Monday, July 30, 2012

So, About This Prequel-to-The-Shining Thingy...

Back in February, I wrote a bit of a rant about the Before Watchmen comics that DC is putting out.  These (as you might theoretically not know) are prequels to Watchmen, a twelve-part comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that is so much a classic that Time named it one of the hundred greatest English-language novels of the century.  Not graphic novels; novels of any type.

That's part of the reason why it's galling that DC would move forward with prequels against Moore's wishes.  It's also galling to me that I've been buying the damned things.  Truth is, they're fairly good, when compared to other current comics; compared to Watchmen, they are lacking in literally every way, but that's no surprise.
 
In that post, I asserted that part of the reason I was bothered by the DC-versus-Alan Moore brouhaha was that I knew it was only a matter of time before similar things started happening to Stephen King; and I knew that given my track record of buying such things, I'd shell out for these ripoffs, no matter what they were, or how bad, or how offensive.

But fuck, world, I figured you'd at least wait until King was dead!  But no, apparently, Warner Bros. has begun "quiet" discussions on the subject of milking a prequel out of the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining.

Allow me to respond with some appropriate nerd-rage:




Now, if you know me, I betcha right about now you're thinking "Man, that Bryant Burnette sure is a hypocritical sumbitch."

Well, allow me to retort.

I'd like to start by addressing my hypocrisy, which is twofold: (1) I am generally okay with the idea of remakes, and so therefore ought to be open to the idea of sequels and prequels and midquels and sidequels and whatever type of -quels you've got; and (2) I've failed to take into account the fact that Hollywood has been raping King's oeuvre since at least 1987, when A Return to Salem's Lot was released.

It is true: I am okay with the idea of remakes, even of perfectly good movies.  Why?  Because one of two things happens: either a good movie is made, in which case I win; or a bad movie is made, in which case it merely reaffirms how good the original is.  In either eventuality, it results in driving people to the source material, which in this case is a Stephen King book.  So in the instance of the new version of Carrie that is currently filming, I'm fine with it, mainly because I don't like the Brian DePalma movie and want to see a better adaptation of the novel.  But even if I was a huge fan of DePalma's movie, I wouldn't mind; remake away, I'd say.

So if the news was that Warner Bros. was considering another remake of The Shining, I'd be fine with that.  Excited, even.  And I'm a HUGE fan of the Kubrick movie.  But no other filmmaker is Stanley Kubrick, and the result would almost certainly -- for better or worse -- stand on its own two feet; I'm no fan of the Mick Garris miniseries, but even so, I have no trouble separating it from the Kubrick movie.  So, another remake?  Bring it on, I'd say.

I'll give you a more fitting example, for my own personal tastes.  Let's say somebody decided to remake Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Now, that movie is one of two or three that seriously contend for the title of Bryant's Favorite Movie, so if there is any movie I ought to be opposed to seeing remade, that'd be the one.  And I'd definitely be skeptical of it; the odds of it being even vaguely as good as the original are slim.  But, like I indicated above, the end results are limited: either it would be good, or it would be bad.

A prequel -- or, heaven help us, a sequel -- to Close Encounters of the Third Kind would be an entirely different matter.  In that instance, it would be a case of someone feeling as if they were somehow worthy of extending a very personal story (one by Steven Spielberg, in this instance), and by association reshaping the story of the original movie itself.  That, after all, is the point of a prequel: it's saying, "Here is what happened that caused this story you already know to happen.  Isn't cause-and-effect cool?"  Ridley Scott can play coy on the subject of Prometheus all he wants; it IS a prequel to Alien, and it's a poor one, and he's not fooling anybody except perhaps for himself.  And guess what?  It changes the way I see Alien now.

I'm okay with this.  "Hypocrisy!" you might be crying, but no, no ... no hypocrisy here.  Because Scott is one of the several people who can lay claim to being at least partially the author of Alien, and he's had to put up with decades of 20th Century Fox desecrating the corpse of that movie; with Prometheus, he at least got to take part in the digging, and it's hard to blame him for that.

With that hyopthetical prequel/sequel to CE3K, it'd be different, unless, of course, Spielberg was involved.  And he might well screw it up if he was.  But he's entitled to do so, if he so chooses.  Many King fans seem to feel King is going to be doing just that with Doctor Sleep, in which we will be getting the adventures of grown-up Danny Torrance.  Maybe he screws it up, and maybe he doesn't, but it's King's right to do so.  For my part, I'm inclined to trust him, but I understand if other fans don't.  All I can say is that I hope they will just skip reading it; the way I see it, if they don't trust King enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, then what would be the point in reading something they assume they are going to dislike?  The only point would be so that they can trash talk it knowledgeably, and that's no reason to read a book.  Trust me; I know (it's the reason I listened to all of the Twilight audiobooks).

