Retro Review: The Shining (1977)

Ah, see. Mm-hmm. This.

The Shining is–let’s be clear about this up front–a brilliant novel. It’s so much–SO MUCH–better than Kubrick’s film that I’m genuinely surprised that the latter became the huge giant obsessive cult whatever that it did.

To be fair, yes, King’s original story does have more than a bit of the surreal time-bendingness that so characterized Kubrick’s adaptation. And there is a guy in a dog suit, though we’re never treated to a view of him mid-fellatio as we are in Kubrick’s version. But King has subtlety, and he has emotion, and so much of his story unfolds in the minds of the three main characters–especially Danny, the clairvoyant little boy who is arguably the protagonist–that the film actually seems almost incomplete by comparison.

The bones of the story, of course, are basically the same as in the film: the Torrance family moves to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, where daddy Jack has taken a winter job as caretaker. Jack is a mostly-recovered alcoholic, he writes, he has a violent temper, he broke his son Danny’s arm one time; he’s a freakin’ mess. Danny is telepathic and he speaks to an “imaginary” (totally real) friend named Tony, but he does not wiggle his finger and speak in a needlessly annoying squeak when he does so. Wendy, who shares much of the protagonist spotlight with Danny, is a character. Like, she has feelings, and also thoughts, and she does a great deal more than run and scream.

There are a significant number of other plot points that are different or missing altogether in the film, to its detriment. First and foremost–and this is a major spoiler–Dick Halloran, the telepathic chef who tells Danny about the “shining” and is far and away the most likable character in the novel, does not die. This is super important. We also learn who Tony actually is. There are no spooky twin girls or big-wheels, no blood elevators; there are several large and important scenes involving the topiary animals outside the Overlook coming to life and trying to kill people. (Only Stephen King could make a freaking shrubbery frightening.) The ghost woman in Room 217 is far more important in the novel than she is in the film, though Jack definitely does not make out with her. Finally, the novel contains a whole slew of flashbacks that reveal how the characters came to this point, primarily involving Jack’s descent from promising writer to hopeless, violent drunk, which round out the character nicely.

These flashbacks, along with the characters’ inner monologues in the book’s present, are completely absent from the film. The result is that, in the film, the characters are barely characters at all. In the novel, Jack isn’t just an abusive drunk: he’s a guy with hopes and plans who sincerely wants to be redeemed but can’t get over the deep suspicion that the world has deliberately screwed him over. Wendy is a woman who deeply loves her family and has to reconcile that deep love with the growing conviction that her husband, despite quitting the drink, is actually sinking deeper and deeper into a dark and dangerous place. Danny is a precocious little boy with a frightening ability–he reads minds, he sees ghosts, he shines, as Halloran puts it–and his struggles to make sense of the dark realities it reveals border on tragic. He’s just five years old, and when he reads people’s thoughts–especially his parents’–he doesn’t necessarily understand the words and images which are revealed. All of this comes through to the reader in narration, from the point of view of each of the characters (Hallorann gets a fair bit of time, too). None of that critical narration–not one drop–is expressed in Kubrick’s film.

The point is, there’s depth here. In my Pet Sematary review I linked to King’s own criticisms, via Salon, of the film version of The Shining. In that article King highlights how “cold” Kubrick’s adaptation is, how Jack Torrance is too whacked-out from the beginning, how Wendy is a victim instead of a hero; and naturally enough, King is absolutely right. These are people, and if they’re likable or hateable, they earn it.

Some of the monologues are a bit stilted and artificial, but given the situations they address, this is understandable. It’s not super scary, but it actually does have a few genuinely creepy moments, like the first appearance of the woman in 217, or the time Danny, playing outside by himself, crawls into an old cement pipe and discovers that there’s something very unpleasant in there. Anyway, whatever flaws it has are minor. The book is very, very god.

4andaHalfScoops

Dracula Untold (2014)

Okay, I’ve linked to this before, but check this out. This is the trailer for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Note the over-the-top action, etc. etc. etc.

Now behold Dracula: Untold:

I’ve also pointed out the similarities here before, but having just seen the film I’m struck again by how easily it could slip into the current Castlevania mythos. Much of the elements are there already, and the plot could actually be seen as a halfway point between the original Castlevania storyline and the Lords of Shadow reboot.

None of this is necessarily bad. I love Castlevania. I just think the resemblance is uncanny, to the extent that I wonder if the filmmakers behind Dracula: Untold are fans of Konami’s venerable series.

In the film, Luke Evans is Vlad the Impaler, the prince of Transylvania–which of course doesn’t quite make sense. The historical Vlad was the prince of Wallachia, but it doesn’t matter because vampires. Vlad, who in the film was raised as a soldier by the Ottoman Turks and later returned to rule his homeland and totally not at all plot his revenge, finds himself placed in the awkward position of having to tell the Sultan that the Sultan cannot have what the Sultan wants. And what the Sultan wants is 1,000 boys to bolster the ranks of his army, including Vlad’s own son. So, you know, that’s not something Vlad supports. So there’s some grunting and some posing and Vlad kills some Turks, which is bad because of course this means WAR.

But wait, before that, Vlad and some of his soldiers discovered that there’s a vampire who lives up in the mountains. It happened at the beginning, we already knew about it, so it is not a deus ex machina, guys, okay. Jeeze.

So Vlad decides to make a deal with the devil. Or actually, he decides to make a deal with the guy who made a deal with the devil, and he gets some cool batsy powers out of it, but has thereafter to sip the most dangerous wine. Which is blood. Or, well, he will, if he can’t go three days without feeding on somebody–at which point the “Master Vampire” will be free to roam the earth again, and he, Vlad, will become a full-fledged vampire. GUESS WHAT HAPPENS.

There’s not a great deal more to it than that, I’m afraid. The plot is quite thin, mostly an excuse to string together cool action sequences and angsty posturing. But actually–and I’m as surprised as you by this–it all kind of works. At least, it does if you’re already invested in the Castlevania brand of Dracula shenanigans. Which I am.

DraculaUntold1

*Stare* *Frown*

Evans is actually a good choice for Dracula in the Casltevania vein–if they ever did a serious film version of the games, he would be a natural choice. He manages the stoic, tragic hero bit fairly well (not that there’s much substance to the role), and he pulls off the action scenes as convincingly as could be hoped in such a CGI-heavy film. The only thing he’s lacking is the facial hair.

*STARE* *FROWN*

*STARE* *FROWN* *BEARD*

Let’s be clear here: this is a ridiculous movie. It is, like most mainstream studio films, cinematic junk food. But it does vampires in a way that few recent films (or any media) have, namely, in the Castlevania way, which I like. In case you hadn’t heard. The script is fairly weak throughout, with lots of anachronistic English-accented dialogue and heaving bosoms courtesy of female lead Sarah Gadon, but everybody does their best with it, and it comes together as a fun, if shallow, action film with a few hints of darker stuff beneath the glitzy surface. The darkness, by the way, is mostly courtesy of Charles Dance as the “Master Vampire,” the conveniently local elder monster who gives Dracula his powers in the first place.

I feel like I want to give it a solid three scoops out of five, but for the sake of consistency with my other reviews, I’m knocking it down to 2.5. Because, again, Dracula Untold is not really a good movie by any stretch. But it’s entertaining, and that should be worth something. If you’re in the mood for a slick, insubstantial romp with some cool vampire imagery, this is the way to go.

2andahalfscoops