'The Shining' Prequel Is the Problem with Prequels

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What's worse: The unnecessary sequel? The unnecessary remake? May I submit that in fact the unnecessary prequel does the job of both, simultaneously adding to a story that didn't need adding to, just as a sequel does, and managing to oddly reinvent the world of the original, just like a bad remake would. Look no further for an example than the ultimate terrible prequels, Star Wars I-III, which were not only bad movies in their own right but, boy, did they do a number on the original trilogy. A bad prequel can wreak a lot of havoc. And so when we hear news that the whispered-about prequel to The Shining is chugging along, with Warner Bros. hiring a writer, it bears taking a moment to yell: No!

That's the news today: Ousted Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara is all but signed-off to write the script for The Overlook Hotel, a prequel to the Stanley Kubrick film version of Stephen King's novel The Shining. That's an important distinction to make, as King didn't like Kubrick's film, because it deviated significantly from the book, though many hold it to be something of a horror masterpiece. So this prequel would exist more in Kubrick's world than in King's, though the prequel material would theoretically be based on a prologue written by King that was eventually cut from the book.

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That's conjecture from back in February, anyway, when King told Entertainment Weekly that he wasn't too fond of the prequel idea, and that he's looking into whether Warner Bros. even has the rights anymore. Well, WB clearly thinks they do, as the Mazzara talks would suggest. That could very well mean that the excised prologue, called "Before the Play," won't be the basis for the film at all. Maybe Mazzara is meant simply to take cues from Kubrick's 1980 film and go from there, making the rest from whole cloth. While something of an interesting thought experiment — why is Jack Torrance in that photo from 1921? — I'm not sure we really need a whole movie based on the idea of the pre-Shining hotel. Look at Bates Motel, A&E's bizarre and macabre new Psycho prequel/reimagining series, which is entertaining in its own odd way, but feels completely unnecessary and possibly even insulting when you really consider the significance of Psycho.

This current impulse for a new generation to put its stamp on a beloved old thing is getting a little tiresome, no? Obviously plays have been constantly revived and reimagined practically since plays were invented, so the basic idea is nothing new. But those are single, standalone events; unless you want to hole yourself up in the Lincoln Center video archives (and you'll need a student ID and a valid reason, I'm told), then once a production closes, it's gone forever. And, yes, since movies came along people have been repeating and amending material. It's only been 32 years since The Shining first bathed America in elevator blood. Are we really so itchy (at best) or arrogant (at worst) that we need to go back to that world and try to put a 2013 spin on it? Hopefully King is right and there's something to be done to block this. Mazzara did a great job with the second season of Walking Dead, but The Shining is a cultural crown jewel. I just don't know that he, or anyone, is quite up to breaking their way into that world. Someone please stop this thing, huh? Scatman Crothers is gone, so we need a new hero.

I mean, if we're still not done talking about the original, as the recent documentary Room 237 proves, then why do we need to rush into something new?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.