Either way, it's King's right to do what he wants, because as much as we might want to feel otherwise, The Shining isn't our story; it's his.

For that reason, I'm okay with Doctor Sleep.  If King wasn't around to write it, I'd accept Joe Hill writing it, or Owen King, or Tabitha King; maybe even Peter Straub.  I'd be skeptical (except maybe of Hill's version), but cautiously accepting.

If somebody else wrote it, though, and that somebody had nothing to do with King other than to have been hired by a company who once paid King for the film rights to the original novel, then I'd be violently opposed to it.

Hence my scorn for this proposed prequel to The Shining.  See how we got there?  It's an odd train of logic, but there is logic at work, I promise.

*****

"But, wait !" I hear you complaining; "what about all those sequels to Children of the Corn and stuff!"

Valid point.  Those exist, no denying it.  I like to refer to these and similar films as "fauxquels" (i.e., false sequels; i.e., sequels that aren't really sequels; i.e., ripoffs).  By my count, there are fifteen movies that fit this description; more if you count the sequel to The Lawnmower Man (itself an adaptation that isn't actually an adaptation).  You can also lump the mostly-mediocre television series Haven in with those titles, and most of the television version of The Dead Zone, as well.

The key difference, I think, between these and this proposed prequel to The Shining is one of intent.  In the case of all the fauxquels to Children of the Corn, it seems unlikely that anyone associated with those movies viewed them as high art; they probably viewed them as a means to an end, and nothing more.  For the producers, it was likely the lure of a quick -- if small -- bit of Kingsploitation cash; for the writers, directors, actors, and crew, it was probably the lure of simply getting their names onto a movie, any movie, which they could then hopefully use as a springboard to bigger and better things.

The horror genre has a long history of that sort of thing, and I've always found the King-based fauxquels to be oddly reassuring; they are demeaning, low-rent, shabby affairs, but hey, kid, what'd ya expect when ya signed them rights over, huh?  You can practically smell the cigar smoke and the polyester.

Because of this, it is virtually impossible to take any of those movies seriously, and why get upset at something you can't take seriously?  That'd be silly.  It'd be like getting offended by the idea of Wayne Newton putting out a hip-hop album; it's such a bad idea that it doesn't even merit anger.

The best of the fauxquels is The Rage: Carrie 2, and that movie is probably the only decent guidepost for what we can potentially expect from The Shining: The Delbert Grady Years, or whatever the fuck this thing'll end up being called.  (I officially predict it will be titled Overlook, by the way.)  The Rage: Carrie 2 is a reasonably well-made, reasonably well-acted, mostly poorly-written movie that shares only one character with the film it is allegedly a sequel to, and in most respects is more of a remake than a sequel.  The only interesting thing it does is turn the "Carrie" figure into a strong-willed, likeable character, Rachel; the film then ruins that premise by having Rachel meet a similar tragic end to the one Carrie meets, and as a result a mildly interesting story is completely ruined by the need to fit into a certain type of mold.

What, then, do you suppose Warner Bros. might be contemplating with a prequel to The Shining?  Will they take the story in interesting new directions, or will they try to replicate the man-goes-crazy-in-isolated-hotel-and-tries-to-kill-his-family core of the story?  Will he be an alcoholic?  Nah; his wife will be an alcoholic, or one of his kids will be, or something lame like that.

That's if we're lucky.

If we're unlucky, Warner Bros. will try to do that and tell us how the Overlook became haunted in the first place.  If we're really unlucky, they'll try to fit a young Dick Hallorann into the mix somewhere.  And if we're REALLY unlucky, it'll all end with Jack Torrance somehow.

What's certain is that none of it is going to have anything to do with Stephen King.  Even worse (and here is where I'm about to drop the bomb I've been holding back on): it'll have nothing to do with Stanley Kubrick.

Because let's make no mistake about it: this is a greater affront to Kubrick than it is to King.  Hell, if he decided he wanted to be spiteful about it, King could just wait until the prequel came out, and then write his own prequel, which would then draw attention away from the movie; it'd be an epic slap in the face to Warner Bros., and don't put it past him, because he can be a spiteful dude when he wants to be, God bless him.

Kubrick is beyond such measures.  Sure, his estate might be able to muster some outrage, but will it be enough to scuttle the project if Warner Bros. is determined to pursue it?  No way.

