The Shining (1997) — Have we been Overlooking this one?

“Hello, Danny. I’ve been waiting for you. We’ve all been waiting for you.”

Justin’s rating: The Treehouse of Horror version may be the absolute best, though

Justin’s review: When a film adaptation of a best-selling novel ends up being perhaps more famous than the book it was based on and so well-respected that it ends up on “best of” lists for decades after, you would reasonably think that this effort would be the end of it. Perfection achieved, or at least as near to it as is possible. So why would you ever want a re-do?

It’s simple. You absolutely wouldn’t… unless you were Stephen King, you harbored a long-standing grudge that Stanley Kubrick didn’t do your haunted hotel story justice, and you had the clout to get another version made. So in 1997 — as was the style of the times — a new King miniseries rolled out on TV over three nights that attempted to do The Shining the way the author always intended.

Apparently, the way the author intended was “goofy and sloppy,” because the 1997 The Shining got absolutely buried and forgotten in the years following and Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining is still a Halloween night staple.

Seriously, I had the hardest time finding a copy of this miniseries to watch and review, eventually debasing myself to buying a used copy from some third-party reseller who was no doubt laughing at my upcoming misfortune.

I swear, the Stephen King miniseries are a genre unto themselves. Apart from The Stand and IT, they were usually marathons of tedium. And as much as I wanted to bag this one for the site, its 273-minute running time was pretty daunting to approach.

If you’re unfamiliar with this setup, The Shining takes a small family and intentionally strands them as caretakers of a Colorado hotel over a long winter. Reformed alcoholic Jack Torrance (Wings’ Stephen Webber) is hoping that the season will cement his rehabilitation and let him write a great play, wife Wendy (Rebecca De Mornay) is hoping to patch up their shaky marriage, and son Danny (Courtland Mead) is hoping to annoy all of us watching this. In this last, at least, he’s successful.

It turns out that if you’re on the wagon, holing up in a quite thoroughly haunted hotel isn’t the best way to stay high and dry. Especially since the spirits see Jack as a weak link to exploit for their amusement and vague purposes. Jack, in turn, becomes obsessed with the hotel’s history in a sort of substitute for drinking to excess. This all gradually spirals into Bad Times for the Torrences, and it’s only Stephen King’s patented “kid with psychic superpowers” that has any chance of thwarting the evil.

Enough of the plot, because we all know it. What you’ll want to ask before following in my footsteps to subject yourself to 273 minutes is whether or not its entertaining in its own right. It’s a tricky question to answer, because some of the hate for this miniseries is very deserved, and some of it misses the genuinely good qualities on display.

The longer burn of the miniseries gives the team as much space as it wants to include every jot and tittle from the book. If you’re the type of novel reader who yearns for completely faithful adaptations, then the miniseries vs. the movie makes for a good case study in approaches. The 1997 version includes, for better and for worse, almost everything in King’s book — even if it doesn’t come off as well on screen as it does on page (sinister topiary animals, I’m looking at you).

But it is long. And it is plodding. And whatever genuinely creepy atmosphere that The Shining builds up, it usually vents it in the next scene with a blast of bad CGI, a shot of a door closing on its own, or a musical sting followed by a commercial break. Sometimes the tension is cut simply by the movie running out of things to show us at the moment so it spins its wheels with yet another bout of characters explaining stuff we already know.

Weber is remarkably solid and sympathetic as a slipping alcoholic, but it’s unfortunate that Jack Torrance and Dick Halloraan (Melvin Van Peebles) are the beginning and end of good character acting. De Mornay does a remarkable turn as a bland wallflower, and the little kid’s constantly gaping expression makes you want to root around for some superglue to attach top and bottom lips together. The worst acting award, however, goes to the Overlook for all of its extreme cheeseball tactics. It’s trying so hard to be sinister by checking every box of the standard haunted house trope list that this miniseries could easily be a bingo sheet.

I guess this right here is a wise choice if, for some reason, you wanted to see the ’80 Shining but were scared of being scared by it. Trust me, you’re not going to be even mildly perturbed by floating teenagers, cash registers dinging on their own, and Elliot Gould’s face morphing into a monster.

Yet before I, too, am accused of sneering at this miniseries, I’ll close by admitting that I can see why some have come to champion it in recent years. There’s something eminently watchable about The Shining in how it unfolds much like a novel, and even with the long runtime, I didn’t mind taking this one to the very end.

Didja notice?

  • That boiler is one loaded Chekov’s Gun
  • “No ghosts. Not here.”
  • Denver croquet
  • Elliot Gould gets the most stilted exposition
  • Gobs of exposition on the drive up
  • Uh, director? Stuff just moving around by itself is never scary.
  • Evil morphing!
  • The vertigo show
  • It’s an hour — one HOUR — before the Torrances are left along in the Overlook
  • Sticking your hand in a wasp nest is a great idea
  • “Hot butt” is not what I want to hear in this context
  • Night ghosts like to put on a light and sound show
  • do you wanna build a snoooowman?
  • With all the work Danny puts into going into Room 217, he deserves every last bad thing coming to him in there
  • When evil topiary attacks
  • Yeah, just go ahead and destroy your only communication with the outside
  • OK, the Room 217 ghost is really well done
  • “Looks like someone got their fuses blown anyway!”
  • Stephen King as the conductor
  • A battle to the death, and you’re wearing the fluffiest of slippers
  • Hey, it’s Sam Raimi!
  • This blizzard isn’t very consistent, is it?
  • Guy gets a traumatic back injury? Better flip him over and wrench his neck for a while!
  • Danny’s amazing ski hat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s