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Tell Me How You Really Feel: Stephen King on Kubrick's Version of 'The Shining'

Stephen KingWhen we watch a movie, the final product has been filtered through so many minds and visions, and passed around from so many different pairs of hands that, most of the time, it is very different from the original — the version thought up by the writer. What do writers think about the end result of their stories? Stephen King gave his opinion of The Shining 2 years before its release in a 1978 article from Cinefantastique, talking about the direction in which Stanley Kubrick took it in terms of casting and content. Hit the jump the find out what he said.

Stephen King is the king of horror. He has written over 70 books in his nearly 40 year career making him one of the most prolific (and successful) writers in his genre. So many of his works have been adapted into screenplays and made into films, so the question of what King thinks about them is an important one.

At Cinephilia and Beyond, they shared an article from Cinefantastique from the late 70s focusing on King’s thoughts on the films that represent his work. Here’s what King says about Stanley Kubrick and his work on The Shining:


From the beginning, when I first talked to Kubrick some months ago, he wanted to change the ending. He asked me for my opinion on Halloran [the hotel cook played in Kubrick’s film by Scatman Crothers] becoming possessed, and then finishing the job that Torrance started, killing Danny, Wendy and lastly himself. Then, the scene would shift to the spring, with a new caretaker and his family arriving. However, the audience would see Jack, Wendy and Danny in an idyllic family scene—as ghosts—sitting together, laughing and talking. And I saw a parallel between this peaceful setting at the end of the picture and the end of 2001 where the astronaut is transported to the Louis XIV bedroom. To me, the two endings seemed to tie together.

After watching The Shining, I doubt most of us could imagine any other actor portraying Jack Torrance other than Jack Nicholson. In my opinion, he was perfect for the role, but for King, that wasn’t the case:

I’m a little afraid of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in that context because he is not an ordinary man. So far as I know, he’s never played an ordinary man and I’m not sure he can. I would have rather seen Michael Moriarty or Martin Sheen portray Torrance. But these actors are not supposed to be ‘bankable’—Hollywood loves that word. [Shelley Duvall as Wendy] is an example of absolutely grotesque casting.

Whether you agree or disagree, I think hearing from the original visionary on a project gives us an interesting opportunity to see new dimension of a film. Go here to read the rest of King’s thoughts on The Shining, as well as his twisted coming-of-age story Carrie.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Stephen King’s opinions about The Shining? Tell us why or why not in the comments?

Link: Stephen King on The Shining – Cinephilia and Beyond

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  • I agree with King completely. The whole cast (with the exception of Scatman Crothers as Halloran) was just wrong, with Shelley Duvall being the worst of the worst. Who ever cast the movie should have been fired on the spot for that. The script was a neutered shadow of the original story. The movie could have been so much better with a more relatable cast and a better script.

    The only thing I can say they did well was the visuals.

    • But the thing is, that movie is PURELY about the visuals. If you believe even a fraction of the theories around that movie then the only conclusion that can be drawn about it is that it had zero to do with the actual story and everything to do with the visual puzzles that Kubrick placed within it. I don’t think it was meant to be a piece of entertainment.

    • VinceGOrtho on 07.20.13 @ 2:13PM

      The cast was fine.

    • Your opinion is pretty much contradicted by film history since Kubrick’s the Shining is a landmark film – including a documentary about the film’s meaning released this year. If the film had a terrible script and was poorly cast and only had compelling visuals, it would not the film it is today. It’s a masterpiece that thankfully does not slavishly adhere to the source material.

      • Which is funny, because when it was first released, it didn’t have the rabid jizzfest of followers that it has now. The Academy at the time certainly agreed, as it didn’t get a single nomination. Didn’t any oscars, golden globes, BAFTAs really any major awards. The only nominations it got was a handful of Saturn awards and two of the original razzies. Only award it won was the saturn for best supporting actor for Scatman Crothers.

