The Shining (1980)

I get sick every year, at the same points-in March, in September (though a different sort of sick…), sometimes in July, and December and early January. I avoided December, though I think through sheer stubbornness but January won’t be so lucky. But it’s been fairly low grade, even if lingering-at some point I would actually prefer that it get worse so it could get better. I have finally gotten ill enough to take time off.

I did have a realization, during my day off. I found a blog that centered around the question ‘what’s the worst winter you’ve ever had.’ Summer? I can give you a ranking of the worst summers I’ve had, depending on your criteria. Winters are long and not entirely emotionally comfortable for me (thanks SADD), or cold (thanks bad windows and spotty heat) but there’s not a lot I would rank as worst. There were a couple in college that weren’t awesome. Last month was a little odd. My grandmother died in January, when I was in high school. I mean, I guess the point is that summer is my terror season.

Maybe that’s why I gravitate towards snowy/winter horror so frequently, because winter for me is a gothic novel more than an exercise in turmoil. It’s weird reviewing The Shining (1980) with my current working relationship with King’s novel. It can sometimes be hard pulling apart the movie based on a well loved book, without accidentally holding to the standard of the book.

So for the strengths of the movie: Kubrick knows his visuals. There’s not much new ground to cover there, that hasn’t been covered already in 35 years. But it’s true, the use of color especially through the movie grounds the piece and lets it walk a really thin line between horror and dream scape. The movie moves slightly faster than the novel, if you’re not as into ‘head scapes and brooding’. That really is a strength, and it’s not to suggest that the film lacks depth-it just puts it in differing places. There are a few interactions that work better in the film-Jack’s relationship with Grady is less clunky in movie than in the novel. In terms of actual, direct terror-entertainment, the movie is actually scarier than the novel-though it functions more as a difference in subgenre than in writing ability on the part of either King or the movie crew [King wrote on the screenplay so I’m assuming he knew what he was doing-though I have also heard the stories about him walking away from it and hating the final film]. The film is much more ‘haunting with some psych horror aspects’ than the novel ever was-but that can be seen as either a weakness or a strength, depending on how loyal you need a movie based on a novel to be.

In terms of weaknesses? There are places where I wonder if the visuals override the plot a little too much. There have been discussions in pop culture and fan spaces about things like the layout of the hotel and its interplay with the plot. I’m all for cerebral and meta horror, but I’m not a person that needs to care about the shape of Ullman’s office. Honestly, while I like her more in the movie than the book, I still dislike Wendy-there seems to be little grounding her in the film (though in fairness my issue with the book is that she’s a little too grounded in herself). I don’t like the handling of Hallorann in the movie at all.

So which is the better piece?

I actually hate that question, as a reviewer and someone with a background in popular culture studies. There’s not a real reason to rank them-they’re two different entities.

Both the book and the movie have stood up against time. The book is still frequently found on must read lists (and it’s really an excellent book for actually psychological horror and going down the rabbit hole of self and addiction). The movie is still spawning visual puns and references-check out the carpeting in this season’s American Horror Story once or twice. When you can manage to get cosmetics named after phrases in your film, you know you hit a nerve.

Your personal ranking probably needs to be informed by your need for similarity to source material. I’m fine with a movie deviating from a book, if the changes make sense to the plot, or otherwise strengthen the piece. Not ever project is going to be Rosemary’s Baby, with almost word for word conversion. I think it’s sometimes a disservice to try to force a piece into being a ‘perfect’ adaptation of another work of fiction-at some point, you have to acknowledge the limitations of the medium (or just basic length, or other requirements. I mean, how many complaints have there been about the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy?).

That’s a long winded way of saying: I’m okay with both, I like the book better, but it’s a personal preference-and due to plot points and details that were cut or handled differently from the novel. And it’s a pretty small margin as well.

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