It would seem like audiences are suffering from a bit of Stephen King fatigue, as 2019 saw three theatrical releases of his films and each of them seemed to under-perform at the box office. Pet Sematary was a lackluster adaptation, and It Chapter 2 was fun, but still disappointing when considering how good the first was, and then there was Doctor Sleep, the long awaited sequel (depending who you ask) to The Shining. When it comes to The Shining, I’m a fan of both King’s book but also of Stanley Kubrick’s take on the material. King has always had his problems with the Kubrick version due to the many liberties taken with the material, and many people tend to forget how personal that story was for King and how it dealt with his own personal struggles with alcohol and addiction. Because of all this, I believe it’s why the announcement of Doctor Sleep as a book and eventually a film was so shocking and even polarizing for some. When I read the book, it was a fun and unexpected journey that eventually leads back to the Overlook, but most enjoyable was the journey on getting there as King created a sequel that delved more into what “the shining” is rather than simply return to a haunted hotel. So how was the film, and how does the director’s cut differ from the theatrical cut?
For those unfamiliar with the story of Doctor Sleep, it follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who is all grown up now but remains mentally and emotionally damaged from the previous events at the Overlook Hotel. He’s followed in the footsteps of his father and has become an alcoholic and has done some horrible things along the way. It’s when he hits rock bottom that he meets Billy (Cliff Curtis), who helps him and takes him to an AA meeting which begins his long journey towards sobriety. We also have a tribe of vampire like killers that call themselves The True Knot who are led by a powerful psychic named Rose “The Hat” (Rebecca Ferguson). What makes The True Knot so terrifying is that they are a group, each with their own psychic skill type who prey upon those who also have psychic abilities, and to survive they literally feed on their psychic “steam”. This “steam” is what makes them strong and helps prolong their lives, and to make this “steam” last, the more pain and fear they inflict on their victim the better it is. As it turns out, “steam” is strongest in children, and this means that The True Knot is doing some horrible things to children as they travel in a caravan across the US. This is where Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) comes in. She’s a young girl with powerful abilities who happens to psychically see the horrible death of one of the “steam” victims, and she reaches out to Dan for help.
For those hoping for anything that resembled the plot of The Shining, I’m sorry, you’re going to be very disappointed. Through the use of flashbacks we do get taken back to the Overlook, and we do get to see how little Danny was affected by the numerous ghosts that were there, but one of my favorite links to the previous story is seeing Dan and Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) discuss their abilities and eventually how to “trap” these unwanted memories from the Overlook. This is very much setting up for how Dan can use his abilities for good. I’m glad the film lets us see Dan spend time working at a hospice where we get to see him use his abilities to help numerous dying folks cross over without fear. It’s where Dan is eventually labeled “Doctor Sleep”. For me this was my favorite portion of the book, where we can see how his ability can genuinely be used for good and without fear, when before we always saw it as a curse or a weapon. If the story had been about nothing more than Dan’s adventures at the hospice and with the cat that happened to have a sense for when someone were about to pass, I would happily have enjoyed this. Another one of the risky takes on the book that director Mike Flanagan seemed to nail was incorporating all the psychic powers on display but keeping them in the real world and seeming practical. Of course there are moments where obviously green screen and other VFX are used, but it never feels overused or becomes distracting.
As for how the director managed to incorporate Kubrick’s visual style while remaining true to King’s story …well, that comes in the last act of the film for the most part, but I feel this is the most divisive point of the film, where you either love it or you just hate it. Personally I loved how this third act plays out with its nods and winks to the previous work while also doing its own thing. When Ready Player One had its portion of the film take place within The Shining, I was impressed by many of the recreations. What Doctor Sleep does with them is not only a nice nostalgia trip, but it works well with the story, and because of this it doesn’t feel like a cheap nostalgiac trip; it’s genuinely functional if not crucial to the story.
