Why 17 days? Because 17 is my favorite number.
I was not among them. I found the miniseries to be jolly good fun.
Jack Torrance (Steven Weber) is hired as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, an historic luxury inn nestled deep in the Colorado Rockies. His job is to look after the hotel’s upkeep during the winter season, when the property is closed, meaning that he will be isolated from the rest of civilization for close to six months. Along for the stay are Jack’s wife Wendy (Rebecca DeMornay) and his son Danny (Courtland Mead), a precocious child with a strange telepathic ability known as "the shining," which enables him to see all of the Overlook’s terrifying secrets, manifest and eternally wandering the old structure's halls. Despite the assurance from Mr. Halloran (Melvin Van Peebles), the Overlook’s cook during the season, that these ghosts are just like “pictures in a book,” Danny soon learns that the hotel itself has incredible powers and that he and his family are in danger.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: in terms of cinema artistry, Kubrick’s film is still, well, the king. Even in its more docile moments, there is a slow-burning anxiety that suffuses us down to our bones. Cinephiles have devoted hours of research to the film’s anomalies, pointing out the way Kubrick’s Overlook defies physics, bending the laws of the universe in subtle, barely perceptible ways to keep us ever off-balance. Kubrick’s The Shining overextends itself, eschewing the core criteria of the genre in favor of an academic social experiment. It is that rare films that gives one an almost tactile sense of its mise-en-scéne. You can’t watch it without a sense isolation, an unearthed dread of shadows, and the taste of bitter cold against your flesh.
The Shining miniseries has none of that. What it does have is a boatload of great scares lifted right out of the book, dark and haunting images so vividly aligned to the pictures in my mind that I almost got a lump in my throat watching it.
This is both good and bad.
It’s good because at last I got to see the scenes I wanted to see: the animated hedge animals stalking Jack through the snow (Kubrick had replaced this with a hedge maze); the woman in room 217 as she was visualized in the novel; Jack’s deadly roque mallet, much more ominous than the ax of Kubrick’s version; the hornet’s nest; the exploding boiler that destroys the hotel in the series’ denouement (something that the 1980 film excluded).
At the same time, it’s bad because … well, King and Garris were so slavish to the source material that at times the miniseries bogs down. Little if any of King’s novel is left on the cutting room floor, and there are even a few additional elements: the “kissing, kissing” jingle the family shares that becomes payoff in the film’s conclusion; the redemption of Jack Torrance, who overcomes his possession and sacrifices himself for his family; the revelation of the identity of “Tony,” Danny’s invisible friend who appears to reveal future events; and the somewhat heartwarming epilogue when an older Danny gets to see the ghost of his father (I admit, it brought a tear to my eye).
The Shining miniseries is not perfect; what it is, is accommodating. It is the movie Stephen King wanted to see, the movie I wanted to see as well. That alone gives it brownie points. Were it to exist as the standalone cinematic version of The Shining, I might be inclined to be disappointed. It is, after all, quite cumbersome in places, and there are moments when what could pass as legitimate horror gives way to tired melodrama.
I like the miniseries not so much in spite of Kubrick’s version but because of it. As a singular work of art, Kubrick’s The Shining is easily one of the best horror films ever made. But as a direct interpretation of the novel, the miniseries pays off in spades. The Shining is still after all these years my favorite King novel (and trust me, I’ve ready everything by the man), so I’m kind of glad both film versions exist. One is the horror film equivalent of a steak-and-lobster dinner at a Michelin star restaurant; the other is a pizza from Domino’s (well, three pizzas considering how long it is). It all depends on what you want from your horror movies.
As for me, I’ll take the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Previous Days of Halloween:
Day 1 – Baby’s Breath
Day 2 – Phantom of the Paradise