Despite those who consider Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” to be a cinematic classic, Stephen King has never been shy about expressing his dislike of the 1980 horror hit based on his bestselling novel.
“I used to call it a Cadillac with no engine in it,” said King of Kubrick’s film in a 2006 interview with The Paris Review. “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 Hollywood came calling to adapt King’s Shining sequel Doctor Sleep for the screen, the 72-year-old author exercised an extra degree of caution to ensure everything was done right.
As it happened, King had a certain level of comfort with the director hired for “Doctor Sleep”, Mike Flanagan, who directed the Netflix movie based on his book Gerald’s Game.
“I read the script to this one very, very carefully,” King tells Entertainment Weekly. “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.”
According to Flanagan, once King signed off on the script, he took a distinctly hands-off approach.
“After he’s exercised his approvals, he backs off, and he does it very intentionally,” Flanagan explained. “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’.”
Flanagan was understandably on edge when he screened “Doctor Sleep” — in which Ewan McGregor plays now-grown Danny Torrance — for King, but admits the experience ended up being “really cool.”
“I sat with him in an empty theatre and watched the movie with him,” says Flanagan. “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.”
Adds King: “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. 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.”