        Had they gotten a better family dynamic going on the cast, it would have been far scarier, instead of spending half the film hoping Jack would bury that axe in Shelley’s head.

        • Dave Mueller on 07.21.13 @ 9:34PM

          Although, don’t forget: this was a different time. Movies like ‘The Shining’ didn’t get Academy Award noms back then. You had to be an ‘important’ movie, i.e., one starring Meryl Streep.

          • It’s just odd that a Kubrick film didn’t get any nominations. Everything from Lolita to Full Metal Jacket got SOME awards. People just didn’t care about The Shining when it came out, and it certainly didn’t do nearly as well as most of his other films.

    • Worse then that terrible direct-to-TV Shinning remake King wrote and produced? You never here him talking bad about the rottin films he’s been involved with cause he would look even more foolish, The truth is King has been resentful of Kubrick before the film was even made because he sold the film rights cheap. I’m don’t hate King and very much enjoyed his early works, but they way he’s dismissed Kubrick and his version of the Shining over the years ( even making fun of Kubrick’s death) has made me loose a lot of respect for him.

      • Oh, come on, you don’t think “The Langoliers” starring Bronson Pinchot of “perfect strangers” fame wasn’t the best movie ever?

        Kubrick’s the shining is totally about visuals. Read this analysis about it, then watch the film again and have your mind blown.

        King’s novel was just the idea, Kubrick used that as the jumping off point and took it in a much better direction for a film.

  • I like the script as it is. It may not be a good representation of the novel (which focused a lot more on inner demons and the Outlook history), but that way it’s much more open for interpretation. Less explanation is always good for horror. The Shining for me was always more about the feeling than the plot.

    Casting is good and I don’t mind Ducall as much. She is a bit odd and nothing like in the book, but her hysterical behaviour adds to the dynamics of the characters.

    • Probably because Kubrick and Nicholson berated her incessantly on the shoot. Not sure if that was Kubrick’s idea of ‘direction’ or if they just didn’t like working with her.

  • When I was little I actually saw King’s version of the movie once on TV, which came out in the late 90′s. It was really terrible and for some reason I thought that was the Kubrick version. SO for years I was like why does everyone make a big about this shinning move? Shit isn’t even that good.. But then I realized there were two versions.
    By the time I saw the REAL version I had seen so many parodies of the movie, like the Simpson’s tree house of terror episode, but it didn’t even matter. It definitely blew me away. The atmosphere is beyond creepy. The (early) stedicam shots, how he used wide lenses to make every thing look big and empty.. I think it’s a perfect film and is better than a book could ever be. In a way. I mean when you read a book you see all those visuals in your head, but I think Kubrick’s visuals are like better than anything my mind could imagine.

  • I cannot comment on King’s TV version, having only seen a brief scene of it on YouTube,

    What I have seen, I would say is generically bland compared to Kubrick’s masterpiece version, in my opinion.

    The casting in Kubrick’s version was impeccable. Nicholson definitely has “baggage” with the personality he brings to his roles, as they are so strong, and dare I say “over-the-top”, however, he does his roles as only he can, and it fit the character perfectly. Shelly Duvall also was wonderful. So many casting choices would have provided a generic, bland version with no real personality. Having had the pleasure of working on a film with Shelley, her unique quirkiness is somewhat genuine by her personality, but it has a flavour I find wonderfully unique in the right role. In the shining, I found it to be perfect.

    Yes, I am sure Kubrick’s version strayed perhaps drastically from King’s novel, but generally the mastery in making a successful film from a novel adaptation, is the understanding by the director and creative team that a film is a different medium from a novel, and typically requires a different interpretation of the material to work successfully.

  • Some food for thought from the novelist who wrote Big Fish:

    http://www.puremovies.co.uk/articles/some-things-are-better-left-on-the-page/

    “The best adaptations are inspired by the source material, not dictated by it. The screenwriter doesn’t work for the author; he takes possession of the story, and owns it as much as the novelist does. If not, if there is even a hint of subservience, the adaptation and the movie it hopes to become will suffer, and sometimes die a grisly, unliterary death. And if you’ve never seen an unliterary death it’s a sad thing to watch.”

