I read somewhere that the made-for-TV version of The Shining was pretty good. Pretty good, with the coveat that it obviously doesn’t compare to Kubrick’s The Shining. Of course, that would be an unfair comparison. Kubrick’s film is a classic slow-burn horror film that relies heavily on character development and atmosphere to build dread to frenzied heights at its climax. The performances in that film are pitch perfect (by all accounts, a brutal experience for Shelley Duvall) with Jack Nicholson turning in a bonkers (in a good way) turn as the hotel caretaker slowly descending into madness. The TV mini-series features… that guy from “Wings”? I’m kidding (even though that’s true). Rebecca De Mornay is in it! So, let’s get into it.
Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic with a history of violence and anger issues. He’s taken a job as off-season caretaker at The Overlook Hotel, a grand old place in the mountains. He hopes to use the time there with just his wife and psychic son, Danny, to stay sober and to write a play he hopes will bring him back from academic disgrace (he beat up a student). When the family arrives, Danny, meets a magical black man trope (Mario Van Peebles) who’s also psychic. This guy calls the ability “the shining” (just like the title!) and tells Danny that the hotel shines too. And bad stuff happened there. And it can’t really hurt you if you don’t let it get in your head. Well, the hotel gets in Jack’s head pretty disastrously. Then things go south (metaphorically) for the family.
Tackling and adaptation of “The Shining” is a tall order for a director. But frequent Stephen King collaborator, Mick Garris must have felt up to the task. After all, King himself was adapting the novel for the screen and Garris was no stranger to made-for-TV King adaptations. Despite knowing that this was a more direct interpretation than Kubrick’s, I couldn’t help comparing the two films. (Garris MUST have expected that, right?) Especially, since Kubrick’s helicopter tracking shot of the VW Beetle driving through the mountains was reproduced here almost exactly. So, I’ll start with that comparison – Kubrick’s versions is infinitely better than this one. Now, on to specifics. This made-for-TV clunker is 4.5 hours long. FOUR AND A HALF HOURS LONG! I understand that this was a “television event” back in 1997, but as a stand-alone, it is bloated to say the least. The practical visual effects are quite good. Unfortunately, the CG effects are terrible. (i know it was 1997, but those animated topiaries are just god-awful) And the problems don’t end there. Steven Weber’s performance as Jack is abysmally uneven. He shines (shines! get it?) as off-the-rails Jack, but when engaged in simple conversations with other characters, he delivers lines like he’s practicing by himself in his bedroom. You get the sense that he’s going to repeat lines over and over while changing the delivery slightly. (think Kramer talking about pretzels) Weber is not the only problem. (Elliott Gould hams up a weird caricature of a stuffy manager too) The dialogue in general is less than stellar, with some cringe-worthy dialogue throughout the film. For example, the family uses a call-and-response, “kissin’ kissin’” and “is what I’ve been missin’” when they kiss each other. This is cloying and cutesy on its own, but it especially DOES NOT work when it’s employed for romantic kisses between husband and wife AS WELL AS paternal kisses between father and 6-year-old son. It’s disturbing. (and not in a good way) This particular bit of weirdness is used at the film’s climax in such a cheesy way that it borders on parody. It’s hard to believe that anyone responsible for this mess saw that scene (and many others) and thought it was anything but horrible writing (sorry, Mr. King) and ham-fisted filmmaking.
The Final Cut: On its own, The Shining (1997) is a way-too-long bore with uneven performances and weak scripting (King can definitely do better). Compared to Kubrick’s film, it’s diarrhea.