Yes, it’s Friday. Let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about the two movies I’ve got for you instead:
- Doctor Sleep (2019): An adaptation to Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining that also serves as a sequel to The Shining.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2018): A sequel to Godzilla (2014) that also serves as a sequel to Kong: Skull Island.
Both of them after the adverts and the trailers.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
Struggling with alcoholism, Dan Torrance remains traumatised by the sinister events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel when he was a child. His hope for a peaceful existence soon becomes shattered when he meets Abra, a teen who shares his extrasensory gift of the “shine”.
Together, they form an unlikely alliance to battle the True Knot, a cult whose members try to feed off the shine of innocents to become immortal.
Neither one nor t’other
If there’s one thing Stephen King is sure of about The Shining, it’s that he doesn’t like it. This isn’t because he has no taste or because he thinks that an obvious cinematic masterpiece, a classic of tension and Stanley Kubrick’s eye for design, wasn’t very good. It’s because it’s not The Shining. His The Shining wot he wrote.
The two are similar but they are quite different in many ways, it must be admitted, particularly the ending. So with King having written a sequel to his The Shining, Doctor Sleep, that unfalteringly chose to ignore Kubrick’s version, you might wonder how the cinematic sequel would turn out. It’s one thing for a book to ignore cinema, but can cinema ignore cinema?
Doctor Sleep, of course, chooses not to ignore The Shining, making it a decided sequel to that classic. But it’s also clearly an adaptation of Doctor Sleep. It sees Ewan McGregor playing the now-grown up Danny Torrance. After nearly 40 years of trying to get over the horrors of his childhood, as well as the ghosts from the Overlook Hotel who still pursue him, Torrance leaves New York for life in a small town.
There he meets Cliff Curtis (Once Were Warriors), who quickly spots a damaged soul in need of help. He gets him a home, a job and brings him to AA. Soon, Danny is leading a happy life. But he’s soon in touch with a young girl who can “shine”. Unfortunately, there are others led by ‘Rose the Hat’ (Rebecca Ferguson) who feed on the shine (or the “steam”, as they call it) and they want to catch this girl and eat her, forcing Danny to help her.
Guess how he does that.
Doctor Sleep takes its time, which given you know exactly where this is all heading, is not really a virtue. Rather than being a thriller, it’s more of a fantasy piece, looking at the society Ferguson’s vampiric bunch of carnies have crafted for themselves over the centuries, coupled with a character piece examining a man broken by his childhood who finds redemption through helping others.
There are scares and plenty of imagination to be had in the plot, with a sort of long-range psionic warfare going on between Team Torrance and Team Hat that ultimately becomes a close-up fight. But you’re counting the minutes until the return to the Overlook Hotel.
In terms of cinematography, this is very clearly a modern film that uses modern techniques, although it avoids the jump scares of both the original and the likes of The Conjuring. It’s certainly very good at contrasting light with shade, dark and natural. Just the arrival in Danny’s new home away from the city feels cleansing and purifying.
However, bereft of Kubrick’s unflinching formalism, the movie rarely manages to scare and when imposed on the Overlook Hotel, it actually becomes almost comedic at times.
The movie does do a good rendition of the original movie. While none of the original cast make an appearance – well, Danny Lloyd makes a cameo at one point, but not as Danny Torrance again, obviously – the Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall impersonators they’ve recruited do a decent job of recreating their performances, while Carl Lumbly does a decent Scatman Crothers. The main cast do well: McGregor is sympathetic, while Ferguson is very faeary.
The recreation of the Overlook Hotel is jolly decent, too. However, the iconography of the various ghosts is largely wasted and they’re too easily dispatched to create any scares.
Indeed, the film’s most satisfying moments are those away from the hotel, when it’s dealing with more inner matters. You can’t help but come away thinking that it either needed to be a sequel to The Shining or to The Shining, but not both.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Members of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species-thought to be mere myths-rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.
Monsters not people
Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi. These are all famous actors with talent, careers and steady jobs. They all appear in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It’s unclear why.
There is a plot of sorts. Some rogue organisation decides that the world needs a Gaia-theory style rebalancing of the planet’s ecosystem, and a whole bunch of the ‘mutos’ (now ‘Titans’) introduced in Godzilla (2014) are just the way to do it, so release some new ones that have been found. It’s then up to some of the humans to help Godzilla fight them, particularly King Ghidorah.
However, the plot’s really only there to get a big bunch of monsters to fight one another and while many people do many things, some of them heroic, you won’t care about any of them for even a millisecond. They’re just irrelevant. They’re as irrelevant as you are to King Ghidorah.
Tame the dragon
I certainly found myself caring more about the monsters, particularly Godzilla and Mothra but also others, than I did about the humans, who are universally dicks, idiots, brats, taking the pay cheque for the money and irritating, with approximately 90 seconds of the movie dedicated to characterising each of them.
The monsters and the monster fights, to the movie’s credit, are actually quite good. Surprisingly, the movie draws on all those old Taho movies for the designs, relationships between monsters and even sometimes the plot, right down to the very first Godzilla (1954)’s oxygen weapon. King Ghidorah is still canonically an alien and Mothra is Godzilla’s occasional ally; Rodan will play for either team. Everything even has its appropriate powers, amped up for the CGI years we now live in.
When Godzilla gets a kicking, you will care. You may weep over Mothra. You won’t give a monkey’s about anyone else.
Hmm. Did I say monkey? That reminds me. If you stayed to the end of Kong: Skull Island you’ll have impressed me even more than if you stayed for the start, but you’ll recall that a picture of King Ghidorah popped up at the end.
As part of a giant Universal licensing deal, Godzilla: King of the Monsters now makes King Kong a ‘Titan’. There are copious references to both Kong and Skull Island throughout, which makes his ultimate non-appearance an even greater disappointment than the rest of the movie.
Somehow, I don’t think we’ll see that particular crossover movie happening now, but you never know.
While the movie has been critiqued as being on a par with Transformers, that’s a little unfair, since it is thankfully entirely free of Michael Bay’s pornographic tendencies and notionally it’s a flesh and blood fighting, not big lumps of metal, even if ultimately of course it’s CGI. If you could cull it to just the monster fights, it would be a reasonably decent 45 minutes or so of excitement and even the occasional bit of pathos.
It’s just that in between all those fights, you’ll have to sit through a whole bunch of people opening and closing their mouths pointlessly. Particularly Bradley Whitford.