Stephen King is a 6’3” vision in white, walking down a dark hallway in Colorado’s Stanley Hotel, singing ”Stayin’ Alive” in a Bee Gee-esque falsetto. He’s wearing a vintage white tux for his cameo as an orchestra leader in the upcoming ABC TV miniseries (three parts, six hours, beginning April 27) of his 1977 best-seller, The Shining. The accompanying disco moves are pure King, as is the enthusiastic tush shaking when the author takes the stage to lead a ghostly band in ”Moonlight Magic.” ”He’s shameless,” says director Mick Garris. ”Thank God.”
The zillion-selling King, who serves as executive producer for this $23 million production, is conducting in the grand ballroom of the 88-year-old hotel — the same room where, 23 years earlier, while dining with his wife, Tabitha (”We were the last couple and the band was playing ‘Moonlight Serenade”’), he had the flash of inspiration that would become The Shining. The book — total sales 4 million and counting — eventually morphed into that other movie, the 1980 thriller that starred Jack Nicholson in possibly his most infamous role, and an adaptation that King must resist trashing. ”I have to keep my mouth shut entirely about Stanley Kubrick’s version,” says the author, explaining one of the stipulations in buying back the film rights.
”That was a Kubrick film, this is a King book,” says Garris (Sleepwalkers) diplomatically. And with five other hit miniseries to King’s credit (including 1994’s The Stand, which helped ABC win its first May sweeps in a decade, and 1995’s The Langoliers, which averaged 31 million viewers a night), the author was finally able to do it his way: a 70-day shooting schedule, a $1.4 million special-effects tab, and a 323(!)-page script that stays true to his tale of a couple, Jack and Wendy Torrance (Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay), and their psychic son Danny’s (Courtland Mead) lonely winter in a haunted hotel.
Shining fanatics will tell you that Kubrick’s version — while thrilling and brilliantly directed — bears only a faint resemblance to what, for many, is King’s masterpiece. Scenes integral to the plot were ignored or changed by the film, like substituting a maze for the hotel’s predatory topiary animals. Boyd Shermis, who designed the miniseries’ visual special effects, masterfully brought three of the dozen leafy creatures to life through computer wizardry. ”They couldn’t do them in the [Kubrick] version for technical reasons,” says Shermis. Each animal cost $60,000 to build; the three that were animated took another $20,000 per second. Other pricey effects included a menacing fire hose ($30,000), vaporizing ghosts ($12,000 each), and snow — the production spent over $100,000 making the white stuff on the ground, and close to $100,000 adding snowfall through computer graphics.
The central problem with Kubrick’s version, of course, is that Jack Torrance is unsympathetic. ”After I read for the part, I looked up at King and said, ‘This is tragic,”’ says Weber. ”And he said, ‘Yeah, he’s a nice guy.’ That sentence is the seed of the whole story.” While the actor — familiar to TV viewers as Brian Hackett in the NBC sitcom Wings — might seem an odd choice for the deeply tormented Jack, ”he was the best of everybody who read. I think a lot of actors felt the shadow of Nicholson over them,” says King, who dismisses that actor’s psycho-from-the-get-go take. Says Weber, ”Maybe [Nicholson’s performance] should have hung over me, but it didn’t.”