Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King (novel and teleplay)
Produced by: Stephen King
Starring: Steven Weber, Rebecca De Mornay, Courtland Mead, and Melvin Van Peebles

When I was in 8th grade, I read my first Stephen King novel: The Shining. It scared the hell out of me. The day I finished the book, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film version came to television and I couldn’t wait to sit down and watch it! When the movie ended, however, I remember the anger that I felt. This film had been nothing like the novel I’d fallen in love with. I mean, they changed practically everything! Gone were the spooky topiary animals that came to life, replaced by a hedge maze. We got an axe instead of the roque mallet. They even used a different room number than 217 for the woman in the tub! And Popeye’s Shelley Duvall as Wendy?!?! I wanted to kill her! It took many years for me to embrace Kubrick’s movie for what it was: the director’s story, not Stephen King’s. King himself was never able to accept it. In 1997, he bought back the rights to his tale and told his storyhis way: an epic, six-hour miniseries.

Writer Jack Torrance (Steven Weber) is a down on his luck alcoholic. Through a friend, he gets a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel. The hotel is high in the mountains and, when the snows come in October, the roads are impassible. Jack’s job will be to maintain the hotel through the long winter and keep an eye on its massive boiler. He also plans to use the time to finish a play that he has been working on. Jack’s wife Wendy (Rebecca De Mornay) is excited about the opportunity, but a little nervous about being cut off from civilization, and their son Danny (Courtland Mead) is frightened out of his mind. You see, Danny has the power to see things—the future, the past…the dead. When the family arrives at the closing Overlook, cook Dick Hallorann (Melvin Van Peebles) realizes the boy has this gift—something he calls “the shining.” He pulls Danny aside and explains that the boy may see things in the hotel, bad things, but that they can’t hurt him. They’re just like pictures in a book. As the snow cuts the family off from the rest of the world, however, it becomes painfully clear that these are more than mere images. The Overlook has a life of its own…and it wants Danny’s power.

King’s screenplay isn’t so much an adaptation as it is a translation. All of the memorable moments from the novel are now here and it is a joy to watch them play out. Director Mick Garris does a masterful job of bringing the eerie tone of the novel to life. In the beginning, we are treated to hints of the supernatural: a chair moves, a jukebox plays by itself, shadows frolic in the corner. But by the end of the film, we see the ghosts in all their rotting glory. Make-up Supervisor Bill Corso and his crew won a well-deserved Emmy for their work here. Their greatest achievement: the woman in room 217. When Danny pulls back the shower curtain, and we see her in all her putrid glory, it is a vision worthy of the darkest nightmare.

The cast is also top-notch, giving the characters the humanity Kubrick’s film lacked. Weber’s Jack isn’t a madman to be feared. As we see him struggle against his craving for a drink, and watch him deteriorate under the Overlook’s influence, it becomes quite tragic indeed. De Mornay’s Wendy is no mousy victim. She’s a strong-willed mother who will fight for her son’s life no matter what the cost. Van Peebles’ gives Hallorann an aged wisdom and makes the character’s affection for Danny clearly visible in his eyes. And despite his young age, Courtland Mead has to carry many scenes on his own. He gives an incredibly layered performance as Danny. We see his fear, but we also see that he’s a smart kid who knows what the Overlook is and wants to warn his parents of the danger.

While Kubrick’s film will forever be etched into the psyche of horror fans (and rightly so), this is The Shining I wanted to see back in 8th grade. The novel was written when Stephen King was still at the top of his game, and the filmmakers have done the master proud.

4 out of 5 stars