Say what you will about the Kubrick movie, but it is most definitely a Kubrick movie; it fits quite well into his oeuvre, and he made the material his own.  You're either onboard with that or you aren't, but one thing you can't do is deny it.  Love him or hate him, Kubrick was one of the most iconoclastic directors filmmaking as a medium has ever seen, or is likely to see.  So when you, as a studio, announce that you're considering making a prequel to one of his movies ... well, that's tantamount to film heresy.  Remake Barry Lyndon or A Clockwork Orange or Full Metal Jacket or The Shining if you need to; those stories can be approached from different angles.  
 
Do not, however, try to sell me on the idea of a prequel to one, or a sequel to the other.  We all know how 2010 turned out: it works only if you pretend that it's a sequel to the Arthur C. Clarke novel 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than the Stanley Kubrick movie, and even then it's by the skin of its teeth.

Kubrick's The Shining, like most of his movies, stands more or less in isolation to other movies in its genre; trying to get more water from that well seems like a terrible idea.

*****

At this point, I suppose I have to confess that I am, in fact, guilty of some considerable amount of hypocrisy.  I summed up that earlier post about Before Watchmen by commenting that, as King once told us, "It is the tale, not he who tells it."  I still believe that, and if the end result of all of this is a good prequel to Kubrick's The Shining, then I'll eat crow.

However, in my experience, projects like these are typically initiated for purely economic reasons; they are initiated not by storytellers, but by ledgermen, who then hire storytellers, typically of the inferior variety.  Inferior storytellers tend to produce inferior stories.  We know this; I'm making no nimble intellectual leaps here, and am under no delusions to the contrary.

So, yes, it IS the tale, not he who tells it; but in the case of King, and in the case of Kubrick, unless somebody else is able to tell this proposed new tale as well as they told it in their respective versions, this is a project that is doomed always to be a mere footnote.  That's what's happening on Before Watchmen, and I see no reason to expect anything better from a Shining tale written without King or Kubrick.

10 comments:

  1. I wonder if we'll ever see a Before Clockwork or a Before Barry Lyndon? The Path TO Paths of War... Madness.

    Has King commented publicly on it yet?

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  2. Sometimes, a story is just a story that is so good that it stands on its own. It has an alpha and an omega. The

    Shining had an Alpha and an Omega that were clearly defined and well developed. It needs no more development. The story is iconic. Although they were different, the King characters and the Kubrick characters are iconic.

    Anything done with The Shining now -- be it a movie prequel or a King sequel, will only diminish the original product. To diminish The Shining would be a literary and cinematographic abomination!

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    1. Odds are, "Doctor Sleep" won't be as good as "The Shining," but I think it's a mistake to dismiss the possibility entirely. And even if it is a bad novel, I don't see how that changes "The Shining" in any way. What it changes is your perception of "The Shining," and if your perception can be changed that means it was never fixed to begin with.

      I consider myself to be a Stephen King fan first, and a "Shining" fan second, so whatever he wants to do is fine by me. That doesn't mean I'll end up liking it; sometimes I don't (Lisey's Story, for example), but until the quality of his work takes a drastic downward swing, he's earned my implicit trust.

      With "Doctor Sleep," it's good enough for me that he would feel he needs to continue Danny's story, because it doesn't seem to me that he would do so if he doesn't also feel he can do so in a manner that is consistent with "The Shining." There is simply NO evidence anywhere in his career that he would do a sequel for any reason other than that he feels like a sequel is necessary, and if that's the case, it seems like a good reason to be excited.

      But that's just me.

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  3. Well, that was very good and concise post. I’ve said elsewhere at TalkStephenKing.blogspot that I wasn’t entirely surprised by this turn of events. Recent Hollywood history has sort for prepared viewers for this kind of shoe drop. You also spelled out a lot of the rest of my thinking so I see no need to go any further into it. I also like the idea of a Fauxequell. It contains the whole underlying philosophy as to why someone would make such movies.

    Interestingly, I come down more on the side of the guys who make South Park when it comes to sequels or remakes or touch ups. I think if the basic nature and structure of any given story is such that it will naturally support a sequel, then go ahead and good luck. However, the story must be of the specific kind that can have a sequel. There are many stories that don’t need a sequal, i.e. Jaws or, well, the Shining.

    In regards to the argument that a story is the author’s by natural right on a first come first serve basis, well I read a book that sums up my opinion on this better than I can. It’s by a guy named R. G. Collingwood and it’s called “The Philosophy of Enchantment” (yeah, I’ve heard better titles also, whaddaya gonna do). In that book there is this passage where Collingwood outlines an interesting fact about how stories were told and received way back in, say, the Grimm Bros. time.

