They may have been masters of their craft, but it’s safe to say Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King didn’t exactly see eye to eye when it came to The Shining. However, among all the thinly-veiled digs at one another over the years, Kubrick did praise King’s work… just the once, mind you.
The idea of Stanley Kubrick, one of the best directors in the history of cinema, taking on Stephen King’s The Shining, one of the best horror novels ever written, should have been a match made in heaven. The end result is, in my opinion, one of the best movies of all time, though it’s rather different to the source material.
Contrary to popular belief, Kubrick didn’t necessarily deviate from King’s original novel because he disliked it. In fact, when discussing the story with Michael Ciment he said The Shining “seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural.”
“[It] leads you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological: ‘Jack must be imagining these things because he’s crazy.’ This allowed you to suspend your doubt of the supernatural until you were so thoroughly into the story, you could accept it almost without noticing,” Kubrick added.
That is a very accurate assessment of the book version of The Shining, and you can absolutely see that Kubrick wanted to carry that concept into his epic horror movie, too. The similarities between the film and the book are fairly sparse, however, with Kubrick deciding to make some pretty hefty creative changes.
For instance, the novel involves a bunch of hedge animals that come to life and add to Jack Torrance’s misery, but they are absent from Kubrick’s movie – which is probably for the best, given the technology at the time was way off what was needed to make those work on screen convincingly. Kubrick also drastically altered Wendy Torrance’s character — and put Shelley Duvall through the ringer in the process — which is one of the main sources of criticism you can level at the film, for the way it approaches Jack’s wife from a rather misogynistic interpretation.
The Shining could have been very different, had Kubrick decided to work with King’s screenplay. In David Hughes’ book, The Complete Kubrick, it’s said King was given a pass at the script, but Kubrick flat out rejected it without even reading. The filmmaker even labelled King’s writing as “weak,” which seems more than a little unfair, given he didn’t even look at the script.
Clearly, whether Kubrick was a fan of the original book or not, he was not willing to collaborate with King on the movie. The friction may even have bled into the final picture, with one not-so-subtle detail hinting at Kubrick’s desire to kill King’s darlings. In the book, Jack Torrance drove a red Volkswagen Beetle, but in the film, his car was changed to yellow at the behest of Kubrick. While that may seem innocuous enough, the fact that a red Volkswagen Beetle car is seen crushed under an 18-wheeler truck in the film says more than words ever could.
My assessment is, both Kubrick and King are very big personalities with grand ideas and unique visions for how a story should be told. Sadly, that was never likely to lead to an amiable working relationship. But ultimately, we were the winners, as we got an amazing novel and a different, but equally incredible movie, too. You can read all about my admiration of Kubrick in this feature, where I suggest he completed the art of filmmaking.
For more spooky stories, check out our list of the best ghost movies or the best slasher movies. You might also want to dive into The Loadout’s list of the best horror games if you really want to feel those scares firsthand. Alternatively, look forward instead of back, and get excited about new movies like Deadpool 3, which is sure to make a killing at the box office.