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While writer/director Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is a true adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel novel to The Shining, there was one key location he really wanted to revisit in his film: The Overlook Hotel. It was an iffy prospect, but eventually Flanagan convinced King that the inclusion of the famed hotel of haunts was essential to how he wanted to tell the story of Danny Torrance’s struggles in adulthood.
In the early phases of trying to secure the version of Doctor Sleep that he wanted to tell, Mike Flanagan approached the author/icon who originated this world with the following hybridized approach:
My initial pitch to him was that I’d like to do as faithful an adaptation of Doctor Sleep as I can, but I’d like to bring back the Overlook—and specifically, I’d like to bring back the Overlook as Kubrick imagined it. And his initial reaction was, ‘No.’ He was not interested in that. [King] kept an open mind.
As you can see, the idea to bring back The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining was a concept that King bristled at in the beginning. Not only has Stephen King’s displeasure surrounding that film adaptation been a legendary subject of discussion, but if Mike Flanagan was going to adapt Doctor Sleep as faithfully as possible, there was one detail that kind of prevented The Overlook’s return. And that’s the fact that the hotel burned down at the end of The Shining’s literary counterpart.
So if you’re going to overwrite literary canon with cinematic lore, like Mike Flanagan did with Doctor Sleep’s film treatment, you’d need a pretty good reason to do so. And in the case of keeping Stephen King on board with this film, you’d need some damned solid pitch work to get the job done.
True to his reputation as not only a fantastic adapter of Stephen King’s work, but also as one of modern horror’s most creative minds, Mike Flanagan took an aspect of his pitch he felt sold the return to The Overlook Hotel in the best way possible, and ran with it. That renewed pitch, revealed to The Daily Beast by Flanagan himself, was described thusly:
And in particular, I pitched one very specific scene that takes place in the hotel toward the end of the film, and when I mentioned that as the reason I wanted to go back, he thought it over and came back and said, ‘OK, do that.’ I saw it as this gift, to me as a fan, and from me to him as well—that yes, we’re going to bring back this Kubrickian Overlook world, and I wanted to celebrate that film. But what if, in doing so, at the same time, you get elements of that ending of that novel, The Shining, that Kubrick jettisoned? Then you start to get the ending you never did, and that King was denied.
Stephen King has decried Stanley Kubrick’s Shining as a film that, above all else, seemed to lack the more human qualities of his work. What in the world did Mike Flanagan pitch to Stephen King that not only justified Doctor Sleep’s inclusion of The Overlook Hotel, but also vindicated The Shining’s source material in the process? Well, it’s uncertain at this moment, as the film hasn’t been released yet.
However, looking at Mike Flanagan’s resume, especially pertaining to his hit Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, one could assume that the cold, horrific nature of The Shining film is not part of what makes Doctor Sleep such an exciting film to behold. If anything, it’s Flanagan’s approach to horror as a set of circumstances visited upon people you can relate to that makes Ewan McGregor’s Danny Torrance all the more exciting to finally see.
Maybe, in adapting Danny’s adult years, Mike Flanagan found the warmth that was missing from his childhood and has brought it to the screen. We’ll see soon enough as Doctor Sleep, the long awaited second chapter to The Shining story, will answer that question, and so many others, when it hits theaters this weekend.