The Shining Movie vs. the Miniseries: Comparing the Stephen King Book Adaptations

The film based on Stephen King’s classic novel is considered a horror masterpiece. The miniseries…not so much. How do they compare?

The Shining
Photo: ABC, Warner Bros./Getty Images

When it was announced in 1978 that legendary director Stanley Kubrick was adapting Stephen King’s third novel, The Shining, for the big screen, interest in the project immediately skyrocketed. The book, in which an alcoholic writer and his family (including his psychically gifted son), are tormented by supernatural forces in a snowbound hotel was considered a horror masterpiece almost as soon as it was published. King’s career was taking off like a rocket. The success of The Shining and his two previous novels, Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot (as well as the hit movie version of Carrie), had crowned the young author the “king of horror.” To have Kubrick, one of the most renowned filmmakers in the world, tackle his latest book–and with Jack Nicholson, one of Hollywood’s most popular actors, set to star–was extraordinary.

Kubrick’s The Shining came out in 1980 but was met, at least initially, with mixed reviews. However, the harshest criticism perhaps came from King himself. While critics took the movie to task for being too slow, too ambiguous, and lacking in scares, King was upset at the many ways in which the movie deviated from his text and was particularly disappointed in the casting of Nicholson, arguing that viewers would identify him as insane from the start. By contrast, the character of Jack Torrance in the book is a sympathetic character who gradually descends into madness. Since then, Kubrick’s The Shining has been reappraised, with many critics considering it one of the greatest horror films of all time. But King’s displeasure with the film never wavered. He wrote years later, “Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fall flat… Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of the Overlook Hotel.” That’s why, after King had partnered with ABC for two successful miniseries based on his novels It and The Stand, he told the network that he wanted to do his own version of The Shining next. ABC agreed.

Adapted and produced by King, and directed by Mick Garris–the same team that made The Stand–the three-part and (with commercials) six hours The Shining premiered on ABC in late April 1997, starring Steven Weber as Jack Torrance, Rebecca DeMornay as his wife Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall in the movie), and Courtland Mead as their son Danny (Danny Lloyd in the film). It was a ratings and critical hit, with some preferring it to the Kubrick film. Decades later, how do the two compare?

Which version is more faithful to the novel?

While both the film and the miniseries preserve the bones of the novel–the Torrances are snowed in at the Overlook as mayhem ensues–Kubrick makes many changes, both tossing incidents from the book and dreaming up his own, while also making some critical choices. The miniseries is far more faithful to the book, at times almost beat for beat, which on one hand is fun for hardcore fans but on the other hand serves as a warning that being slavishly faithful to the text doesn’t always work on the screen.


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