How Doctor Sleep Is Both A Sequel To Stephen King’s And Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance looking in a mirror in Doctor Sleep

Few Hollywood productions have as storied a legacy as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and one of the most notable aspects of that history is the relationship between the film and the creator of the original source material. While many hail the adaptation as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, Stephen King is not a fan of the big screen take on his haunted hotel in the Colorado Rockies (and when you compare Kubrick’s version against the novel, and take into consideration his intentions with the story, you can see that he has some legitimate grievances from an authorial perspective).

This bit of trivia has stirred debate among fans for decades – which is the superior take? – but now a whole new layer is being added to the conversation. In the coming months, director Mike Flanagan will be releasing his adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining published in 2013, and as long as the project has been around there has been a prominent question lingering in the air: will it simply be a straight adaptation of the novel, or will it take into considerations the changes made by Stanley Kubrick and operate as a cinematic sequel? Now the question has been answered, and, odd as it may sound, the answer is… both.

Those familiar with both Stephen King’s book and Stanley Kubrick’s film will notice that the two blend together quite prominently in the debut trailer for Doctor Sleep that was released this morning – and that important merger was also a major part of the discussion held during a trailer preview event yesterday in Los Angeles with Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy in attendance. Following a back-to-back screening of the first look preview, Flanagan and Macy took questions about their work developing the film, and the immense influence of both King and Kubrick.

Mike Flanagan fully acknowledged the popularity of the aforementioned lingering question, one of the first subjects brought up during the Q&A session, and explained that it was never something they could fully answer with just words. Instead, it was something they could only demonstrate with the film actually coming together – which is why it’s being addressed now that the trailer is out. Said the filmmaker,

It's the most common question we've had since the project was announced, and the question we couldn't really answer until we had material to present because the answer is really complicated. The answer to all of those questions for us has always been, 'Yes.' It is an adaptation of the novel Doctor Sleep, which is Stephen King's sequel to his novel, The Shining. But this also exists very much in the same cinematic universe that Kubrick established in his adaptation of The Shining. And reconciling those three, at times, very different sources has been kind of the most challenging and thrilling part of this creatively for us.

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance looking through a door in Doctor Sleep

Getting The Stamp Of Approval

Mike Flanagan has some past experience in what he calls “Stephen King’s sandbox,” having previously directed 2017’s Gerald’s Game – which was based on King’s 1992 novel of the same name. While you might think that this would lead to at least some kind of enhanced comfortability between the two men, Flanagan admitted that he still found himself experiencing two of the most nerve-wracking moments of his career getting the stamp of approval for Doctor Sleep.

It was right at the start of making the film that Flanagan understood the necessity of getting Stephen King on board with his specific approach – particularly because of the acrimony behind The Shining. According to him, one of the first moves made was setting up a meeting with the author, and telling him what they wanted to do with Doctor Sleep. And apparently if that meeting had gone any other way than perfectly, he wouldn’t have continued working on the project:

I went back to the book first, and the big conversation that we had to have was about whether or not we could still do a faithful adaptation of the novel as King had laid it out, while inhabiting universe that Kubrick had created. And that was a conversation that we had to have with Stephen King to kick the whole thing off. And if that conversation hadn't gone the way it went, we wouldn't have done the film.I'm sure all of you know, Stephen King's opinions about the Kubrick adaptation are famous, and complicated - and complicated to the point that if you've read [Doctor Sleep] you know that he actively and intentionally ignored everything that Kubrick had changed about his novel and defiantly said, 'Nope, this exists completely outside of the Kubrick universe.' So the first conversation we had to have, other than that, we as fans of King and apostles of The Shining, really needed to try to bring those worlds back together again. We had to go to King and explain how.

To Flanagan surprise, he added, not only did he walk away with Stephen King’s blessing on the project, but his “encouragement.”

This is definitely going the extra mile – but it doesn’t stop there. Not only did the Doctor Sleep production feel the need to get King’s approval, but also the endorsement of Stanley Kubrick’s estate. The vision for the movie required a revisiting of the iconic style of Kubrick’s The Shining, and Mike Flanagan and company felt doing so needed to be sanctioned.

