Every time Stephen King releases a new novel, you can imagine film and TV studios across America racing to get the adaptation rights, but should they try and handle Doctor Sleep?
Personally, I hope not. Doctor Sleep is, of course, his long-awaited sequel to The Shining, which picks up where the original novel – one of the best scary stories ever – left off. That connection alone is probably enough to get Hollywood types slavering.
But while I hugely enjoyed the book, that doesn’t mean I would want to see it filmed. For one thing, any adaptation would have to navigate the choppy waters of whether it is a filmed version of the sequel to a book, or the sequel to a filmed version of the original book.
That sounds moot, but the fact is that while Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining was brilliant, it wasn’t Stephen King’s The Shining, and the author has rarely missed a chance to point that out. Beyond key differences in the characterisation, there are plot points like Kubrick’s decision to have Dick Halloran killed by Jack Torrence rather than merely injured.
So the opening scenes of Doctor Sleep might come as a surprise as they feature an older-but-still-young Danny Torrence talking to his alive pal Dick. Obviously the age difference means that Halloran is dead by the time the main action takes place, but it would be a shame for his early involvement to be ignored or explained away by having him be a ghost.
However, that kind of thing isn’t going to make or break a film of Doctor Sleep. What would is that any adaptation would struggle to utilise the cyclical nature of the overall story (across the two books), a story of two generations of alcoholic men struggling to do the right thing and overcome their personal demons. And some real demons.
And if the subtleties and more personal elements of the story get overwhelmed by the main action, I think there’s a chance Doctor Sleep would end up as just another of those pretty poor Stephen King adaptations (the list is too long to even begin naming them).
The True Knot just about worked in the novel, if you forgave some of King’s familiar character weaknesses (like giving people names like Rose The Hat and Barry The Chink) and focused on the sinister concept of a group of seemingly bland ‘RV People’ who are secretly child murderers.
But it would be hard to pull that off on-screen without turning people like Rose into overblown cliches or underwhelming bunglers who aren’t ever really that much of a threat. Again, it’s something isn’t a problem in the book, but changes would need to be made for a film or TV show to tell the story effectively.
And then you have Dan Torrence. He’s already been badly done by on screen once, with his strong character in The Shining reduced to a snivelling cry baby by Kubrick. He goes through some very dark times in Doctor Sleep and his journey into the light is by necessity a gradual one. Telling that story in a film would be tricky and would most likely it would get sidelined by the action.
This is all probably too much to ask for, given that King adaptations are still as popular as ever. Carrie has been made three separate times, while It and The Stand are both being redone after having TV miniseries adaptations in the 90s. So we’ll no doubt see Doctor Sleep in some form at some point.
But leave The Dark Tower alone, ok?