    Collingwood writes:

    Early in that century, the household…gathered round the fire and told stories…If the teller departed from the established form, someone present would break in with a protest. The interrupter would then tell the story in his own way, and the company would thrash the matter out among them, and decide who was right.

    Two interesting things can be noted from Collingwood’s passage.

    1. It seems as if many readers then as now believe that a story, in order to be a legitimate inspiration must adhere to a certain form or pattern correctly.

    Granted, the idea of the form was something more recognized than known, yet the fact remains that it seems the idea of a story being “True” to form is something both writers and reader have taken for granted then as now in a sort of unspoken rule of game play almost (and what are stories after all except a form of game playing).

    2. There’s something reassuring in the fact that there were Nerds as far back as the Middle Ages. Of course this being Medieval times, even Nerds had to be made of tougher stuff than like we are now. All of which makes for an amusing scene, a Medieval Nerd being teased by a frat boy. Medieval Nerd reaches out, there’s a loud SNAP! Frat Boy: …My spine. Okay, enough power fantasies.

    As I said before, I side more or less with the South Park guys when it comes to stories and how they’re told for the reasons outlined above. I’m even willing to follow them sort of with their idea of how when a god story is told well, it becomes more public than private property in a certain sense at least.

    As for King being a spiteful dude? He strikes me as harmless.

    I’ll admit that he can be snarky on occasion, and I also don’t forget Richard Bachman.

    When King said “Doctor Sleep” was the pissed of thing to do, my basic thinking has come be “It’s a Bachman move” it’s the kind of P.O.ed thing Bachman would do. Also, I’m willing to admit he’s human like the rest of us, “Just a slob like one of us” as the song says, he puts his pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. That said, I still wonder what could piss him off enough to do something like “Sleep”.

    One thing’s for sure, I definitely need to get a copy of “Hollywood’s Stephen King” stat.

    ChrisC

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    1. Chris, as always, I love reading your thoughts on all this stuff! You come at things from a different angle than me, and whether I agree or disagree I always end up feeling as though I've learned something.

      A few counter-points:

      (1) You say "The Shining" doesn't need a sequel, and that's true, but I certainly think there are ideas in it that can (at least theoretically) support a sequel. For one thing, it makes perfect sense that Danny Torrance would continue for the rest of his life to have issues of one type or another associated with his "shine." It also, frankly, makes sense that he would end up as an alcoholic. Personally, I LOVE the fact that somewhere in the back of King's mind, little Danny kept right on living; it helps to explain how King's characters often feel so very real and vibrant, and it suggests an interior world of imagination so incredibly vast that all of a sudden his career begins to make even more sense than it already did.

      (2) Trey Parker and Matt Stone of "South Park" are, methinks, legitimate storytelling geniuses, at least when it comes to satire. I'd love to see them take on a non-comedic movie someday, just to see what they'd do with it.

      (3) Those ideas of Collingwood's on the democracy of storytelling are compelling. I both agree with them and disagree. In a sense, we all still get to "interrupt" the storyteller(s) and make protestations about things we feel don't work. The internet is a living tool designed to do (among other things) exactly that. We also protest by not spending our money on certain things we feel to be bad stories. It isn't always civil discourse, and I think negative voices maybe carry a bit too much weight ... but I suspect that has always been the case, even if we're talking only about a dozen people sitting around a fire. Fascinating!

      (4) I can, and do, support the notion that once a story is out in the world, it becomes public property of a kind. But I think that only goes so far, and the original storyteller ought to always have the option of changing things if he or she sees fit. This is easy with a novel, because it's typically a single author. On the subject of movies or other collaborative art forms, it becomes trickier; after all, many people not named George Lucas contributed to those original versions of "Star Wars" that are semi-buried now. Which seems a shame, especially since that is the version loved by an entire generation or two.

      (5) Here's King's quote about "Doctor Sleep" (from the interview Neil Gaiman did with him):

      "I did it because it was such a cheesed-off thing to do. To say you were going back to the book that was really popular and write the sequel. People read it as kids; then as adults they might read the sequel and think, this isn't as good. The challenge is, maybe it can be as good -- or different. It gives you something to push up against."

      This is a revelatory statement. For one thing, it suggests that part of what appealed to King about the idea was the fact that it would be a big challenge. I love that he still pushes himself, rather than just sitting back and taking the easy approach to things. To me, that indicates that "Doctor Sleep" will at the very least be an honest work, rather than some sort of attention-seeking cash-grab.

      We'll all find out eventually!

