Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’/Image © 1980 Warner Bros.
If you noticed a slight shift in the force recently, it might have something to do with the cease-and-desist order your imagination received this morning in the form of the befuddling news that “The Shining” would likely spawn a prequel and sequel. The franchise has become, perhaps, the most pernicious manifestation of America’s abundance addiction and the size-counts ethos that continues to distort our sense of proportion to the point where fountain drinks are served in five-gallon buckets and movies are packed in sets of three. In fact, just this morning, writer-director Peter Jackson announced that “The Hobbit” would now expand to comfortably span three films instead of two.
Hollywood’s reflexive tendency to sequelize any successful project has padded studio bank accounts, yes — but it has also produced a few second- and third-born films that have outshone their older siblings. (“The Godfather 2,” “The French Connection 2,” “Before Sunset,” and “The Bourne Supremacy” are among the few sequels that managed to improve upon their source material.) In the case of “The Shining,” there is strong cause for concern that bringing Johnny baaack is an idea that might end as poorly as it did for the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel. While it’s promising that Stephen King is the force majeure behind the sequel, which revisits Danny, the film’s Big Wheel-riding psychic, once he’s grown up and presumably wrestling with the psychic damage left by his family’s sojourn in the snow. However, the prospect of watching a wise child all grown up is decidedly less enigmatic and enticing and epic than the original and somehow evokes the kind of sad sacks littering the misanthrope school of indie filmmaking presided over by Todd Solondz and Neil LaBute.
The prequel, which Warner Bros is developing exclusively for the big screen, faces even slimmer odds at finding success. Few actors in the history of moving pictures have left a more indelible mark on a character than Jack Nicholson did on Jack Torrance, the blocked writer who develops a lethal case of cabin fever while holed up for the winter in an old hotel with his family. In fact, there is something almost taboo about even thinking of casting another actor in an alpha icon’s signature role. This is why we haven’t seen some young turk slip into Jake LaMotta‘s boxing gloves. Likewise, even the most nuanced and soulful neurotics have steered clear of any opportunity to sport Benjamin Braddock‘s boxer shorts. Even those precious few stars who bring a deeply etched moral code into their work — a list that arguably begins and ends with George Clooney — wouldn’t dare don Atticus Finch‘s horn-rimmed glasses. Some roles are sacred ground, and anyone who trespasses does so at great personal and professional peril.
Revisiting, rebooting, and reviving classic cinema is the kind of high-risk, low-success-rate operation that will a filmmaker who is as quixotic as (s)he is cocky. With “Prometheus,” Ridley Scott had the built-in advantage of having made the original upon which this summer’s blockbuster “Alien” prequel was based. (And even Scott didn’t dare doom some ripped, young actress to play a young Ripley and to the inevitable nitpicking comparisons to Sigourney Weaver’s Amazonic ass-kicking).
For its revisionist take on “The Shining,” Warner Bros has enlisted writer-director Laeta Kalogridis, an encouraging and intriguing choice, given her background writing heady thrillers like Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.” Whatever happens, we’re hopeful that this sudden surge of interest in “The Shining” will ultimately reignite interest in the work of Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King, two of the most inventive and twisted pioneers of modern psychological suspense storytelling.
Now that it looks as though Johnny is here again, let’s hope that neither of the iterations are playful enough not to make Jack a very dull boy.