    • This is a fascinating discussion on its own, notwithstanding Kubrick’s treatment of The Shining. I think each case is different, depending on the source material in question. Stephen King’s novels tend to rely heavily on meandering back and forth between past and present and the historical references enrich the understanding of whatever present malevolence is afoot. Filming that stuff, though, is a fast ticket to snoozeville. I get that. I understand shaping a screenplay for maximum efficiency and impact. What puzzles me, though, is why anyone would want to option the rights to an immensely popular work (built-in audience) and then alter it to tell a different story. Not only do you waste an opportunity to do justice to the original story (as Darabont and Reiner accomplished), but you risk alienating that built-in audience while at the same time squandering that option money. You could have just written and filmed your own movie, honoring your own elements and perspective.

  • 2001 and Full Metal Jacket were great movies. I’m not a fan of The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, for me, was one of my least liked (read, one of the worst) movies of all time. He’s a good director but, I don’t understand the whole “hero” thing that surrounds him. There’s many great directors out there that deserve, at least as much if not more, praise.

    • For me Stanley Kubrick gets the level of praise he deserves because his movies were not meant as “entertainment” in the traditional sense. I can’t imagine anybody wanting to watch a Stanley Kubrick movie out of boredom (except for Dr. Strangelove). Stanley Kubrick was, and this is without using any hyperbole, a genius who hid complex puzzles in all of his films. Nothing in a Kubrick film is meant to be taken at face value. Kubrick is the only director I ever followed who never made a movie I actually “enjoyed”. But the level of respect I have for him is through the roof.

    • I tend to agree. I’ve enjoyed many of the movies of his that I have seen – even elements of Eyes Wide Shut. But I fail to see why so much emphasis is placed on his (purported) inclusion of hidden puzzles within his work. Who has time for that? It seems it should be difficult enough making the central story come to life in an interesting way without worrying about ALSO getting it to intersect with some occult subtext. And even if he was doing that, is that really “genius”? I guess it elevates the level of difficulty, but… why? Doesn’t make my viewing of the movie any more enjoyable, really.

  • I know this is off topic, but could you please get rid of that free PDF popup? It’s very annoying to look at and almost unnecessary since there are so many tutorials already. Love the articles, but not the enforced popup! ;)

  • Shelley Duvall in anything is an example of absolutely grotesque casting.

  • And Nicholson ad-libbed the best line of the whole flick. I do think the movie dragged on a bit too long (144 min in the US release),

  • I’m more than a little surprised by the comments here from filmmakers. The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s film and only his film. He changed a lot from the source material including the relationship between Jack and his wife Wendy. The characters of Jack in his film is a man that’s clearly an abusive husband who keeps his animosity towards his wife poorly hidden. Jack is the monster of the film from beginning to end. Shelley Duvall was cast because she perfectly portrays the kind of mousy woman that would marry a bully like Jack Torrance and stay with him even after he’s abused her and broken Danny’s arm. She’s a broken woman with very little will of her own. Jack resents her and disrespects her for those very reasons.

    Kubrick’s Shining is about the monster of domestic abuse more so than it is about ghosts. The focus is entirely different from that of the book since one could argue that the supernatural occurrences in the hotel could all be in Jack’s mind. If you dislike the casting and the script then I think you’ve missed the point of the film. Its not all visuals and its not ridiculous hidden meanings.

  • One can understand “the point” of something and “the meaning” and still find it to be on-the-nose, obvious, over-the-top garbage. Yes, the casting is poor. But so is the acting. The over-the-top scenery doesn’t help it any. It’s inspired mindless fan devotion for decades, and will for decades to come. So has Star Wars (one of the most on-the-nose B movies of all time). So has Tom Cruise, for that matter. Yet, Cruise has no versatility; in every film he’s ever been in, he plays Tom Cruise. The Shining is the same – dull, drab, obvious, and not worth repeating. But, sure, it will inspire legions of fans, and that’s just fine – they can spend their money and their time on it as much as they’d like (as they can on Tom Cruise films). Doesn’t make it any good – just is what it is.

