Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: The Shining

No, not that 'Shining'. The other 'Shining'. The 1997 TV miniseries that Stephen King made because he didn't feel that Kubrick did justice to his source material. Remember that one? With Rebecca de Mornay and one of 'My Two Dads'?

Yeah, it didn't exactly eclipse the Kubrick version, did it? Which is, in theory, odd, because King kind of had a point about the movie. Kubrick strips out a lot of the fascinating material about the hotel's history, removes most of Jack's backstory and makes him a cartoonish brute instead of the richly nuanced tragic character of the novel, and reduces the apocalyptic ending to "Jack Nicholson freezes to death in a hedge maze while wearing one of the most embarrassing facial expressions known to man." It doesn't feel like it'd be that hard to do a better job of adapting the book, especially when given the extra time needed both to fill in the extra plot details and allow the tension to build like it did in the book.

But that doesn't take into account the enormous talent of Stanley Kubrick. For all that the novel works brilliantly, it works the same way that all of King's prose works--as an introspective character study. King is brilliant at getting inside his characters' heads, which is why his stories are so damned hard to adapt. Very little of what goes on is expressed through the dialogue, or even the events; it's all about the way people think. Kubrick was one of the few people who could let that out through tiny, almost unnoticed nuances of facial expression and body language (witness Wendy Torrance's explanation of Danny's old injury to the doctor, which has at least three layers of meaning to it from both actresses) and through spectacular camerawork that made otherwise boring infodump scenes watchable as pieces of sheer visual poetry.

For something like the remake to work, you would need a director as talented as Kubrick, or at least nearly as talented as Kubrick, but one whose vision was more in line with King's. Frank Darabont, who's directed several great King adaptations, would have been an excellent would Sam Raimi, who actually makes a cameo in the miniseries as a gas station attendant. But instead we got Mick Garris, a director mainly known for some 'Amazing Stories' episodes and the equally uninspired mini-series adaptation of 'The Stand'. It's probably a little unfair to say that King bet on the wrong horse here, but it's hard not to notice how little passion Garris gets out of any of the actors here.

And without that level of intensity and commitment in the performances, and without Kubrick's flair for the visuals, it's hard not to notice how damn slow and talky this story is. It really is a story about three people in a hotel having long conversations with each other, and Garris' direction leeches what drama there is out of that. He's not helped by King's teleplay, which makes all of the unspoken subtext into explicit text ("Listen to yourself! You sound just like your dad!") But he also doesn't do much to make the intense moments genuinely intense.

The actors try gamely. Steven Weber is better at playing Jack when he's being a sympathetic father, but he falls back on his sitcom habits when he's trying to play a crazy monster. The net result is something like watching Fred Flintstone devolve into madness. Rebecca de Mornay works hard at her role, but she's saddled with most of the worst dialogue. And Courtland Mead...well, let's just say that it's hard to find genuinely great child actors, and that you'd need one to play this part, and leave it at that.

There are other things I could question--the odd emphasis on AA that wasn't in the book, the decision to render the hedge animals in unconvincing CGI, the decision to make the whole thing as a broadcast television miniseries when one of King's greatest strengths as a writer is the way he turns profanity into an almost mellifluous poetry...but really, I don't think that Garris could have done any better with a better screenplay or better actors. There is, I maintain, a genuinely great version of 'The Shining' yet to be made that bears no resemblance to Kubrick's version...but this is not it.

1 comment:

magidin said...

Steven Weber was one of the two brothers in "Wings", not one of "My Two Dads" (Paul Reiser and Greg Evigan).