“The Shining” vs. “Doctor Sleep”

There’s no shortage of sequels to classic films being released decades later.  And while they’re mostly met with apprehension at best and hatred at worst, not all of them have the creator of the original property behind them.

Stephen King famously despised the 1980 Stanley Kubrick adaptation of The Shining (and even did his own TV version in 1997), but he shocked the world when in 2013 he published a sequel “Doctor Sleep”.

In 2019 screenwriter/director Mike Flanagan sought to reconcile the vast differences between King’s original novel and Kubrick’s movie with a cinematic adaptation of Doctor Sleep that serves as a sequel to 1980’s The Shining, but also captures the spirit of both novels that King felt was sorely lacking.

Both movies remain well received, but fans seem harshly divided on which one they prefer.  So we thought it would be fun to objectively compare them and determine a definitive winner.

Round I – Characters
Following the Torrance family to the Overlook Hotel, The Shining mostly focuses on Jack, Wendy, and Danny.  It’s very clear from the start that the family is dysfunctional, given Jack’s alcoholism and his recent physical abuse of Danny.

As far as character arcs go, the closest we get is watching Jack’s descent into madness, thanks to the ghosts of the Overlook.  Stanley Kubrick tended to place style and scope over character development, and it’s very much on display here (the same can be said for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove).

Much like its source novel, Doctor Sleep really follows three “protagonists”, Dan, Abra, and Rose the Hat.  Flanagan’s screenplay does a great job of portraying all three characters and making them three dimensional.

We understand Dan’s reluctance to get involved after his hard life and experience at the Overlook, we understand Abra’s lack of caution due to her youth and inexperience, and we understand Rose’s desperation as she feels herself and her group withering away.

Much like his previous films, Flanagan uses the horror as a backdrop while focusing on character.  At its core, Doctor Sleep is really about Dan coming to terms with the trauma of his past, and becoming the person he knows he has the potential to be.  And it’s all facilitated with brilliant performances all around.

Round I Winner – Doctor Sleep

Round II – Story
Much to Stephen King’s dismay, there were many subplots and other story elements that Kubrick omitted in his film adaptation of The Shining.  We lose everything about the detailed history of the Overlook, as well as the in depth backstory of Wendy and Jack’s marriage and Jack’s drinking problem.

It’s definitely a slow burn of a movie that’s building to Jack’s rampage in the final act.  And while it works perfectly for what that film was trying to achieve, it really doesn’t compare to the sheer amount of story that’s present in Doctor Sleep.  Admittedly, it does feel very much like a novel, given its concurrent narratives that all converge towards the third act.

But the amount of twists and turns with Abra and Dan ambushing the True Knot, or Abra and Rose’s mind battles, take the audience on an adventure that just simply isn’t present in The Shining, or most horror films for that matter.

Round II Winner – Doctor Sleep

Round III – Style/Tone
Following up a cinematic classic like The Shining was certainly no easy task.  But with a solid track record including Oculus, Hush, The Haunting of Hill House, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Gerald’s Game, Mike Flanagan was the most suited to direct.

He did a great job of subtly emulating Kubrick’s style with art direction and certain shots.  And while his job was thankless and his effort valiant, there’s simply no comparison here.  Kubrick’s direction of The Shining remains iconic 40 years later, and is the subject of countless fan theories (of which a documentary was even made) because his style was nothing short of hypnotic.

It’s the kind of film that doesn’t jump out and scare its audience, rather it leaves us feeling disturbed and unsettled long after we’re done watching it.  The very fact that Flanagan felt the need to emulate that style just to make it feel like a follow up is testament to how lasting and influential this horror classic is.

Round III Winner – The Shining

Round IV – Effects/Technical Specs
On the surface it does seem unfair to compare two movies, released 39 years apart, on their technical achievements and visual effects.  After all Superman looks a lot better flying in 2013 than he did in 1978.

However, this is usually only caused when a film from decades past has some sort of visual effect that looks quite dated now.  Look no further than the laughably fake-looking items floating around the bedroom in Poltergeist, released in 1982.  The Shining, on the other hand, really doesn’t contain any effects that especially date it today.

Kubrick did everything in camera, including the elevator filled with blood, and even pulled off an amazing camera trick where he zooms into the model of the hedge maze and it turns into a crane shot above Wendy and Danny in the actual maze.

None of these looked fake then, and they really don’t now.   And on the subject of effects dating the film, Doctor Sleep relies on CGI (albeit sparingly), but when it does, it’s quite noticeable.  Everything from Dan’s mental lockboxes, to Abra’ eyes when she’s “shining”, to the very steam itself that we see the True Knot absorb (and turn into upon death).

In no way are these bad effects or poor CGI, but it’s obvious that it is CGI and kind of takes you out of the movie, even if briefly.  40 years from now Doctor Sleep’s effects may feel dated, but The Shining will always be hauntingly effective in its craft.

Round IV Winner – The Shining

Round V – Themes
While both films deal with similar subject matter and overlap in a few areas, the greater themes and ideas they explore couldn’t be more different.  Taking a page from King’s original source novel, Doctor Sleep (much to King’s pleasure) tackles the struggles of alcoholism, as well as redemption and taking responsibility.

It’s truly inspiring to see Dan grow from barely keeping his life together to being a mentor for Abra.  And while Doctor Sleep certainly has more poignant themes, it doesn’t use them quite as effectively as The Shining.  Kubrick’s classic really doubles down on its themes of isolation and madness, delivering an experience unlike any other.

We feel anxiety for the Torrance family as their isolation begins as soon as they arrive at the Overlook. Long before the horror begins for them, we know they’re stuck there.  As Jack descends into madness, we’re not quite sure what he’s really seeing or what he’s imagining, and we the audience aren’t quite sure either.  By the final act, we feel as if we’ve been trapped there as well, and that the Overlook itself is its own character.

Round V (and overall) Winner – The Shining

It’s very close, honestly closer than I initially thought it would be.  However, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece simply can’t be outdone, although Doctor Sleep comes close.  Only time will tell if it has the same staying power as its predecessor, but it will be difficult to achieve the cultural relevance that The Shining still has even today!

Which one do you prefer and why?  Let us know in the comments!

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