  • To me, The Shining is perhaps the greatest movie ever made.

    No other film besides 2001 has had people talking about it for so long. Add to that the conspiracy theories, documentaries, Youtube analysis videos, and books that have been written about it, it’s insane.

    And people mock Jack and Shelly’s performance, even though it is well known that Stanley used the takes that he thought were over-the-top on purpose. In a way he wanted it to be a parody of a horror film.

  • Just watched about a hundred minutes of the film. The rising level of suspense and fear throughout (the first 90 or so minutes) is tremendous. The visuals are superb.

    But not all scenes fit together into one major theme and the possible interpretations of the connection between the old and the new are left too open ended. Instead of the director “knowing more than the audience”, often it appears that the director was winging it as well. The continuous script rewrites support that very notion also. On the whole, it’s far more ambitious than King’s book but, while shooting for the stars, Kurick hasn’t always managed to reach them.

    PS. I realize that ambiguity is par for the course for Kubrick. Still …

  • kubrick rant on 07.21.13 @ 3:19AM

    None of you Kubrick haters could make a film even 1/100,000,000th as good as Stanley first film “Killers Kiss” let alone come close to the grand mastery that is “The Shining”. If you cannot see his genius perhaps you should find a new “hobby”. His command of the film language is easily up there with the top 25 (writer) directors of all time, and will remain that way probably FOREVER.

    Visuals? What about the sound? Or lack of it? The big wheel gliding through the hallways….. from carpet….. to linoleum…… back to carpet? The score? A masterpiece. Damn what Stephen thinks. He ain’t a filmmaker, and BOOKS ARE NOT FILMS. The guy who wrote “big fish” was right.

    • kubrick rant on 07.21.13 @ 3:27AM

      p.s. try going up to any of your hero directors in film today and try telling em you think Kubrick was a hack or anything less than stellar and see what happens.

    • @kubrick rant…
      I don’t think so.

    • I’m sure you are quite right about Kubrick’s mastery of Film. Doesn’t make em’ any more enjoyable. Just because people can’t make a Film as good as Kubrick ,that means they cannot have opinions about what they watched ? Did he make them for no one to see?
      An opinion = Hate ?

  • a movie is a movie. a book is a book.

  • Not a Kubrick hater, (I prefer Barry Lyndon and 2001 to The Shining & Strangelove but they’re all brilliantly made) but the cult like vibe does get on my tits occasionally. When even the merest questioning means you get shouted down, that’s dogma.
    Of all his accomplishments, his talent for self-aggradisement was absolutely one of them – the excellent LACMA exhibition felt more like a collection of religious icons than a film exhibition. All lovingly catalogued by the man himself. (small TMZ aside – saw Jude Law showing his kids the section about A.I.)
    He was a genius, but too often the power of the frame overpowered the power of the story, and in those who you could say are his current US acolytes ( Romanek, Fincher, elements of Wes Anderson) you sometimes get the same thing.

    • See ? Once again ,why are opinions Hate ? Granted, there are Trolls on every site just gotta to be opposite anything.

  • This will blow you mind about what Krubic was really trying to convey in the movie the Shining http://www.redicecreations.com/radio/2012/04/RIR-120426.php

    Unreal.

  • Simply put: The Shining would not carry 1/100th the cultural weight or prominence it does today were it not for Kubrick’s film. Every iconic aspect people associate with it – from the axe-wielding Jack Torrance shouting “Here’s Johnny!” to the blood pouring out of the elevator doors, to the twins in the hallway, etc – is derived primarily from the intense, visceral experience Kubrick crafted with the film.

