Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors in modern history. His stories have been adapted to film and television numerous times and to varying degrees of success. And King himself has weighed in on many of his adaptations. This has led to some instances where King’s opinions on his own adaptations have caused some fans to raise an eyebrow. Of course, when King comes out to promote his newest films like The Dark Tower and IT, people start to question his self-appraisal. But, should they?
It’s a Business
Let’s get this out of the way: if Stephen King says a Stephen King movie is good before it comes out, we have to accept that he’s doing some promotion. It makes no sense for King to trash an upcoming movie based on one of his works. Film adaptations of his work always mean an uptick in book sales. It’s impossible to ignore this and we shouldn’t begrudge King’s professional obligations.
Plus, it should be noted that King is a big supporter of other creators’ works. You’ll often see him giving out a pull quote to another movie or book and being characteristically hyperbolic. Good! It’s great to see him be so supportive of artists and it’s no surprise that he does the same thing for films based on his own stories.
The Good Ones
But, what about after the films have come out and King has a chance to give them a more unedited opinion? Is he a fan of his own movies?
King has been very open about the adaptations he’s extremely proud of. Of all the films based on his works, Stand By Me seems to be the one that King loves the most. Based on the novella The Body, the film is about a group of friends in 1959 who trek through the woods to find a corpse. Sounds bleak, but it’s actually a heartwarming, powerful, and often hilarious ode to childhood.
Surprising to see since King is primarily known for his horror output. But, his other favorite films also exist outside the realm of scares. Frank Darabont’s adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile also rate very high in King’s view. Darabont did adapt one of King’s horror novellas, The Mist, and King had nothing but praise for that as well. In fact, Darabont’s controversial change to the ending was one King has said is even better than the one in his original tale.
In fact, King is usually happy with a lot of the films that have been made from his books. Carrie, Cujo, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, and many others have all gotten the thumbs up from the iconic author. And for the most part, critics would agree. But, there’s that one King adaptation that everyone hails as a masterpiece and King is not a fan of…
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
Stephen King’s dislike of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining is as infamous as the film itself. Critics and fans hail Kubrick’s film as a masterpiece and one of the best horror films of all time. King is not on board with this and it’s led a lot of people to distrust his critical abilities.
But, if you actually listen to King’s issues with the film, you can completely understand his criticisms even if you don’t agree with them. In an interview with Rolling Stone, King laid out some of his problems with the film:
“The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice. In the book, there’s an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he’s crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene.”
He’s not wrong. The differences between the novel and the film are practically night and day. They both have their merits and faults but it’s fair to point out how those differences are utilized in each version. However, there is one criticism King lobs at Kubrick’s film that’s spot-on and never really discussed:
“And it’s so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag.”
It’s true. In the novel, Wendy is a stronger character with a more fleshed out backstory and motivation than her portrayal in the film. Regardless of Kubrick’s filmmaking prowess, this is a story decision that I agree with. I also think The Shining is a great film. It’s possible to be critical of a work and still find it to be praiseworthy.
King got the opportunity to script a TV miniseries adaptation of The Shining in 1997. It was an incredibly faithful take on the plot but critics and fans couldn’t help but measure it against the Kubrick film. Sometimes, one version of the story just wins out with audiences while the other gets overshadowed.
“There are other worlds than these…”
Still, King has always maintained that he doesn’t expect fealty to his stories when the movies are made. Filmmakers are given the freedom to find what they love about the story and bring it to life. If that clashes with King’s motivations then so be it. It only gives us more fiction to absorb and discuss. And that’s a good thing.
At the end of the day, you should figure out whether or not you trust Stephen King. Just like when you find a critic that you like and trust, you need to do the same with creators. And just because you trust them doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with them.
So, does Stephen King have good taste in his own films? Depends on what you think. Maybe you think The Shawshank Redemption is overrated, Maybe you feel that the 1997 version of The Shining deserves to be reappraised. No matter what Stephen King’s opinions are on his movies, good or bad, always find your own perspective. But, also be willing to look at it from someone else’s as well.
Even from the viewpoint of the director of Maximum Overdrive. Which I LOVE.