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.
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.