If you think normal sequels have it rough when it comes to trying to live up to the original, imagine the pressure being faced when you’re the sequel to a film widely considered an iconic cinematic masterpiece? That’s exactly the challenge that writer/director Mike Flanagan accepted when opting to adapt Stephen King’s novel “Doctor Sleep”, King’s sequel to “The Shining”, for the big screen. And in a world filled with jump-scare, low budget horror flicks that are being pumped out annually just to make a quick buck on opening weekend, with no real regard for quality or lasting appeal, Flanagan once again proves himself to be a shining light in horror, defying the odds and creating a cinematic masterpiece of his own in Doctor Sleep that at the very least earns a place right alongside its predecessor – and I’ll even go as far as to say it actually surpasses it.
It’s fairly common knowledge that the author wasn’t a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s take on his 1977 novel, The Shining. He also wasn’t a fan of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance, or Shelley Duvall’s work as Jack’s wife Wendy. He felt that Jack came off as a bit insane right at the start of the movie, so his progression from normal, loving family man to murderous lunatic didn’t have the impact it should have, and that Wendy was seen as weak when she should’ve been depicted as a stronger female like he’d written. Honestly, I don’t disagree with him. Having just watched The Shining again before delving into the world of Doctor Sleep, I also felt that Jack’s plunge into insanity didn’t come across as well as it should have, despite the fact that once the dial is turned to eleven, you can’t beat a raving, axe-wielding Nicholson stomping around throughout the Overlook Hotel.
That doesn’t change the fact that The Shining is a filmmaking masterpiece, especially from a visual standpoint, but it does make it easier to understand why it also wasn’t critically acclaimed upon release, nor did it set the box office ablaze. Unfortunately, Doctor Sleep suffered the same fate this past November when it failed to top the box-office at a time when it should have done so without much trouble. But much like Kubrick’s The Shining, I believe that Doctor Sleep is a film that will find its audience and the acclaim it deserves as the years go by, especially given the fact that we now get to watch the Director’s Cut of the film with this home release.
Yes, the Blu-ray release comes with both the theatrical version of the film and the Director’s Cut, but much like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, once you watch the Director’s Cut (or in their case, the Extended Versions) there’s just no going back. It’s definitely unfortunate that the 4K disc doesn’t include the Director’s Cut for some reason, though the digital copy it comes with is available to download in 4K. Again, I’m not sure why this is and neither is Flanagan, who says he’d love to see it on 4K disc – but he also says he’s grateful that Warner Bros. allowed him to do the Director’s Cut at all, so we probably should be too. Plus, while it may not be 4K the film looks superb on Blu-ray, so having a physical version alongside the digital is great as well.
The Director’s Cut is a whopping 180-minutes, which is 28-minutes of additional content and extended scenes not found in the theatrical cut. Flanagan has also broken the Director’s Cut down into chapters, which adds such a simple, yet wonderful layer to the film, while also helping bridge the story and themes together. There’s also some more violence and blood, but nothing gratuitous. Everything that’s been added or extended is clearly done so in loving fashion and handled with great care by Flanagan. From the visual and editing homages to The Shining, to the score that instantly transports the viewer to that same fantastical, haunted world that the Overlook Hotel resides in, Flanagan has succeeded in delivering on his ultimate vision of the film that he wanted fans to see if time constraints were not a factor.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, it follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as an adult, still dealing with the emotional and mental fallout from the events at the Overlook Hotel when he was just a kid. Struggling to find a place in the world, Dan eventually crosses paths with a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who shares his gift of shining. But at the same time there’s a cult roaming the country called The True Knot, who hunts down and feast on those who carry the light like Dan and Abra do, in order to live unnaturally long lives. With Abra now on The True Knot’s radar, it’s up to Dan to help protect her, while still trying to battle the demons of his past.
