The Doctor Is In

My friend, Ellen, was visiting this weekend and we went to see Dr. Sleep yesterday. For those of you that don’t know, Dr. Sleep (2013) is Stephen King’s follow-up novel to his earlier work, The Shining (1977). Mike Flanagan has turned the book into a feature film starring Ewan McGregor.

What you may not know is… Stephen King hates the 1980 film version of The Shining by Stanley Kubrick so much that he has gone on record in various mediums declaring so… saying things like, “it’s a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine in it,” and “Stanley set out to make a film that hurts people.”

But film lovers and King devotees like me often separate the two.  Kubrick’s version of The Shining is monumental, a beautiful work of art that layers the dread frame by creeping frame. Yes, it is different from the book…but so are many other film adaptations of novels.

With Dr. Sleep, Mike Flanagan—also an admirer of both works—mounted a quest almost as daunting as that of Roland in King’s Dark Tower saga: to adapt the novel Dr. Sleep AND make a sequel to Kubrick’s film… with approval from King and the Kubrick estate.

Wait a minute, shouted the masses. How are you gonna do that? There are vast differences between the two. Halloran lives in the book, dies in the movie. The hotel blows up in the book but remains standing in the film. How are you going to make this work for both team King and team Kubrick?

Well…. he does. And he does it so well that it’s mind-boggling. I won’t give away his tricks, because that’s a large part of what makes the movie so great. But I will say that the hotel is still in it, beloved characters are brought back, and not only does he pay beautiful homage to both, but he also goes one step further by fixing, or should I say warming, Kubrick’s original vision and likely redeeming many of King’s perceived flaws with the 1980 classic.

Who does that?! Who thinks to do that?! How on earth can a director set out to make a film, marry it with a classic, maintain the sequel’s separate storyline, and manage to soften the author’s stern judgment of the original adaption?

Who: Mike Flanagan. How: love.

He loves them both so much… he had no choice.

I should have known better. I had similar questions when I heard Flanagan was adapting Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) for Netflix last year. There was already the classic film (directed by Robert Wise) from the 1960s. There had also been a terrible remake (starring Liam Neeson) in the 1990s. Why would you attempt to turn this seminal novel into a series?

Again… love. The storyline was not the same as the novel, but it involved Hill House and its effects on a modern family… and there was so much homage paid to both Shirley Jackson and Robert Wise that my doubts were swept away in mere moments of the first episode. I knew in my very heart that Flanagan loved the source material as much as me and that the show was in more than qualified hands.

I could see and feel this same love for King and Kubrick while watching Dr. Sleep… and it took my breath away. The original sense of dread still grabs you… but I was also both thrilled and giddy with reminiscence. It’s not a perfect film. It’s a little long, and some scenes felt rushed for timing’s sake. But I forgive him this minor hassle and I’m anticipating an extended digital release.

Flanagan gets this pardon from me because he is not only a writer and director… he’s a fan. He knows the key elements that endear us to these works, reignites them, and makes magic happen. He takes our hand and says… remember this? Let’s go there.

And above all else… he shines.