Stephen King says Doctor Sleep film 'redeems' Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
Stephen King famously doesn't care for director Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of his classic horror novel The Shining, about a family threatened by supernatural spirits — and the father's own addiction issues — at the remote Overlook Hotel. In an interview with The Paris Review, the writer once described Kubrick as having "no sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever" and declared that he "hated" the result. "It's certainly beautiful to look at: gorgeous sets, all those Steadicam shots," King continued. "I used to call it a Cadillac with no engine in it. You can't do anything with it except admire it as sculpture. You've taken away its primary purpose, which is to tell a story. The basic difference that tells you all you need to know is the ending. Near the end of the novel, Jack Torrance tells his son that he loves him, and then he blows up with the hotel. It's a very passionate climax. In Kubrick's movie, he freezes to death."
When King wrote a Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, a few years back, he deliberately set it in a world where the Overlook Hotel was destroyed. So how did writer-director Mike Flanagan convince King that his adaptation of Doctor Sleep (out Nov. 8) should also be a sequel to Kubrick's film and that a hefty chunk of the movie should be set at a still extant Overlook?
"I said, 'Look, I'm a King fanatic, I have been since I'm a kid, you are my hero, but when I read Doctor Sleep, all the images in my head were Kubrick's images,'" says the filmmaker, whose other credits include the TV show The Haunting of Hill House and a previous King adaptation, 2017's Gerald's Game. "The Shining is so ubiquitous and has burned itself into the collective imagination of people who love cinema in a way that so few movies have. There's no other language to tell that story in. If you say 'Overlook Hotel,' I see something. It lives right up in my brain because of Stanley Kubrick. You can't pretend that isn't the case. He was reluctant. And then I said, 'Well, let me tell you how I would approach it.' I pitched him one scene inside the Overlook. I said, 'The rest of the story, I'm going to try and stay as faithful as I possibly can, but the final fight will take place — instead of on the grounds that used to be the Overlook — it's actually inside the space. I pitched him one scene, and then he thought about it, and he came back, and said, 'Okay, then go ahead.'"
King himself says he was won over by both Flanagan's track record and his screenplay for the movie.
"I read the script to this one very, very carefully," the writer tells EW. "Because obviously I wanted to do a good job with the sequel, because people knew the book The Shining, and I thought, I don't want to screw this up. Mike Flanagan, I've enjoyed all his movies, and I've worked with him before on Gerald's Game. So, I read the script very, very carefully and I said to myself, 'Everything that I ever disliked about the Kubrick version of The Shining is redeemed for me here."
Flanagan recalls that, once he gave his blessing to the script, King kept a distance from the project.
"After he's exercised his approvals, he backs off, and he does it very intentionally," says the director. "He says, 'The book is the book and I want the movie to be yours. I don't want to interfere.' But you know that, as soon as it's done, he's going to see it, and you know, because of what happened with The Shining, if he doesn't like what you do, he's not going to be shy. So, there's this huge fear. Even though he's not over your shoulder, there's this sense every day that, yeah, he's going to see the movie. Just as a fan, I didn't know if I was going to recover if he watched the film and felt the way he felt about The Shining."
Fortunately for Flanagan, King did enjoy Doctor Sleep, which he watched in the company of the filmmaker.
"This was really cool," says the director. "I finished the movie, I brought the film to Bangor, [Maine, where King lives], and I showed him Doctor Sleep. I sat with him in an empty theater and watched the movie with him. I spent the whole movie trying not to throw up, and staring at my own foot, and kind of overanalyzing every single noise he made next to me. The film ended, and the credits came up, and he leaned over and he put his hand on my shoulder, and he said, 'You did a beautiful job.' And then I just died. The rest of the day we talked a lot about Kubrick, we talked a lot about his other adaptations, we talked a lot about modern politics and Trump and about the state of the world, and we talked about shows on Netflix we liked, and we just talked. He was like, 'Having watched this film it actually warms my feelings up towards the Kubrick film.' That's when I really kind of freaked out. The whole goal from the beginning was to inch those two back together in any way, to reconcile that gulf of distance between the Kubrick Shining and the King Shining. If there was ever a way to do that, even a little, that was what I wanted as a fan."
"I don't want to get into a big argument about how great the Shining film is that Kubrick did or my feelings about it," says King. "All I can say is, Mike took my material, he created a terrific story, people who have seen this movie flip for it, and I flipped for it, too. Because he managed to take my novel of Doctor Sleep, the sequel, and somehow weld it seamlessly to the Kubrick version of The Shining, the movie. So, yeah, I liked it a lot."