 1990s, but by then I was well-versed on the Stanley Kubrick film, and I even ignored Stephen King’s own adaptation/mini-series that came out in ’97. I reread the novel about a week ago, and now I hate the Kubrick version of the movie and love the vision King had with the story.
After I finished the novel, I immediately began reading Dr. Sleep, which I’m still reading and don’t want to end because I’m one-thousand pages invested into the life of Danny Torrance. I don’t know how this ends, but I know how I would end the story, so if this is the last we ever see of Danny Torrance or the continued storyline from The Shining, then I’m content to take my sweet-ass time.
I also bought the DVD of the 1997 King executive-produced mini-series on Amazon since I couldn’t find it on Netflix, Prime, or Hulu. It was only $8.99, so why the hell not.
In the middle of the all this, I’m listening to the audiobook of The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough on my walks and at the gym, and since it’s abridged (obscenely so—The First Man in Rome is close to one-thousand pages, and the audiobook is six hours; chop chop!) I’ve been rereading the novel afterward to catch up on the missing bits left out of the audio version. That seems to include characters and entire subplots. A little reading on the last days of the Roman Republic to balance out the Stephen King boogeymen and monsters.
And I’m working my day job while trying to crank out at least 1,500 written words per day. I’ve also been reading a biography of Patricia Highsmith, but it’s an epic, the words on the pages are tiny, so I’ve been averaging maybe two or three pages a day there. It feels like I’m somebody who’s learned they have a month to live and am trying to cram in every book I can find before time runs out.
Oh yes, and an indie author in the U.K. wants me to read his novel and write a review for Amazon, so I’m reading his book as well, but it’s slow going, and I hope he doesn’t think I’ve forgotten about him. Please check out I Have the Sight by Rick Wood! Rick Wood, I haven’t forgotten about you.
Back to The Shining: here’s why the book and the 1997 mini-series work so much better than the 1980 Kubrick film version.
- Jack is portrayed as an asshole teetering on the edge of sanity from the beginning of the Kubrick film. The novel gives him more layers and shows us he’s a man who loves his family but also had a love affair with the bottle that was difficult to walk away from. In the movie, you just have Jack Nicholson chewing the scenery. To me it’s almost like an expanded McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Steven Weber’s portrayal of Jack in the mini-series is a bit more layered, though Weber was best known at the time for the sitcom Wings, and I don’t think many people took him seriously in the meaty role of Jack Torrance. Weber did a decent job, but I’ve read some negative reviews online. I think he deserves fairer criticism for his effort.
- Shelley Duvall is/was a fine actress (see Robert Altman’s 3 Women if you don’t believe me), but if you read the novel and then watch the Kubrick movie, it is hard to buy her as Wendy Torrance. Rebecca DeMornay in the 1997 version is closer to how Wendy is portrayed in the novel. Duvall gives a screechy, whiny, hysterical, brow-beaten performance, which is likely what Kubrick was going for in this version. Jack and Wendy love each other and make out in the mini-series. I don’t think Nicholson ever lays a loving finger on Duvall in Kubrick’s film. Early on, Jack acts like he’s ready shove her out the car during their drive to the Overlook.
- The 1980 film is a psychological horror tale. The novel and the 1997 mini-series are more in line with the supernatural. The Overlook Hotel is haunted. The hotel wants little Danny Torrance, and it wants to destroy his family while it takes him.
- The movie is Kubrick’s story; the book is King’s. Kubrick took a man’s story and his characters and then rewrote it into his own story. That’s how I will have to see this anytime I watch the movie again in my lifetime.
That said, I stand corrected on the times in my life I’ve ever said the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining is better than the Stephen King version. As the case is most of the time, the book really is better than the movie!