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  4. Now this is what’s known as real discourse. Bill’s Maher and o’Reilly take note, damn it!

    Anyway, if it comes to literary first pinciples, then I’d have to say I come from a Jungian perspective. In this case stories are Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, or stated another way, the Imagination (and the idea of Imagination being a part of the unconscious carries a lot of interesting ideas).

    One thing Jung stressed about stories or Archetypes is that they are not personal but collective mental contents. In other words, while attempts at ownership might be made, the truth is the basic nature of the Imagination as a collective possession thereby in an ironic legal sense nullifies the idea of artistic ownership, at least with regards to inspiration, which is when Archetypes in a sense spring up into consciousness as words or images that demand words be put to them.

    This is something briefly touched on in Collingwood’s book. What Collingwood points to is a kind of recognition on the part of both writers and audiences, at least back in earlier ages, of story and storytelling as something bigger than any individual author. For example, in the case of the Brothers’ Grimm, they would have been the first to assert that they never told the tales, they merely collected them, and the people they collected stories from would have been like those outlined in Collingwood’s paragraph, insisting that they were telling things they heard from “Gramma!”. This actually brings up your idea of the Democracy of storytelling.

    It’s interesting in that a it might be truein a sense, however the word Collingwood uses is “Tradition”. He writes:

    In calling these stories traditional, we don’t simply mean their authorship has been forgotten. We mean they constitute a social institution carefully preserved by the people, like the traditional arts of agriculture, or the handicrafts of everyday life in a peasant society. This traditional character is well attested…These stories were not “inventions” of the teller; they were traditional; and it was point of honor to abide by the tradition.

    To re-summarize an earlier quote, the idea of people interrupting a story because any certain given element, whether of character, motivation or basic narrative direction did not “Ring True” is a interesting testament to the idea not only that stories had an inherent pattern to them, but also that “Tradition” or pattern trumped ownership and making sure all the elements were “True” outweighed the idea of who told what or who made who. To quote from Alfred Bester “The Book is the Boss”.

    All of this can be traced back to King’s statement that “Books are like fossils”, found things not made by conscious invention, not that that doesn’t happen, a good example of invention would have to be shows like Family Guy.

    Also that King’s ideas tie neatly back into the Jungian idea of stories as Archetypes that arrange in particular story “forms” that exist outside of individual minds as part a collective unconscious that is a product of nature rather than human invention, therefore neatly removing the origin of stories from human hands.

    Coolingwoods’s book Philosophy of Enchantment is available for kindle. There’s another book on Jungian psychology of Archetypes called “The Origin and history of Consciousness” by Erich Neumann. They’re both available, though I should warn you, both cost a pretty penny, and by that I mean one fucked up hell of a lot. The Kindle price in fact for Collingwood is 36.99.

    One final thing to note about Collingwood’s book is its relation to J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote an essay called “On Fairy Stories” where a lot of his argument seems borrowed from Collingwood’s writings.

    ChrisC

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  5. Whoo! That's a lot for an e-book!

    Those both sound quite interesting, though. And King's statement about books being fossils rings completely true within that context. Past that, I'm probably not smart enough -- or, at least, not educated enough on the topic -- to add much, except to note that an excellent book could be written examining King's career fro that vantage point. Hint hint...

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  6. Well, if there is a book in all that I doubt if it's one I'll ever write.

    However as to what you said about CE3K. The funny thing is this, I think it's the one film Spielberg has returned to over the years.

    Think of it, after Encounters he makes Raiders and it's all abotu finding this strange mystical object and ends with a bunch of military officials being led someone who's French. Coincidence? Or take Indy 4. It could almost be the same film told by a hopefully wiser director.

    So in that sense I don't think the film needs a remake as such. However I did have a funny alternate ending in which it's one of Dreyfus's kids who gets abducted and returned at the end, while Francois Truffaut is the one who goes for a ride in the rocket leaving Dreyfus to just drive off home with his family.

    That at least is how I think Spielberg would make the film now if he had the opportunity.

    Anyway, if you're not having good vibes about a Shining prequel, how about a possible prequel andsequel to Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull?

    I wish I could say I'm shitting you on this, however here below is a link to Guardian.uk to paste and log onto just to see for yourself. The final fitting capper is that at the end of the page is a link reading "Del Toro will NOT be scaling Mountains of Madness". That's alright, if this articles any indication, Hollywoood's halfway there, he can just make a documentary.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/jul/30/the-shining-prequel-warner-bros?newsfeed=true

    ChrisC

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    1. Oh, yeah, "Raging Bull II" -- heard about that. THAT'LL turn out well, I'm sure...

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