The King Of Scares Scores High

Preview: The Miniseries `Stephen King's The Shining' Measures Up Surprisingly Well Against The Movie.

April 26, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Can even Stephen King keep America scared for six hours?

Probably not, but he sure gives it his best shot with "Stephen King's The Shining," a three-night sweeps-month extravaganza debuting on ABC tomorrow night at 9.

A faithful adaptation of King's breakout novel (no wonder; he wrote the script), "The Shining" includes some genuinely scary moments, excellent performances, a script that touches on horrors both man-made and supernatural, and a surprisingly effective choice of weapon -- who would have thought a croquet mallet could be so dangerous?

But most amazingly, it features a performance by Steven Weber ("Wings") that compares favorably to that of the great Jack Nicholson, who played the same role in the 1980 film version directed by Stanley Kubrick. In fact, it may even be better.

Whereas Nicholson was over the top from the get-go, Weber allows his performance to grow. He starts off as just a guy getting a job; slowly, over the course of the three nights, he becomes a candidate for an exorcism. It's a characterization that allows the movie to grow on you, rather than hit you full in the face at first encounter.

Weber is Jack Torrance, a frustrated writer and recovering alcoholic who lands a job taking care of the shuttered Overlook Hotel, a magnificent, 90-year-old structure nestled amid the Colorado Rockies that closes every winter, when the roads become impassable.

So he shows up at the Overlook, along with his wife, Wendy (Rebecca De Mornay), and 7-year-old son, Danny (Courtland Mead). Wendy, too, likes the idea, especially when she's assured there won't be a drop of alcohol in sight. After some tough times, she sees the perfect opportunity for the three of them to come together again as a family.

Danny, however, is not so sure. The boy has extraordinary powers of perception (a hotel employee with similar powers calls it "shining"), and he doesn't like the Overlook at all.

Evil things have happened at the hotel: People have been murdered, suicides have been committed. "Everything bad that happened here is still here," he tells his father, "and it wants us."

Apparently, the hotel really wants Danny, but when he proves resistant to its wiles, it settles on Dad, who wants a drink so badly that his soul proves easy pickings.

De Mornay, a plus in every movie she's ever made, is wonderful as Wendy, bringing intelligence and strength to a role that was little more than a doormat when played by Shelley Duvall in the 1980 movie. Her scenes with Weber show just how strong their marriage could have been, reinforcing the tragedy of the by-the-numbers union it's become. And Mead, although his performance is essentially one-note, does fine as Danny, a boy whose powers have made him wise beyond his years.

This probably should go without saying, but director Mick Garris (who also directed "Stephen King's The Stand") is no Stanley Kubrick. Considering the mini-series' length, Garris keeps things moving at a pretty good pace, and he does a nice job making us realize that the real star of "The Shining" is the Overlook Hotel itself, from its dangerously antiquated boiler to its wasp-infested roof.

But Garris has nowhere near Kubrick's vision (who does?). You'll find no single scene here to match the pursuit through the shrubbery maze, the Big Wheel rides through the hotel or Nicholson's appearance at the door.

Which is not to say one version is superior to the other. "Stephen King's The Shining" tells a better, more complicated story, full of characters rather than caricatures. "The Shining" looks better up on the movie screen.

Now, if Kubrick could have directed King's screenplay wouldn't that have been something?

`The Shining': Split personality


Weapon of destruction:

An ax, An oversized croquet mallet

Danny's imaginary friend, Tony:

Lives inside Danny's mouth, speaks through wiggling finger and is one of the most annoying voices ever put on screen., A teen-ager who floats in the air; no problem with the voice

What the elevators do:

Bleed, Stop between floors

Best line written by Jack:

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.", Who knows? Jack's allegedly writing a play, but that plot line soon disappears

Celebrity imitation:

Ed McMahon (Heeeeere's Johnny!"), Jack gets drunk and does a bad W.C. Fields

Pub Date: 4/26/97

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