Now you can absolutely have a fantastic visionary director that nails it on all fronts like Flanagan does here, but if the acting isn’t on the same level then it can’t help but hurt the film overall. Though since you read the name Ewan McGregor in the previous paragraph, you know that there’s nothing to worry about there. McGregor is superb, giving Danny all the right layers as an adult that we’d expect from someone who went through what he did growing up. The constant struggle he has with his shine and his demons is beautifully portrayed and McGregor carries the film – which was likely just as daunting a task as taking on the writing/directing gig of such a movie – with ease.
It also helps that he’s surrounded by great talents as well, with Curran delivering a badass performance. The Director’s Cut delves into Abra’s character a bit more, and being open to her gift and wanting to do good with it gives her a great balance alongside Danny, who was told at an early age to hide his gift and not make waves in the world. Her innocence from the evil of the world gives her a cockiness that’s endearing, and the thought of her working alongside Dan creates an excitement as a viewer that I wish could be felt every time I watch a film.
On the antagonist side, the cultists are led by a mysterious woman named Rose the Hat, who is a downright terrifying character that’s magnificently portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson. While the rest of the cultists don’t really come off as much more than Rose’s thugs, they’re still an incredibly creepy crew that have some great moments on screen. There’s one scene in particular that I won’t get into that’s just devastating and shocking to watch, and Ferguson plays it perfectly while Flanagan doesn’t pull any punches with the visuals. He’s careful that the scene is never overly grotesque because it’s actually more effective without having to go there.
If it’s not clear by now how I felt about Doctor Sleep, let me just say straight out that I absolutely loved it. Every minute of it. King’s recent adaptations have been a mixed bag of late, from the hokier, jump-scare fare that was Pet Sematary, to the masterfully crafted It. Flanagan’s Director’s Cut of Doctor Sleep falls into the latter category, easily becoming one of the best horror films in decades.
The Blu-ray’s Director’s Cut looks incredible, with wonderful visuals and no distractions at all in any transfers. The film is often dark, but there are no muddy blacks or digital traces left behind that often plague poor transfers, streams or DVDs. While not as crisp as a 4K transfer, the quality of the Blu-ray is still strong enough to warrant the purchase just so you can have a physical version of the Director’s Cut. Will a 4K disc come down the road? It’s possible, but I’d wager that’s a ways off or some sort of anniversary edition, and if that does happen it’s so far off that you’re best to snag this one. If you still want the 4K digital edition, then the film looks fantastic there as well.
On the audio front, the sound is spectacular. The score and sound effects are brilliant and elevate the movie in all the right ways and sound gorgeous in surround sound. The dialogue is clear and never battles the strong score or effects, as all work in harmony to deliver a great audio/visual experience on both Blu-ray and 4K.
From Shining to Sleep – This featurette is short, yet filled with some interesting information, as both Flanagan and King talk about everything from the hardships in following up The Shining, the differences between the films and novels, thematic qualities and how it all comes together. These two would’ve been great to have had on a commentary track, if not just Flanagan, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen.
The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision – This is a 14-minute feature that sees Flanagan and King joined by McGregor, as well as Curran and Fergusson and other cast and crew talk about the making of the movie, the script, building on the well-known story and more. A fun watch after seeing the film.
Return to The Overlook – Cast and crew return again and talk about their experience when seeing The Shining, as well as recreating the Overlook Hotel for this movie, along with some of the ghosts found within it. Another fun feature that just falls shy of the 15-minute mark in length.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents Doctor Sleep. Written & Directed by: Mike Flanagan. Based on the novel by: Stephen King. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind. Running time: Director’s Cut: 180-Minutes/Theatrical Cut: 152 Minutes. Rating: 18A. Released on Blu-ray: Feb. 4, 2020.
Tags: Cliff Curtis, Doctor Sleep, Emily Alyn Lind, ewan mcgregor, Kyliegh Curran, mike flanagan, Rebecca Ferguson, Stephen King, The Shining, Zahn McClarnon