Kubrick Left Stephen King Feeling Cold When He Wanted To Explode

Earlier this summer, Jason Kottke posted a link to a 33-minute documentary that Stanley Kubrick’s then-17 year old daughter Vivian made about the making of the Shining. Unfortunately, the Google video that Kottke linked to has now been taken down (the power of a Kottke link?), but I was able to find a similar video on LiveLeak. This one, however, features Vivian speaking over the entire thing in a retrospective commentary.

I’ve seen Kubrick’s version of The Shining but never read Stephen King’s book. Apparently, King was not a fan of Kubrick’s interpretation and alteration of his work. In fact, he told the Paris Review that he “hated” what Kubrick did:

INTERVIEWER

What did you think of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the book?

KING

Too cold. No sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever on his part. I felt that the treatment of Shelley Duvall as Wendy—I mean, talk about insulting to women. She’s basically a scream machine. There’s no sense of her involvement in the family dynamic at all. And Kubrick didn’t seem to have any idea that Jack Nicholson was playing the same motorcycle psycho that he played in all those biker films he did—Hells Angels on Wheels, The Wild Ride, The Rebel Rousers, and Easy Rider. The guy is crazy. So where is the tragedy if the guy shows up for his job interview and he’s already bonkers? No, I hated what Kubrick did with that.

INTERVIEWER

Did you work with him on the movie?

KING

No. My screenplay for The Shining became the basis for the television miniseries later on. But I doubt Kubrick ever read it before making his film. He knew what he wanted to do with the story, and he hired the novelist Diane Johnson to write a draft of the screenplay based on what he wanted to emphasize. Then he redid it himself. I was really disappointed.

It’s certainly beautiful to look at: gorgeous sets, all those Steadicam shots. 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. 

I’ve edited out the last four sentences of King’s second answer so as to avoid spoilers.

Clearly, King is partial to his own version, including the miniseries he oversaw (trailer here). And while I have no basis for comparison having only seen Kubrick’s film, I think he may be too close to the material to give Kubrick’s film its due. It’s quite possible — in fact, likely — that Kubrick’s Cadillac with no engine is deeper and scarier than the engine-having killer trucks in King’s one directorial attempt, Maximum Overdrive, which even he admits is “a stinker.” So what if it isn’t the story as King envisioned it? Movie adaptations don’t have to be faithful adaptations in order to be worthwhile adaptations.

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