Fortunately, this excursion also had wonderful results – and even a few extra benefits. As Trevor Macy discussed the relationship the film forged with the Kubrick estate, Mike Flanagan fully geeked out about getting to see the genius filmmaker’s original, annotated designs for the Overlook Hotel. Said Macy,

From the Kubrick estate's point of view, they have such a long relationship with Warner Bros., and they were generous with some of the original plans from The Overlook. That was a good day.

Looping back to where this started, Mike Flanagan said that sending his Doctor Sleep script to Stephen King was one of two most nerve-wracking moments of his career… so what’s the other one? Apparently it happened fairly recently, and it involved sending early cuts of the movie to both King and the Kubrick estate:

The second was at the end, very recently, of this post-production process when the film was sent to Stephen to watch, and also to the Kubrick estate… Both went very well. And that was always the hope going in, was that if there was some universe in which Stephen King and the Stanley Kubrick estate could both love this movie... The dream of threading that needle has been the source of every ulcer we've had for the last two years.

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance looking in a mirror in Doctor Sleep

Marrying The Material

With Doctor Sleep still months away from release, Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy couldn’t give away everything about how Doctor Sleep marries both King and Kubrick’s visions of The Shining, but they did acknowledge that the challenge was much bigger than just making a movie both parties could appreciate. King wrote the novel specifically as a follow-up to his original book and not the movie, and that led to a couple of logistical issues.

A perfect example of this is the fate of Dick Halloran. Those who are familiar only with the movie will remember the Scatman Crothers character getting an axe in the back and dying at the hands of Jack Torrance… but that’s not how it went down in the novel. Instead, on the page he played a crucial role in helping Wendy and Danny Torrance escape the Overlook, and he remained a close family friend for years – as depicted in Doctor Sleep. So how will the movie deal with an issue like that?

Mike Flanagan wasn’t exactly throwing out big reveals left and right, but he did acknowledge the need to pay special attention to those specific conflicts – not to mention the challenge of matching it with Kubrick’s vision of the Overlook for flashback sequences:

Some of [the blending] amounts to very practical questions about certain characters who are alive in the novel, The Shining, who were not alive by the end of the film, and how to deal with that. And then in particular, how to kind of get into the vision of The Overlook that Kubrick had created.

(It’s worth mentioning that Carl Lumbly is currently credited as playing Dick Halloran in Doctor Sleep, so whether he survived the Overlook or not, the character definitely has a role to play in the new film).

Danny Torrance roaming the halls of the Overlook in Doctor Sleep

A Most Exciting, Delightful, Intimidating, Nightmarish, Wonderful, Incredible Experience

The full scope of how Doctor Sleep will attempt to mend the fence between Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick won’t be revealed until this fall, but the great takeaway from the Q&A session with Mike Flanagan is the immense passion that he displayed for the work he is doing. To borrow a phrase from Trevor Macy, there is no ignoring the fact that he’s “standing on the shoulders of literary and cinematic giants,” but the experience appears to be both humbling and enriching for the filmmaker.

Expressing how Doctor Sleep brings together two of his great loves, Mike Flanagan told the crowd of reporters,

As a lot of you guys know, I am a Stephen King fanatic going back to my childhood. So any opportunity to play in Stephen King's sandbox has always been a dream and an honor for me. But as a student of cinema I idolize Stanley Kubrick, and I think the kind of storm of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick on this for me has been the most exciting, delightful, intimidating, nightmarish, wonderful, incredible experiences that I've ever had professionally. But it has come with more pressure than... I don't want to say we didn't expect it. We knew what we were getting into. But it's been quite overwhelming in a wonderful way.

In Doctor Sleep, Ewan McGregor stars as an adult Danny Torrance, who has spent his entire adult life badly processing the extreme trauma he experienced as a child (see: The Shining). After hitting his rock bottom, he goes on the road to recovery, and tries to make a new home for himself in a small New Hampshire town. However, what’s waiting for him in New England is not only the discovery of a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who he discovers can also Shine, but also a group known as The True Knot that preys on individuals with special abilities.

Co-starring Rebecca Ferguson, Bruce Greenwood, Zahn McClarnon, Elily Alyn Lind, Jacob Tremblay, and more, Doctor Sleep will be hitting theaters on November 8th – and you can be sure that between now and then we’ll have plenty more coverage of the film coming your way on CinemaBlend.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.