    Don’t get me wrong – the book is excellent. But if the only film version out there were King’s godawful later interpretation, the Shining would just probably be just another bullet point on King’s wikipedia bibliography.

  • Now, I’m not sure what all of you are talking about, but what mr King failed to notice is that Kubrick only used his novel in an elaborate way to tell the world about how he was talked into staging the moon-landings and the kind of fears of the government agencies that it later produced for Kubrick. A narrative device he later utilized for his last film exposing the dreaded illuminati in Eyes Wide Shut. Or as Nicholson himself famously said: “You want the truth? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”.

    Oh and by the way, the Lizard-Men Ruling Class will surely try to stop me! But they can’t. Because they don’t know where I am since I recently ate some pills containing heavily diluted extracts of ancient fungi from the grey aliens that have set up shop in my back yar… wait, no.. how did you?! Aaaaaaaargh…

    Please ignore the last bit of text as this poster is now under heavy NWO surveilance. I’m sure you’d all understand. And we’ll now return you to your original programming.

  • My opinion, expressed in a short-short way:

    King’s novel had the better idea, Kubrick’s film had the better execution. King has the better story and characters, Kubrick has the better fear and suspense.

  • I had read the Shining about a year before the movie came out. I thought the movie lost a lot of the influence of the hotel itself, as thought it somehow caused things to happen. Nicholson was great. When I heard he was doing the film version I was pleased and liked him in the part. Overall I was disappointed with the film as it strayed so far from the book.

  • We all know what happened when King tried to direct a feature film based on one of his short stories. Although the result was interesting, it cannot compare to a masterwork like The Shining. I’m tired of this debate, frankly. The Shining, as a film, was an enormous spectacle with great performances. I treat the book and film as totally different entities, as they should be treated. Shelley Duvall was perfect for the film. It’s history now. After 30 years, can ya get over it, finally? Unbelievable lol. Such hatred!..Especially from King, himself.

  • I think Jack Nicholson was perfect in the role. Right at the beginning of the book we are told Jack Torrence had anger issues, he broke his kids arm for gods sake and lost his job as a teacher for losing it with a kid. I don’t care what Stephen King says, Jack Torrence isn’t a nice sweet normal guy. He does have problems, he’s an alcoholic with anger issues, and he tortures himself over what he’s done and you can totally see that in Jack Nicholson. I am utterly shocked Mr King doesnt like Kubricks version. It’s a phenomenal film, and by far the best King adaptation I’ve ever seen.

  • I actually like the King TV miniseries one more. Honestly, I think Kubrick would have been much better directing something like King’s “Storm of the Century” than trying to tackle “The Shinning.” Kubricks shinning is only scary because Jack Nicholson can be really scary reading a list of groceries. His movie captures none of the interesting aspects of the story. Its just like 2001 where when Clarke went to do the novelization he had to add a story that was worth actually following.

    Also the documentary about the Shinning is filled with people spouting ideas that are crazy even for Kubrick fans like he shot the faked moon landings.

    • I felt the miniseries was a bit flat, but at least the characters had some depth. The added cheesy ending was too corny. Still a million times better than the mess Kubrick made of it though.

  • The casting was appalling. Nicholson hammed it horribly and completely missed the mark of the slow, gradual descent of a man fighting to hang onto his love and decency. Duvall was genuinely appalling, wet, limp and awful. They took the ominous and otherwordly figure of Tony and turned it into a funny little wagging finger and a silly voice. They made a ridiculous caricature out of the characters and it was hard to care what happened to any of them. The cook was ok, but mainly only in comparison to the rest of them.

    It was actually laugh out loud funny at times, and not because Kubrick wanted it that way. It panned horribly in movie theatres at the time and people left really disgruntled. King had every reason to be appalled. It stinks to high heaven and rightfully sank without a trace.This hindsight “the man is a genius” retrospective is nonsense. He tried to make a frightening and disturbing movie and failed, on every level.

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