Because of its reputation as the inferior adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 psychological horror novel of the same name, I never had an interest in watching the three-part miniseries that first aired in 1997. But after attending a ghost tour at The Stanley Hotel, 142-room Colonial Revival hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, I decided to give it a shot.
The tour of the hotel included an overview of the horror author’s visit that led to his inspiration for The Shining novel. The hotel hosted the novelist and his wife in 1974 in October, when the hotel was about to close for the winter season. Because of this, Stephen and Tabitha were the hotel’s only guests in the mostly empty facility.
“I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming,” Stephen King said of his night at The Overlook. “He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of The Shining firmly set in my mind.”
When Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic based on The Shining and starring Jack Nicholson released in 1980, King was famously dissatisfied with Kubrick’s interpretation. The miniseries went into development in order to offer fans a more faithful adaptation of King’s novel. And it also offered a new opportunity to include an important feature missing from Kubrick’s original: the inspiration for the book, The Stanley Hotel.
Like the novel, The Shining miniseries focuses on Jack, whose recent bouts of alcoholism, anger, and physical abuse cost him his prestigious teaching job and strained his relationship with his wife and son. Desperate to improve himself, he agrees to never drink again and take on a winter job looking after the Overlook Hotel, a large colonial facility in the Colorado Rockies.
Jack believes that the pay from the job and the solitude that it includes would provide the ideal opportunity for him to complete his newest play and get his life back together. Meanwhile, his son discovers that he has the power of telepathy and is able to conjure his adult mentor Tony, who assists him with controlling his visions. In a classic haunted house fashion, the malevolent presence in the hotel manifests itself in ghostly voices and moving objects.
Soon Jack begins seeing and communicating with the ghosts of the previous hotel keepers– who had years ago murdered his family before committing suicide. The ghosts provide Jack with an open bar, which he succumbs to. And Jack begins losing his mind as the ghosts convince Jack to grow paranoid of his family. In this miniseries, Jack is an inherently good man with major character flaws– unlike in Kubrick’s interpretation, which paints Jack as a misogynistic asshole who displays signs of evil from the get-go.
Interestingly (and ironically), this adaptation of The Shining has been criticized for being too faithful to its source material– opposite the criticism of the Kubrick’s adaptation which critics (and Stephen King himself) decried for taking too many creative liberties from King’s novel. The result is a miniseries that takes a literal interpretation of King’s many weaving subplots and themes.
The Shining miniseries features a killer cast in the form of Steven Weber as Jack, Rebecca De Mornay as Wendy, and Courtland Mead as Danny Torrance. Weber plays Jack’s descent into madness with grace, while Mead gives a believable and adorable portrayal as the scared but heroic son. Unfortunately, horror fans who had already witnessed Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd’s frenzied performances already had unreasonably high expectations for these characters.
At released, TV Guide hailed the miniseries, giving it a 10 out of 10. Similarly, Entertainment Weekly called it “the most frightening TV movie ever made.” And it was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Limited Series category. While The Shining miniseries lacks the iconic imagery and manic performances of Kubrick’s classic, it’s a consistently creepy and enjoyable fright fest that does right by its source material.