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The Ghosts of ABC's 'The Shining'

April 27, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So what's the big difference between Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film version of "The Shining" and ABC's six-hour adaptation of horror meister Stephen King's classic 1977 novel?

The original film, explains director Mick Garris, is "Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining.' It's not Stephen King's 'The Shining.' It was really easy to set up a line of demarcation there because we are making the book."

King's bestseller, Garris adds, isn't just a scary ghost tale about a family spending the winter in an isolated haunted hotel, but a story of a "father's parental responsibility, his guilt over his feelings of violence toward his family and his alcoholism, things Kubrick chose not to address, at least in a major way. ... It was really easy to approach this in a completely different way."

"It's a ghost story," adds producer Mark Carliner ("Stalin"), "but the ghosts are in the marriage. Within the context of a good old-fashioned ghost story, we have a very serious examination of domestic violence. I think this is going to scare the pants off of America."

ABC's "Shining" stars Steven Weber, best known as the womanizing Brian Hackett on the NBC comedy series "Wings," as Jack Torrance, a former teacher with a penchant for flying into rages. A recovering alcoholic with a fragile mental state, Torrance is trying to get his life back on track by taking a job as the winter caretaker at the venerable Colorado mountain hotel, the Overlook.

Rebecca De Mornay is his long-suffering wife Wendy and Courtland Mead plays their young son Danny, who possesses an incredible psychic power. As soon as Danny enters the Overlook, he realizes it's filled with ghostly guests who have no desire to depart the hotel.

King, who penned the screenplay, makes a cameo appearance as one of the dead--the leader of an all-ghoul orchestra.

Jack Nicholson's over-the-top performance as Torrance in Kubrick's film haunted the ABC production. The scene in the film in which Nicholson's crazed character breaks through the door with a mallet, flashes his killer smile and arched brows before announcing, "Here's Johnny!," has become an indelible part of pop culture.

Carliner and Garris (who also directed the 1994 miniseries of King's "The Stand") discovered that Nicholson's ghost scared off the actors they approached to play Torrance. "When it got down to saying 'yes,' " Carliner says, "they were haunted by the comparison."

Prospects looked so bleak that, at one point, the miniseries was almost shelved. "Steve [King] said, 'I've waited 18 years to do this and if we can't get the right guy to play Jack Torrance I'll wait another 18 years,' " Carliner recalls. "It was really the 11th hour and 59th minute that Steven Weber walked in and blew us away."

Both Garris and Carliner acknowledge that they had never seen "Wings" before meeting Weber just four days before filming was to begin.

"In that sense," Carliner says, "it was fortunate. There was no baggage. We knew that the actor who played Jack Torrance would be an actor who had something to prove or nothing to lose."

Weber quips that he simply didn't have time to think about following in Nicholson's footsteps. "I didn't have time to get intimidated, which is either a good thing or a bad thing."

For the first few weeks of the production, Weber had to shuttle back and forth between "The Shining" and "Wings." But he says it wasn't hard going from a sitcom to a horror flick.

"Brian Hackett and Jack Torrance have a lot in common," he says, laughing. "If Brian Hackett had a mallet around, he might just kill his brother Joe!"

Whereas Kubrick's movie was shot in England, ABC's version was primarily filmed at the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo.--the same hotel where King got the inspiration to write the book after he and his wife stayed there one night in 1973.

The cast and crew, who also stayed at the hotel, soon discovered that the Stanley had its own share of spooks. "We had people moving out of the rooms," Carliner says. "We had to relocate a number of our crew. The hotel makes sounds. It creaks. The hotel is alive."

"I did hear several macho, butch grip-types come downstairs shaken after a night's sleep," Weber says, "saying, 'Hey, man! Something went through me last night.' "

Mother Nature also played havoc with the production. "We studied all of the reports and, theoretically, March is a heavy snow month in that part of the Rocky Mountains," says Carliner. "We needed a couple of blizzard days."

But the snow never came. "We brought in all the snow-making equipment from Los Angeles," the producer reports. "We actually sent trucks to the Rocky Mountain National Park to bring back truckloads of ice, which we fed into machines which would spray out the snow."

But the machines couldn't provide the amount of snow needed. So Carliner eventually hired an Indian shaman who went up into the mountains one weekend "and spoke to the grandfathers." Less than a week later, Estes Park was blanketed with three feet of snow.

"I don't know how it happened," Carliner acknowledges. "All I know is that we had a shaman on the case and we were saved!"

"The Shining" airs Sunday, Monday and Thursday at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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