The Shining Showdown: In Defense of the Source Material

The Shining Showdown: In Defense of the Source Material

When the “Shining Showdown” was announced on the podcast, I instantly saw through the surface argument to the root of the issue. I don’t imagine that The Rob Oneal truly believes the mini-series was a better product, although maybe he does, I surmise that the real disagreement we have here is: source material vs Kubrick’s interpretation. For audience members who have not read the novel, the knee jerk reaction is to say that the film is superior to the television version. While cinematically it is gorgeous, The Shining (1980) is a far cry from Stephen King’s original book. Rudimentary aspects like the trials and tribulations of a recovering alcoholic coming to terms with his sobriety. The guilt and shame he felt towards his obligations as a husband and father. All sadly overlooked, in the name of cinematography. While a “ghostly force” threatens Jack's sanity, a very real basement boiler is destined to explode. Mr. Kubrick chose to ignore some of these key themes and elements, the final work suffers as a result.

The replacement of topiary animals with a hedge maze is offensive to the novel’s audience. While admittedly, there was not a practical way to achieve a convincing special-effect at the time of filming, it does not excuse their absence. If anyone could have found a way it was Kubrick and it resultantly comes across as lazy. The slow decay of an otherwise good man is completely ignored. In Kubrick’s film Jack Torrence is instantly unlikable. Lacking this transformation, the movie doesn’t invoke the same feelings of empathy for Jack, a reaction that is instrumental in producing the thrilling climax.

While I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with M. Butler’s stance, who incidentally baited me into this argument, that the ghosts “aren’t real.” I do understand why you might have missed the smoking gun –oh wait! No I don’t. Wendy sees that damned bear performing fellacio on that tuxedo clad gentleman. If that isn’t a haunting image, I’m sure I don’t know what is. So the ghosts are real, and they coexist with the figurative ghosts in Jacks mind. Case Closed.

But I digress, back to the novel. King, if nothing else, is very good at two things, creating characters that the reader cares about, and placing said characters in extraordinary situations. He doesn’t always use horror to do this, and he himself has proclaimed that he does not like to be considered a horror writer exclusively. However, in The Shining he does utilize horror with such grace and dignity, that it is very odd when you learn this is only his third full length novel to be published. In these pages resides a powerhouse, a polished work that is brilliant for a junior effort.


Even the character of Hallorann, who also makes a surprise appearance in the "King universe" part way through "IT," is unforgivably disregarded for the most part. There are no hero's in Kubrick's film, which speaks to his disconnection with the common man's point of view. In the novel Hallorann is a much more significant character and his absence from most of the movie is shamefully used to build a sense of isolation. His role as a savior and prophet in the book is more substantial, as a result he stays on your mind longer, like the blank spot in your vision after a camera flash.


To play devil's advocate, when you consider that I myself do appreciate the film, was difficult. However upon rereading The Shining the glaring inadequacies of the film become more and more pronounced. It would be my recommendation that to enjoy both incarnations of the story, you must place as much space between the two as possible. Ignoring the sadistic unrelateable character of Kubrick helps too. I imagine Kubrick as a man on an upper echelon, unapproachable and stand offish. King seems like a blue collar guy you could have a beer with, if only he still drank.

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