King of Television: The Stephen King Miniseries, Part Two

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Alex West continues the journey through the many miniseries adapted from Stephen King, begun here.

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The Shining (1997; Dir. Mick Garris, W. Stephen King)

Network ABC, originally aired in three parts

“I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result. Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fall flat.” Stephen King made this remark in a 1983 interview with Playboy magazine just a few years after Stanley Kubrick’s horror opus had hit the screens in 1980. The Shining as both a novel and film has become one of the most singular and iconic horror stories in the modern era, however it is a story with two masters. King felt Kubrick made a cold and unfeeling film with weak characters, while his own book strove to understand and heal these damaged souls and prove that their familial love was stronger than the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel. King’s open and adamant dismissal of Kubrick’s version of The Shining has wound up being one of the most contentious and ongoing battles in pop culture (King has continued his complaints even after Kubrick’s death in 1999 and as recently as on his press tour for his sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, in 2013).

King finally got the opportunity to right the wrongs in his mind in 1997 when ABC decided to continue their horror cottage industry by allowing King a stab at his own version. King worked on adapting his own book and the excitement around it was so great that the first draft he produced went straight into production, with no changes required from ABC. Like the book, the miniseries spends more time with Jack (played by Wings star Steven Weber), Wendy (Rebecca De Mornay) and Danny (Courtland Mead) before they enter the haunted Overlook Hotel for the winter; Danny’s psychic abilities are far more pronounced (coming in really handy when it comes to exposition); Jack’s struggle with alcoholism is explored more in depth; when Jack succumbs to the ghosts he chases his family with a croquet mallet rather than an axe; and, in the climax of the film, the hedge animals begin to come alive in ’97 CGI glory rather than a chase in the hotel’s maze. ABC happily produced the miniseries but provided one condition to King, that he not badmouth Kubrick’s version in the promotion of the miniseries in hopes of creating two separate adaptations of the book, rather than outright claiming that one was superior to the other.

The miniseries does present a single moment outside of the novel and outside of Kubrick’s adaptation: it offers Jack a moment of redemption. The boiler which is central to the plot of the novel and miniseries explodes in the book taking Jack with it, while Danny and Wendy escape. In the miniseries, Jack decides to die with the hotel and lovingly apologizes to Danny. While King has maintained that adaptations of anyone’s work can be successful if they play fairly within the world created by the author, King manages to do himself a disservice by diminishing everything that was built up in the miniseries before it by offering the cliché that love conquers all. All the ghosts, demons and terror of the Overlook Hotel can be defeated if a father loves his son enough. For both the successes and faults of the miniseries, this maudlin finish undermines it all.

Like the rest of King’s miniseries, The Shining performed well over its three hours, and went on to win two Emmys. King still seems pleased with his adaptation and it did explore many of the themes and scenes that Kubrick (ahem) axed from his version. While it may be a purer adaptation of King’s masterpiece, the miniseries feels more like an exercise for King himself, rather than the audience.

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Storm of the Century (1999; Dir. Craig R. Baxley, W. Stephen King)

Network ABC, originally aired in three parts

Both ABC and King returned to the themes of cold and isolation with the 1999 miniseries, Storm of the Century. This is the first Stephen King miniseries which the author specifically penned for the small screen. Storm of the Century centers around an inbound storm and a small island community off the coast of Maine. A mysterious man named André Linoge (Colm Feore) arrives on the island as the storm descends. He knows the dark secrets of all the inhabitants of the island and keeps telling them, “Give me what I want, and I’ll go away.” Mike Anderson (Tim Daly) is the defacto leader of the town and attempts to take on Linoge, but winds up paying the greatest price.

Storm of the Century played on familiar King tropes of a small community trapped by a supernatural force. This time, as the storm bears down, the community is forced to wrestle with a moral dilemma. Set on Little Tall Island which is also the setting for King’s novel Dolores Claiborne, Storm of the Century becomes a standoff between the erudite Linoge and the everyman of the island, Mike. King pit the values of small-town Maine against the worldly evil of Linoge. It’s a throwback atmosphere of simple good against evil, with little nuance, dating the series almost instantly.

Storm of the Century marks the second time a lead from the television show Wings (which aired on NBC) stars in a Stephen King miniseries. Tim Daly was originally approached to play Jack Torrance in The Shining miniseries, but was unable to commit due to scheduling and suggested Steven Weber for the part. King, maintaining his control over these series due to their continued success approached Daly again for Storm of the Century. Though Storm of the Century yields some nice mentions of the King universe and creates genuine suspense around Linoge and his requests, the moral dilemma feels to preachy in its philosophical conclusions to be truly revelatory. 

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