As for the differences between the two cuts of the film, honestly it’s not so much about cut scenes being added, but more it’s simply scenes being extended. The small but most obvious additions to the film are the chapter title cards, but while this doesn’t add to the length, it adds more to the style of the film. One addition is I feel some of the deaths feel a bit prolonged for both #19 and in the massive showdown with The True Knot and we actually “see” the fate of another character. We get more about young Danny and his mom as they are dealing with the events after the Overlook, but mostly the additional stuff revolves around Dan and his conversations delving into his shine with Dick Hallorann. Another extension comes in the third act that I won’t divulge simply because it’s to crucial to the plot to get into and also falls into what a viewer may love or hate about this ending (my girlfriend and I debated this sequence for a bit), and I remain in the camp of really enjoying how this scene turned out.
Before I had seen Doctor Sleep, I was certain the only person who could truly adapt Stephen King’s work and stay true to the book was Frank Darabont, but Mike Flanagan has done a remarkable job with making my favorite adaptation, right behind The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. I’m certain with time this will find its audience and will find its well deserved praise.
Doctor Sleep: The Director’s Cut is presented in the aspect ratio 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 24 mbps. The overall look of the film is a bit dull with blues and greens, and all the color in the film seems a bit muted. It’s really not until we get to Tthe Overlook where we see a little vibrance in color. The textures are what come through nicely; one of the best moments of this is obvious when we see some of the dilapidated Overlook. The look of the film very much sets a tone for the story and somewhat gives it a dark fairytale quality which I feel fits appropriately here.
It is here in the ultra-high-definition image presentation that the value of the UHD comes through. Colors are still somewhat muted, as they were intended to be, much along the lines of The Shining, of course. There are some rather brilliant moments in this version. There’s an exceptional scene that takes place within characters’ minds and finds a character floating in space where the HDR provides wonderful contrast between the deep blacks of space and the pinpoint lights of stars. In addition, the clumps of yellowish clusters of light from the distant Earth are one of my favorite visual experiences in the film. The UHD features a HEVS codec at an average 60 mbps. Overall there’s more depth to be had here, particularly in shadow definition and black levels.
The Dolby Atmos Truly HD track is hard at work from the start of the film and sets a tone, as the score is set like a beating heart. This is an audio mix that genuinely works as an audio mix to engage the viewer as the score blends with the ambient noise working its way from the back to the front and vice versa to not exactly give a jump scare but instead builds a scare. The rear channels are more prevalent here, but not so much in an overpowering way, but subtle, as though it’s reminding us of the constant dread we should have for what’s on screen.
The UHD disc is powered by pretty much the same transfer in the audio presentation. A little more bandwidth offers a bit of a punch in the subs, which really benefits the heartbeat score.
It’s a bit of a surprise that there are extras on the UHD disc while the Blu-ray offers only the Director’s Cut of the film with no extras. The extras are in 4K complete with HDR.
From Shining To Sleep: (4:56) Stephen King and Mike Flanagan sit and talk about the influence both the film and the book have on this film. King was always unhappy with the original film, and here he’s happy to see both versions represented in the sequel.
The Making Of Doctor Sleep – A New Vision: (13:57) This serves as pretty much a continuation of the King/Flanagan conversation. But now we get some input from cast and crew along with some nice behind-the-scenes footage. The focus points are on casting, production design, costumes/props and makeup f/x.
Return To The Overlook: (14:59) This feature takes us back to some of the iconic moments of the original film. We get to see the set recreations and go behind the scenes where some of those classic moments were revisited here.
This was one of my favorite films from last year and one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations. While you don’t exactly need to see The Shining to appreciate this film, it’s definitely worth checking out and having a double feature with Doctor Sleep. Despite being three hours long, the film doesn’t drag and moves at a pretty good pace, unlike a certain Netflix film that got numerous Oscar nominations. I love this movie, and Ewan McGregor continues to impress me lately. If you like horror and this somehow slipped past you, check this one out. Mike Flanagan is quickly becoming the new maestro of horror and a filmmaker to be excited about.