Dear Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas, and Carl Lumbly,
Despite being marketed as a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep is very much its own thing. It has its own identity and isn’t interested in being a fan service film. It doesn’t try to remake the past but instead, honour it, which is why I’m choosing to write to you three—the actors who had the unenviable task of recreating the performances of Shelley Duvall (Essoe), Jack Nicholson (Thomas), and Scatman Crothers (Lumbly), respectively.
Resurrecting the past is quite the trend in Hollywood at the moment. Gemini Man banked the success of its entire film on audiences wanting to see an old Will Smith squaring off against his younger self, an entirely digital clone of the Aladdin actor.
Marvel movies have become known for their de-aging capabilities, giving older actors such as Michael Douglas, Kurt Russell, and Samuel L. Jackson a second chance at their prime. Even Marvel’s new nemesis - Martin Scorsese - battled with de-aging technology for years before finally releasing The Irishman.
And recently, the whole CGI-recreation movement has caused some controversy as it was revealed that James Dean would be digitally resurrected for Finding Jack, a Vietnam war movie about a suicidal man and his dog.
(Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tupac’s holographic shenanigans.)
Whatever people’s opinions are on this trend (I personally am not a fan), at the end of the day, the intent is to give audiences a nostalgic anchor point that they can reference. With a movie like The Shining, the opportunity to reference the past with modern technology is ripe. I know the idea was thrown around at one point but ultimately scrapped so you three could strut your best impersonations. And I like to think that was the best decision Doctor Sleep could’ve made.
As I said earlier, Doctor Sleep pays respects to what came before but has no intention of replacing it. Rather than obsessively focus on the events that took place at the Overlook hotel, Doctor Sleep uses it as a jumping off point to follow a grown-up Danny Torrance. After his traumatic childhood, Danny has succumbed to alcoholism and violence in his old age. He is haunted by demons from his past (both metaphorically and literally), which leads him to a small town in New Hampshire for a fresh start.
Along the way, we learn that Danny is still telepathically linked to The Overlook’s head chef, Hallorann despite his axe-induced death in The Shining. It’s a role played brilliantly by you, Carl Lumbly. You possess the same diligent, voice of reason as Scatman Crothers. Your performance isn’t hindered by an uncanny face swap by some VFX team. Having actually just seen The Shining for the first time recently, I didn’t feel detached when I saw you on screen. I knew who you were playing without explanation. The connection was there.
Same goes with you, Alex, and your portrayal of Wendy Torrance. Shelley Duvall’s mannerisms are quite memorable and I was thoroughly impressed by your ability to mime Shelley’s distressed, nervous energy. The faint quiver in your voice was on par with that of the original Shining actress. Obviously, I knew I wasn’t looking at Shelley Duvall but I also knew I was watching an actress do a damn good job which made me invest more of my energy to Doctor Sleep.
A pet peeve of mine when looking at a de-aged/digitally recreated version of an older character is that the technology isn’t quite there yet. It’s impressive but there is always something slightly off which snaps me out of the movie-watching experience. And since filmmakers spend a lot of money on these shots, there is a tendency for the camera to focus on the face for a prolonged amount of time. Like this. It’s unnatural and an open invitation for the human eye to pick out flaws.
I think that’s the biggest difference between hiring actors to play the part, like you three, vs computer-generated renders. The audience is more forgiving with the former. We know finding a talented actor who also happens to be a splitting image of Jack Nicholson is impossible. So we tend to judge on idiosyncrasies and general likeness over why the fuck Jeff Bridges bounced around like a bobblehead in TRON: Legacy.
Which brings me to the performance with the most pressure behind it, Henry Thomas as Jack Torrance. Thanks to some clever camera work and lighting, the first time I saw Jack Torrance, I had to do a double take. The comparison was strong. So much so that it sealed the deal about how I felt about the movie.
Because despite how I’ve talked against de-aging up until this point, it could’ve easily been done without much impact. Your scenes were important but not substantial. The VFX takes would’ve been few and far in between. We the audience could have been graced with Shelley Duvall, Jack Nicholson, and Scatman Crothers had director, Mike Flanagan deemed so. But it’s the sheer balls to go against the grain and refuse to be a Shining clone that elevates Doctor Sleep.
Although heavily inspired by The Shining, Doctor Sleep, opens up the world for a fresh take on the series. It unravels some of the mystery behind the telepathic force known as the shining and creates new horrors that are far creepier than anything found back at The Overlook.
Rebecca Ferguson as a seductive cult leader is terrifying and the bone-chilling sequence of events featuring the uber-talented Jacob Tremblay is by far the hardest thing I’ve had to watch all year.
Although following the footsteps of an historic film can be daunting, you three proved that respecting the past can create a stronger future.