Why Did Kubrick Change 'The Shining' Against Stephen King's Will?
What changes did Stanley Kubrick make to The Shining that made Stephen King angry? And why were those changes necessary to the story?
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of the most influential horror movies, and movies in general, ever released. It's been heralded, homages, copied, and satirized on The Simpsons, which is the world's highest honor.
It seems like everyone loves talking about The Shining...everyone but Stephen King...you know, the guy who wrote the original book on which the movie is based.
The feud between King and Kubrick is legendary, but what's less known is the reason for it. Sure, changes were made from book to movie, that ALWAYS happens across every adaptation, but why were these ones so egregious?
Let's head to the Overlook Hotel, pop open the door to room 237, and find out.
Why did Kubrick Change The Shining Against Stephen King's Will?
Writing an adaptation of a beloved novel is no small task. You have to balance the audience for the book and the people who see the movie. You need details that represent the book, but I'm of the opinion that your number one task as a writer and as a director is to deliver the best version of the medium you're trying to capture.
That means what might make the best book, might not make the best movie.
Still, that can piss the author off a ton.
And that's what happened when Stephen King saw The Shining.
While the major threads of the story are there, the big change comes from the character of Jack. In the book, Jack is the center of a family drama. In the movie, he's the person whose descent into madness poses a threat to killing his family.
King thought of Jack's character as a decent guy just trying to provide for his family.
In the movie...he was just evil!
Stephen King told Deadline, "The character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie. Absolutely no arc at all. When we first see Jack Nicholson, he’s in the office of Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, and you know, then, he’s crazy as a shit house rat. All he does is get crazier. In the book, he’s a guy who’s struggling with his sanity and finally loses it. To me, that’s a tragedy. In the movie, there’s no tragedy because there’s no real change."
Why did Kubrick make the change?
Besides thinking the book was "sloppy," he wanted to distill the story down. To simplify it into the elements he thought would make the best movie. For him, that was a man becoming insane...not the backstories and an anticlimactic ending.
So, Kubrick made changes to ensure the final chase through the hotel was memorable and visceral.
He didn't think the wife needed to kill the husband, he thought his endless pursuit should kill him.
There is no redemption, only darkness.
What about Wendy?
King also did not appreciate Wendy's depiction in the film. While many viewers loved Shelley Duvall's embodiment of fear and desperation, King thought she was actually regressive. In an interview, King said Wendy is "one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She's basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that's not the woman I wrote about."
The original ending of the movie had Wendy killing Jack, but that changed over time, allowing insanity to lead to Jack's undoing.
King has enjoyed other adaptations of his work, and even enjoyed the 1997 miniseries of The Shining, because he felt like it stayed closer to the book.
Is there a lesson here?
I think the original lesson of "Do what you think makes the best X" makes the most sense.
All of Kubrick's changes benefitted the movie in the long run. There's a reason we still talk about it today. It's even more famous than the original book in many ways. Still, Kubrick was not known as being someone nice and cuddly, but if you're ever in his position and working on a Stephen King adaptation, maybe don't call his prose "sloppy?"
The real lesson here is teamwork. Glean what you can from the author. Figure out what they think is important and why they think it connected with people. Then see if you can add more to your adaptation.
Obviously, it's okay to take risks. But make sure you get it right.
The last thing you want is people on both sides hating what you created. That'd be a real....Bonfire of the Vanities....
What's next? What are David Fincher's favorite colors?
The visual storytelling of David Fincher is linked to the color theory in works done by the artist Hercules Segers. See how they use color in a similar fashion.