I'm terrible at keeping up with this blog, I know. But I am resolved on being more dedicated to writing more regular posts, so here goes. I thought I'd write more of a comparison type post, between text and film, seeing as I encountered both versions of The Shining very recently. And lets be honest, I enjoy stories about people slowly succumbing to madness. So what are the differences between the book and film? And which one is better?
Jack Torrance, serves as one of the lead characters in the book version of The Shining, but by no means the actual lead, unlike Kubrick's version where Jack is seen as being the main character in the story. Its not really his story, although his version of events feature heavily, but a story which is told through various characters and the effect The Overlook (the hotel they are staying in) has over them. One of the main differences between the book and film is the stark difference in Jack's character development. From before he enters the hotel to the story's finale.
King's Jack is a more of an 'everyman' dealing with alcohol abuse and his relationship with alcohol is referenced to throughout the novel. In fact the novel dedicates around 100 pages or so to his character prior to the events at The Overlook. The struggling writer, the failing father, the unreliable husband - which I actually found to be very unnecessary. About 50 pages in, I was getting rather bored with reading about the very soap like drama of the Torrance family and was tempted to flick through to where I assumed momentum would pick up. I'm not really a Stephen King fan and this is probably one of the reasons why. In spite of this, it added an interesting dimension to his character that the film lacked. A man struggling with his own personal demons, which allows him to be more easily swayed by the dark forces of The Overlook, waiting in the shadows to consume him. Quite literally.
Another notable difference that is worthy of being mentioned, is that Jack isn't necessarily a terrible person who selfishly treats his family poorly. Rather, he is man who attempts to better things for his family and ends up being possessed by the hotel's stronghold over him. He loses control of himself and goes beyond a point of recognition, to both his family and the reader. However, Jack understands how his actions ultimately end up hurting his family and shows true remorse . In the film, Jack is beyond any redemption, he comes across as being a harsh and unforgiving man who has turned his wife into a weak and unstable mess. One look at Jack Nicholson and you know hes crazy. Jack isn't meant to be 'crazy', but a man that falls prey to the forces surrounding him. But in turn that does make his character quite flat. There is no denying that Jack's character in Kubrick's version is darkly entertaining and enjoyable to watch, particularly because of the humorous and exaggerated outbursts of madness (and crazy eyebrows, those eyebrows). But does that make him any less or more frightening?
The Shining is abundant with supernatural forces that torture the mental stability of the Torrance family. Driving Jack to madness, terrorising the five year old Danny and reminding Wendy of her own inadequacies as a mother and wife. The hotel feeds off Danny's shining ability, the ability to be able to perceive things beyond what is visable to most, knowing things before they happen or being able to communicate with others who also posses this ability via telepathy. The hotel is after Danny because of his ability, a fact that the film fails to explain and is the reason why Jack tries to kill his family.
In terms of actual supernatural entities, the book is practically teeming with ghosts unlike the film, which is focused on the more human aspects of the strory i.e a man's journey into madness. This changes the story. (Surprisingly, the creepy, infamous 'twins' that terrorise Danny in the film version do not appear in the book). In the book, the Torrance family understand something evil is at bay before things truly kick off. They know they are living with ghosts and attempt to go about their daily lives until the end of winter. I found that aspect of the book to be rather chilling, which made the film feel a little flat in places. Wendy, Jack's wife, knows something is slowly eating away at her husband and her and her son prepare for it. Film Wendy is a little annoying at times, a perpetually stuck in deer lights Shelley Duvall, haplessly flapping about.
One aspect of the story I found to be quite weak in the book, in comparison to the film, was the use of a 'croquet mallet' rather than the axe Jack uses to try to kill his family with. The idea of a crazed Jack Torrance rampaging through the corridors of the hotel with a croquet mallet is quite ridiculous.And therefore did not have the same impact as the film.
The Shining is full of so many loose ends, that neither the book or film manages to resolve fully. Most notably, the main question that arises is how exactly did the hotel manage to acquire so much power/turn into an evil force and why?. King fails to explain this in his novel and I found it rather irritating that this was something that was never really hinted at.
Kubrick however, takes an interesting but subtle turn in explaining exactly how. You have to really pay attention to every scene to get what exactly hes referring to. At the start, the hotel's manager quickly explains that The Overlook received many protestations before building began from Native American communities who believed they were building on top of ancient burial grounds. It is a throw away comment with no real importance to the story, but constantly throughout the film ,Native American motifs are present in the hotel. In decoration and even in Wendy's choice of clothing etc. Trusting that Kubrick is an extremely visual and precise man, no detail is left unturned or accounted for (symmetrical harmony is key), this surely hints at something? Or at least provides us with some sort of explanation to think over. The film then ends with Jack's photograph from the 1920s ball, with July 4th clearly captioned underneath. I found this a fascinating observation, bearing in mind that the book's tagline is "Never Overlook the past". Kubrick's take on The Shining has played host to so many strange conspiracies, particularly that Kubrick filmed the 'fake' moon landing of 1969 and this film provides an insight into that very fact. But that is absurd...perhaps.
Which one do I prefer?
I have to say that I actually prefer the film, it is rare occurrence where the film is actually better than the book. I almost always, always prefer the book version to a film but I think its because I am just not a Stephen King fan. He takes so long to get into the story, it starts to feel a little self indulgent and auto-biographical (King was going through similar substance issues as Jack) and therefore the story did not have the same impact. Kubricks' version is thrilling from start to finish. And has a really great musical score. My only problem with the film version is the character of Wendy, Jack's wife. In the book she has a certain depth and intelligence to her, in the film she doesn't get the same treatment. And that Mr Hallorann (the hotel cook who comes to Wendy and Danny's aid) comes off as menacing and creepy, rather than the sweet and kind old man he is meant to be. In fact, everyone comes across as being menacing and creepy, but it works.