Is Doctor Sleep a Sequel to the Shining Book or Movie

The film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep had a unique problem before cameras could roll. Or even before the script could be written. How do you make a sequel to The Shining when the original book and its iconic, widely-seen and admired film adaptation are so incredibly different? How do you please the King fans and the Stanley Kubrick fans, especially when the former has been so publicly critical about the latter’s take on his work?

The answer is surprisingly simple: you try to do both.

I visited the set of Doctor Sleep late last year and it was immediately clear that the film would deviate in significant ways from the novel…mainly because the assembled journalists interviewed Mike Flanagan on on the set of the infamous Room 237. A room that no longer exists in the book because the Overlook Hotel burns down on the page, but remains standing in the film. It was in this cursed room that we learned all about the film’s tricky balancing act and how it will serve the visions of King, Kubrick and Flanagan himself.

Producer Trevor Macy was the first to address the tricky adaptation choices, telling us that the film is the result of a DNA splice between King and Kubrick, a unique beast that has to exist on its own while honoring what The Shining is for two different audiences:

So the trick was this movie, in our humble estimation, is that we have to do justice to [it] as a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel. There are key differences because as you all know that the universe, the literary universe of The Shining, is different than the cinematic universe. I speak for Mike as well when I say we are dearly in love with both for different reasons. So our job is to thread the needle and take the best DNA for both of them and hopefully bring that to the audience today in a fun, engaging way. We aren’t trying to, you know, take custody of one party versus another in the Kubrick divorce. Because there’s a lot of stuff that’s absolutely, you know, Stephen King has opinions about the quality of the adaptation. But it’s impossible to argue that, that the Kubrick film is amazing. Seminal, unique. So, you know, we certainly aren’t trying to out Kubrick Kubrick – this is its own thing.

Flanagan himself joked that there was no way to hide the truth from us considering that we were sitting in Room 237 and had already seen exacting recreations of the Overlook Hotel hallways. Yes, significant elements from the Kubrick film have made their way into Doctor Sleep because Flanagan knew fans, himself included, would be disappointed if the film didn’t touch on Kubrick’s film at all:

Having everybody sit in here kind of gives a lot of it away, but the thinking behind that was, you know, trying to straddle that line between honoring and the source material of the novel and the importance of Kubrick’s film, which is something, you know, famously King is not a fan of the Kubrick adaptation. He’s always kind of looked at it as a pretty rough adaptation of his work. I think for us. And I think for a lot of the readers, when I first read the book, I loved what he did with Dan and I loved kind of revisiting that universe, but I just had this real ache to go back to Overlook. It was really kind of fun and the book didn’t do that. And so for us it was a question of how do we try to combine those two worlds in a way that’s going to make Stephen feel really satisfied with what we did and also honor the legacy of the Kubrick film and what it means to cinephiles, one of the most influential, the most influential horror movie of all time. It seemed like such a wasted opportunity to revisit Dan Torrence and not revisit The Overlook Hotel.

Naturally, this involved getting King to sign off on letting the film adaptation of his novel also be a sequel to the movie that he has so often criticized over the years. And Flanagan says that if he had said no, they would not have made the film:

So that was a tough call and we needed to get Stephen on board, but when we explained how we wanted to do it, he actually was really enthusiastic about it, which was very, quite a pleasant surprise. So if he had not wanted to do that, I don’t think we would… We wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have done it really.

Still, Flanagan ultimately realized that Doctor Sleep couldn’t be Stephen King’s and it couldn’t be Stanley Kubrick’s. It had to be his movie first and foremost. Still, that doesn’t mean he avoided paying homage to Kubrick’s style because, as he insists, the original film happened and everything in it is canon in Doctor Sleep:

There’s no upside in me trying to out Kubirck Kubrick at all. It’s perilous. So we decided very early on that this was going to be ours. That the aesthetic of it, the tone, how we’re going to treat the material is the only way I think we can, we can walk away from this happy as it’s clearly my movie. That said, being being such a fan of Kubrick, we’re absolutely going to make intentional homages to his style and aesthetic where appropriate in certain scenes. This has got to have its own flavor and while this is a direct sequel in the way that the novel is a direct sequence of it to The Shining novel, we wanted to ground it in the Kubrickian universe because as far as I’m concerned, that film’s canon. It’s canon for the Torrances.

Interestingly, Flanagan’s filmography has more in common with the work of Stephen King than Stanley Kubrick. Like King, Flanagan is a humanist horror storyteller, blending visceral scares with honest, painful humanity. This makes him a perfect fit for Doctor Sleep, which is a raw, humane book about healing…and it could make his sequel the perfect counterbalance to the chilly, misanthropic Kubrick adaptation of The Shining.

Flanagan told us about his struggle to make this whole endeavor work:

And so now it’s really about how to kind of…I always try to just recreate the feelings I had when I read the book. I think that’s the only way to approach an adaptation. How did I feel? What did I respond to when I read it? Whether we can do it literally or not. How do I create that experience for someone who’s watching a movie and maybe hasn’t read the story. And so that’s the only priority. It’s just tough to find. You know, it’s the toughest balancing act I’ve ever had to do. And a lot of that’s because of the balancing act just between King and Kubrick.

Doctor Sleep hits theaters on November 8, 2019.

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