The Shining: Adaptation



I’m pretty sure I’ve made it no secret that Stanley Kubrick is my favourite director of all time. He created my favourite film of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and built a long legacy of films that stretched across genres and tones and places. He made a Vietnam war movie, a horror movie, a psychological examination of love itself, an inspection of madness, a paedophilia profile, a story of Strangelove and (the vastly underrated) Barry Lyndon. Spartacus and Paths of Glory are all in there somewhere along with many others, but I feel Kubrick’s strength to not be in his adaptation but rather his reverse-adaptation.

Getting deep into The Shining already, I read the Stephen King book a while ago, it really differs from the novel in so many ways it’s hard to call it an adaptation. I am one of the very, very few people in the world to dislike Watchmen (as an adaptation) from its political commentary shoved on to the Bush administration to the fight scenes employed to be fight scenes and nothing really interesting. I remember the fight between Nightowl, Spectre and some hooligans as Dr Manhattan was interviewed and the absolute juxtaposition was wonderful. Yet it was ruined in the Snyder adaptation by slow-down-speedy-uppy which made it especially hard to wonder whether or not it was just violence for violence’s sake.

‘Adaptation’ has been a long, long means of base camp for many films. Kubrick, interestingly, barely had any original material to his name but I’d actually make the argument that he went beyond the books and novels and the stuff he based his works on. The Shining film is so much different from The Shining book and it’s outright superior in may respects. I feel more of a suspense and grip with Kubrick’s work, whereas the book seems to work on a psychological layer and not a multi-layered and heavily sensory exploration. I love both, don’t get me wrong, but I feel Kubrick possibly made one of the greatest adaptations of all time by… not adapting.

Blade Runner is loosely based off the idea behind Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (my favourite book of all time) by a bloke called Philip K. Dick. Does that mean it’s a horrible adaptation? No, because it isn’t trying to change the ideas or throw them aside into something else. They’re intact, themes and all that tragedy malarkey, but not at the expense of a good film. Watchmen is a good film, but it is a terrible adaptation. It twists political commentary into the absolutely absurd redundancies of topics and (while I liked the commentary on ‘sex in comics’) none of the female cast really took a shine to the role and there’s no real sense of… intrigue like I got with the graphic novel.

Except, I shouldn’t be asking Watchmen (the film) to be like the graphic novel. Not because it’d be impossible to film Watchmen, I like to believe you can tell any story in any way and it can still be good, but because it should somewhat preserve that raw essence. Blade Runner captures the philosophies, The Shining captures the intensity and the madness of Jack. There’s some real stuff to be played with when you’re dealing with a very human based affair and you can twist it into either something revelatory and interesting with visual tricks or you can just switch stuff lazily around to throw it at George Bush.

The Shining is a Halloween tradition of mine, beyond anything else I’ve ever seen of the horror genre. It was my first experience of horror and was my first Kubrick as well. It all tied together into this giant hook that brought me deeper into the director’s filmography and into a respectful perspective of such a multi-faceted genre that covers all basis of human condition, thoughts, feelings, fears, dreads and everything inbetween. Literally in some aspects, that last one, as good horror often explores the ‘uncanny’ of humanity. Men without faces, zombie dogs and generally… Silent Hill 2.

It’s so brave as an adaptation because it dares to still stay so true to the material yet stray away from some faults and instead play around with the visuals to the point it becomes almost a story about itself. It’s a heavy storytelling-dependent film and it isn’t worse for it because the story itself is built upon this tremendous and intricate pacing that sets it apart from so many horror ilk. I don’t dislike modern horror, I’ve experienced all kinds of good stuff, but it’s hard to get enthused about violence without any meaning or emotional hook. It’s what I’ve been complaining about video-games for the past few years, that 90% of them are just juvenile crass where you shoot people in the face and there’s next to no consequences or context.

That’s another topic though.

I will probably always treasure The Shining as, personally, the finest horror film ever made. It explores a side to the novel that I don’t think anyone had done before, even in academic studies of King’s masterpiece, and chose to play around with innocence and so many different imagery and metaphors and just cake it on. I love the film so much that it’s hard to drag it into film critique corner because there’s not much to say. In fact, it’s a lot like Blade Runner, in that it’s horrible the first time you watch it… but only compared to your tenth. Because by then your full of interpretations, symbolism viewpoints and all kinds of brain-jogging activity.

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