Stephen King didn’t care for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of his novel The Shining, so he decided to write his own adaptation 17 years later. This version is more faithful to the book — six hours (with commercials) of lugubrious, slavish faithfulness. Six hours? Shit, wasn’t The Stand eight hours? And that book was, like, fifty times as long as The Shining. How could they get three nights’ worth of story out of an average-length novel? They couldn’t; the damn thing dawdles like Scatman Crothers coming to the rescue in the Kubrick film.
ABC gave carte blanche to King, though, because The Stand had been a ratings bonanza. That’s also why that miniseries’ director, Mick Garris, was asked back for this one. Naturally, the question arises: How does the Garris version compare with the Kubrick version? You mean aside from being pretty well unmemorable and bereft of fright? Well, Steven Weber makes a more naturalistic, likable, and human Jack Torrance than Jack Nicholson did, and Rebecca De Mornay turns in a much stronger and warmer Wendy than Shelley Duvall was allowed to contribute. The scenes in the book wherein we’re supposed to sense love between the Torrances — the better to mourn that love when it’s challenged later — are enacted far better here than they ever were under Kubrick, who had other things on his mind.
Lest I be impugned for saying the guy from Wings gives a better performance than Jack Nicholson, I’m not; I’m saying Weber’s Jack Torrance is closer to the novel’s Jack Torrance. Given this to work with, Weber makes us care; and therefore, when Jack begins to lose his shit, Weber is able to dig into a disturbing and saddening downward spiral. Nicholson’s performance, highly entertaining and iconic on its own, was stylized from the get-go and offered little or no contrast between Sane Jack and Axe-Swinging Jack.
There’s nothing in the Garris version to top the peerlessly bone-chilling “Come and play with us, Danny” bit in the Kubrick film. Doesn’t even come close; hardly even tries. There are many, many cameos to tickle horror fans, though, including King himself. And if Weber and De Mornay make a more credible book-Jack and book-Wendy, the others in the new cast falter. Courtland Mead, who plays Danny this time, is more outgoing and verbal than Kubrick’s Danny, and is also borderline annoying. I prefer Danny Lloyd’s grave, near-catatonic performance in the original. And Melvin Van Peebles as Halloran doesn’t make us forget Scatman Crothers, who had a genuine, unforced warmth that the one-time director of Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song can’t duplicate.
ABC’s reward for springing for this miniseries was relatively low ratings, plus a gag order on King preventing him from dissing the Kubrick film in promotional interviews for the miniseries. It’s believed that Kubrick (and by extension, I presume, the Kubrick estate) did not care for the idea of The Shining being done again, and that this may be why the miniseries took so long to see a home-video release in the U.S. Shining ’97 is best seen — if seen at all — as a curiosity, an alternate-universe take wherein bad old Stan never existed and good ol’ Steve was allowed to adapt his novel exactingly. But it’s not a Shining you’re likely to watch more than once.