The Shining: Book VS film (my thoughts)



Ah, The Shining. Stephen King’s classic horror story is set to scare generations of readers, therefore, arguably, rendering it timeless.

Basic premise? The Torrance family stay temporarily at the Overlook Hotel while Jack Torrance looks after the boiler. However -surprise surprise!- the hotel appears to be haunted and as little Danny Torrance witnesses the dead people occupying the hotel, Jack’s mental state gradually disintegrates, until he absolutely loses it! It is a novel that reveals new details every time you read it and perhaps provides new meanings depending on how you’re feeling.

However, in regards to Stanley Kubrick’s, 1980 adaptation, I have mixed minds and something I’d be interested to hear opinions on.

When first watching it several years ago, I had just finished the book and was eager to watch the classic ‘heeeeere’s Johnny!’ scene for myself. I’d seen spoofs of Jack Nicholson’s performance in various cartoons and sitcoms and since those lines are not actually in the book, I wondered why it has been associated with The Shining.

I first watched it from start to finish, with the feeling of dread that comes over you when you feel like something has gone wrong. It just wasn’t the same. I was about 12 at the time and was wholeheartedly expecting to be so scared by the movie, that bedtimes would become a nightmare for the next couple of weeks after I’d watched it.

So why didn’t it scare me? Well, for starters, the characters are portrayed differently in the movie. Danny, quite frankly, seems like a stupid kid who wiggles his little finger around and calls it Tony. The book portrayed him as someone old for his age, however, the boy in Kubrick’s adaptation I just found irritating.


A whole chunk of backstory is cut out and we pretty much jump straight into the family’s move-in at the hotel; something about the ‘shining’ ability is explained to Danny who looks bored as hell and there seems to be no subtlety regarding Jack’s mental state, I mean, look at him!
Most of all, however, I was overly aware of the amount of silence that dominated the film. The use of wide spaces and no awful Psycho screeching in the background just didn’t seem like a horror movie to me. Maybe it was my over-expectant, 12-year-old brain, but it just wasn’t exciting and I was set on hating it for the next few years.

However, a few months ago I studied the film a little closer as part of a genre and language unit at University. I still loved the book so much, that I was willing to give the popular adaptation another shot… and I am glad I did.

True, the film got a bout of negative criticism on first release. Pauline Kael complained, asking, ‘who wants to see evil in daylight, through a wide-angled lens?’ and even King himself despised the film when it first came out, suggesting it didn’t harness the hotel’s evil. (which is the whole point of the novel).

However, I have come to realise that Kubrick’s direction was entirely deliberate. Here are just a few observations:

1) During the opening scene, we see a long shot of the Torrance families’ VW Beetle travelling up a long, winding mountain towards the Overlook Hotel while an ominous piece of music called Dies Irae is playing over the top. When I was 12, this was utterly boring; I wanted action; loud scary music and blood already being splattered across the opening credits. However, looking at it now, I realise that it is the ominous and isolated establishment of normality that is vital in setting us up for the bizarre events that are about to occur.


2) Once in the hotel, Danny takes us around the hotel on his little three-wheeled pedal bike. Like the opening scene, this is slow and silent, aside from the constant sound of Danny’s wheels. Does this seem boring? Actually, no. This one shot depicts the expanse and vastness of the Overlook Hotel. Certain points show Danny pedalling upstairs and downstairs although he doesn’t use the lift of the stairs to travel to different levels of the hotel; he is on a never-ending loop. Spooky, if you look close enough.


3) When Jack is at his typewriter during the day, we get a wide-angle shot of him sitting at his desk. It is silence, apart from the heavy keys of the typewriter echoing across the room. This isn’t your typical, close-up, dark shot, eerie horror movie. A man sitting in an empty room typing is actually terrifying. Especially when it’s Jack Nicholson’s crazed hair and eyes, frantically typing the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again. No, it’s not in the book… but it’s weird, right?

In an interview with Michel Ciment, Kubrick said: “Realism is probably the best way to dramatize argument and ideas.” Perhaps he right, by making certain scenes as mundane and realistic as possible, does this not make the supernatural all the more terrifying?

I won’t spoil the end of the film but for those of you who were as against the film as I was when I first watched it, perhaps you should look again. It is really rather good!


Check Out:  The Chickening….?




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