Hollywood has been adapting books into movies since the Silent Era. Whenever there is a successful book it is a sure bet that somebody somewhere is going to swoop in and produce a film. Some of these movies can’t make it any worse, 50 Shades of Mediocrity, I’m talking about you here. Some of these movies are truly terrible, massacring their source material and all notions of common sense — these would be the World War Zs of the world. Sometimes, thankfully, we get a few truly exceptional adaptions. We might have to endure a World According to Garp but we also get a The Silence of the Lambs, and more recently, The Revenant.
So, book or movie?
Forget all of your philosophical musings on human nature, why are we here, and all the rest of that. The question of book or movie (or Book vs. Movie) is the true age-old debate. It is also the sort of crap I get to thinking about when I should be writing my novel. Then again, when you write your novel, you tend to think of a whole lot of useless stuff. Sometimes the useless stuff goes beyond is my dog trying to communicate with telepathically or do bugs dream they are human stepping on bugs. Sometimes you get enough useless stuff going to blog about! My folks would be proud.
The works of Stephen King are not excluded from the ancient argument. In fact, King might be the author with the most adapted works ever. Currently, there is a new version of his novel It and long-awaited film versions of his Dark Tower series due to drop. Speaking of the latter, Idris Elba looks pretty damn bad ass as Roland of Gilead.
Lets deal a bit with the War of the Shinings. It has been a war spread out across the decades, because let’s just be clear, Stephen King still hates Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining. To make a long story short, King believes that Kubrick basically sanitized his story, that he turned a paranormal domestic tragedy into a plain ol’ domestic tragedy. King’s observations about Kubrick’s film are not without merit (when you separate yourself from the fact that the guy making them is the same guy who directed the completely guilty yet totally pleasurable Maximum Overdrive). Kubrick’s movie is cold, artful, visually well-constructed but seemingly missing something. What is it missing? Who knows. It could have missed a few more minutes of Shelly Duvall’s goggle eyed and shaky performance, but that would have just been my preference. I’m no Kubrick, a well-acknowledged genius of his medium. King is no Kubrick either, at least when it comes to the medium of film.
Not that I don’t love King. I’m one of the few writers it seems who is quite comfortable with admitting that I am a fan of his work, that he got me interested in story-telling in the first place. That being said, The Shining has never been my favorite King book. I recall a scene from an episode of Friends where Joey can’t complete the book, and finds it so terrifying that he keeps tossing it in the freezer. My own reaction to reading The Shining was something more like disappointment.
To me, it’s one of the books where you see an author trying too hard. In the book, King is trying too hard with the prose. He seems to want to illustrate to you (or maybe his critics at the time) that a spooky story can be literary. He’s trying too hard with the characters, especially Jack. Throughout the novel it seems as if King is desperate for you to like, to sympathize with Jack Torrance. It’s ironic that King had distaste for Nicholson’s portrayal of the character … basically boiling it down to the fact that you took one look at Jack and knew he was going to snap. It’s ironic because from the first page of the book Jack is a creep. He continues to be a creep throughout the book. In his efforts to make you like Jack, King turns him into a whiny, self-absorbed and petulant creep.
And bless King’s heart, when he writes a character like Dick Halloran — not even opening that can of worms. No way. Not going there.
In the 1990s, King minis had landed in a big way with the success of The Stand. So, King rolled out a miniseries version of The Shining. While you can find flaws with the 1980 film, the mini was a bit of a mess. King’s idea of Jack Torrance just didn’t set well on the screen — Steven Weber might of had the look but seemed to lack the tools. Rebecca De Mornay was a major improvement as Wendy, more aligned with King’s book, yet totally baffling why such a cool chick would stay with a creep like Jack. New Danny was 100 times more annoying than Old Danny. The CGI hedge animals looked awful and not scary. The ghosts were mostly corny. The bathtub lady, my favorite scene from the book, certainly worked well though. I’ll give it props for that.
There are many reasons why the mini could never, would never supplant the Kubrick film. One, network TV at the time. Two, a great actress as Wendy does not mean you automatically have a great actor as Jack. How do you follow Jack Nicholson? Three, well, how do you make a movie better than a Stanley Kubrick? Even if the film in question is an adaption of your own book? Even a flawed Kubrick picture is better than many pictures that are highly regarded. This is when you hit the slippery slope of book vs. film. The author might hate the film for good or bad reasons, yet what does the author do when the film becomes regarded as a classic in its own right?
Honestly, given some of the butchery of books I’ve seen I would take a Kubrick Shining. It might have had a few problems but there have been much worse film adaptions of King works. Some of them are hours of my life I will never get back, and heck, some of those movies are loved. I personally find Pet Semetary to be sorely lacking but you’ll find many horror fans who love the shit out of that movie. I won’t get started on that — I could bitch about Pet Semetary for days. And that’s the essence of Book vs. Film. Pick your side and have at it.