Monday, June 7, 2010

The Summer of King

After a few hectic weeks, it's good to be back to blogging. I'm hoping now that I have a little more time, I can post every day.

Even though it's just barely June, the hot weather has hit in full force. Summer is here, although not officially. There are certain books that I read every year (and usually around the same time of year) and during summer, I read Stephen King's The Stand. My copy is a hardcover reissue of the "uncut" release that I picked up at a garage sale. It is also large and unwieldy - not ideal for carting back and forth on the bus. I decided to pick up a paperback version and while at the bookstore, I was struck by the sheer number of novels King has written. I thought I had read quite a few of them, but there are several that I haven't picked up.

I've decided then, that this summer, I will try to read all of King's work, starting with the books I haven't read yet.

Coincidentally, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was on AMC today. I have mixed feelings about this movie. As a film, it's beautifully done and Kubrick's notorious attention to detail is obvious. As an adaptation of King's novel, however, I think it is definitely lacking.

Kubrick's stellar film making skills cannot be denied. As with his other films (2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, in particular), The Shining has gorgeous sets, beautiful cinematography, and unique camera work. Kubrick's film has some amazing iconic shots (particularly the two twin girls holding hands) and the suspense-inducing score has much to do with the terror building as the story progresses. Jack Nicholson puts in a terrific performance as the crazy and steadily crazier Jack Torrance and Shelley Duvall's fear seems absolutely genuine. The only problem is this is not King's The Shining.

Kubrick is famous for adapting well-known and well-loved works of literature and changing them drastically. Both King and Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, were disappointed in Kubrick's adaptations of their work. Kubrick has often been accused by critics of sucking the themes (and subsequently the depth) out of these stories and presenting a purely surface representation of the story.

My biggest problem with the adaptation is the casting. In King's novel, Jack is portrayed as a generally good guy with some anger problems. He struggles with his desire to drink and wanting to be a good husband and father. In the book, the reader can tell he genuinely loves his son and though he is often conflicted about his marriage, he loves his wife as well. It is the hotel and isolation that eventually drives him to the brink of madness. This is most clearly evident in the ending, when through his insanity, he realizes what he is doing and tells Danny to run away. It is clear to the reader at that point that his violent actions are the hotel's influence.

Nicholson (who kind of looks crazy all the time) comes off very differently in the film. He seems a little off-balance right off the bat and his irritation with his family is palpable. There is no final redemption for Jack and he becomes the main antagonist, not the hotel.

In the novel, Wendy is portrayed as a strong, independent woman who is fiercely protective of her child. She stays with Jack after he breaks Danny's arm, but only because she doesn't want to return home to her overbearing mother. She eventually decides that Jack has quit drinking and their relationship slowly begins to heal. There is always the looming possibility of Jack drinking again and the reader gets the impression that his relapse will be the breaking point for Wendy.

Knowing that, Shelley Duvall was entirely the wrong choice for the character. Her performance portrays the character as weak and submissive to her husband. She shows none of the strong will exhibited by King's character. Her anger towards Jack after Danny emerges from Room 237 seems completely out of character, when compared to her spineless quivering throughout the rest of the movie. Even her appearance is wrong, as in the book Wendy is described as a pretty blond.

Even the Danny character, who in the novel is exceptionally bright as well as being blessed with supernatural gifts, seems off-kilter. In the film, he is an ordinary little boy with psychic powers. His "imaginary friend" Tony is a little boy who lives in his mouth (but apparently moves Danny's finger when he talks - I'm still confused about that one), and is quickly dismissed as a childish quirk. In the novel, he represents Danny's suppressed and misunderstood powers and has much more significance.

Kubrick doesn't address Jack's struggle within himself - a struggle that is eventually represented by his physical confrontation with the hotel as it overtakes him more and more. Allegedly a metaphor for King's own problems with alcoholism and drug addiction, this theme was the crux of the novel, showing how a basically good man could be made a monster by letting a bad influence rule his life. Kubrick decides instead to allude that Jack is a reincarnation of the hotel's first caretaker (Jack's feelings of deja vu, Grady's statement, "You've always been the caretaker here, sir.), and the final photo showing Jack in the foreground of the 1922 party). This leaves the film version as an excellent horror flick, but a flimsy shell of the original story.

The film and the novel are both good independently, but Kubrick's version is not a good representation of King's rich storytelling. Admittedly, it is difficult to get all of his detail into a 2 hour movie, which is why the miniseries adaptations of his work tend to be better than the theatrically released films.

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