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Blu-ray Review: Doctor Sleep

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Written, directed and edited by Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep is the adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel novel to The Shining and is released on 4k UHD, Blu-Ray, DVD and digital in the UK on the 9th of March.

We were sent the Blu-Ray to check out and watched the theatrical cut of the feature with the 5.1 audio stream and then all the extra features.

The Blu-Ray comes packaged with a slipcover and contains two discs, with the theatrical feature and extras on disc one and the Director’s Cut on disc two. It was nice to see that Warner Bros. were serious about the Director’s Cut and gave it a disc of its own instead of trying to squeeze it all on one disc – compromising the number of bits available for perfect picture quality.

My rule is that you ALWAYS watch the theatrical version first, no matter the film or what you’ve heard (because how can you judge the changes otherwise?), so we started with that. Booting up we were a bit disappointed with the menus that consisted of a static image with a bit of music – The Shining theme on a loop. I know no studio wants to pay for fancy menus or the authoring to go with them – but I do miss those days.

Flicking around, there were English Dolby Atmos and 5.1 available, as well as an audio descriptive track, English hard-of-hearing subtitles and about a million other subs streams for every other language in the world. We selected the 5.1 and checked in on the extras. There were only three and we’ll come back to them.

The film: I’ll be honest, as a huge Stephen King/horror/The Shining fan Doctor Sleep really annoyed me. It is so, so good and I never got to see it at the cinema and that is really annoying.

From the film beginning on the 1980 WB logo and then The Shining music over an overhead shot aping the beginning of Kubrick’s film, we were in. Flanagan is a huge King fan (see: I don’t know, his entire back catalogue) and it shows here. He manages to juggle and adapt King’s novel, rejig things so that it also works as a direct sequel to Kubrick’s film AND put plenty of his own style on top so that it still feels like a Flanagan film – not a trying-to-service-King-and-Kubrick compromise.

Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is all grown up and an angry alcoholic always spoiling for a fight. The booze mostly blocks out the shining but we/he can still make out the faint occasional sing-song of the Grady twins every now and then. His childhood shining mentor Dick Halloran (now played by Carl Lumbly) appears to him as a kind of Jiminy Cricket conscience ghost – a nice way to reconcile him dying in the film but not in the book – and along with a new friend played by the ever-brilliant Cliff Curtis, Danny decides to get straight and sober.

MEANWHILE, a gang of shining vampires called the True Know who feed on the “steam” that comes out when you torture and kill people with the shining, and who all look like they’ve been styled by Jason Momoa, and are led by a very cool Stevie Nicks-y character called Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) are travelling across the country.

ALSO MEANWHILE, a young girl, Abra (seriously) (Kyliegh Curran) is slowly discovering that she is a super powerful shining user, and can make psychic contact with Danny, and can psychic spy on the True Knot’s murders.

Rose wants to catch and eat Abra, while Obi-Wan, sorry Danny must now show her the ways of the force, sorry shining, so she can learn the ways of the force, sorry shining and become a Jedi like her father, sorry, defeat the True Knot so that they stop munching down kids like they’re psychically charged Starmix.

Ewan and Kyliegh are both very good, but Rebecca Ferguson as Rose is a real scene-stealer. Even though she is the big bad, she is so cool and magnetic and charismatic that it is really hard not to really like her. Elsewhere, in exciting recreations of the original film and its cast, Starry EyesAlex Essoe “shines”, eurgh, as Wendy Torrance, giving an eerily spot-on Shelley Duvall impression.

The riffing on and continuation of events from The Shining is really exciting and gave us a charge every time. There are some frankly amazing set reproductions and mimics of parts large and small from the previous film and a frankly bravura unforgettable finale back at The Overlook.

A lot of The Shining nods are obvious enough for everyone, but there’s also some under-the-counter cooler King-verse stuff too like Halloran advising Danny that Ka is a wheel and a few 19’s to spot as well.

The effects are courtesy of special effects make-up royalty Robert Kurtzman and the – how to describe? – “shining mechanics” where people are projecting or going into each others minds are so well done they are genuinely joy-inducing. All of this wonderfulness is soundtracked by a creeping score from the Newton Brothers that keeps you constantly edgy and thrilled. Flanagan has made an honestly brilliant film that I keep getting so excited by and eager to rewatch the more I talk, write and think about it.

By the by, the video encode looks great and the 5.1 is fine but feels a little lacking in surround channels activity. EDIT: While playing around I noticed that even though the 5.1 track is specifically tailored for a standard six-channel set-up and the Atmos is a mixdown and redistribution of lots of additional speaker information for speakers we didn’t have it actually sounded better and was noticeably livelier in the rears even when just spot-checking. BOTTOM LINE: even if you only have 5.1, not atmos, at home (who on Earth does??) – select the Atmos audio.

Like I said ages ago, there are only three extras. First up is ‘From Shining to Sleep’ which is Flanagan and King talking about how they approached marrying the disparate endings of the Shining novel and the Shining book to create a film that felt satisfying all round and its own thing and even managed to give King the ending he always wanted for The Overlook on film.

It’s really good and having these two openly and honestly discussing this kind of stuff is gold but it is ONLY FIVE MINUTES LONG. Between this and the brilliant but also momentary King feature on IT: Chapter Two, WB are killing me with these glimpses into Stephen King in their extras with him that are infuriatingly short. Still, better than not having him in there at all.

‘The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision’ is longer at 14 minutes. It’s a fairly standard making-of, but it is surprisingly very spoilery – so don’t watch it first if you haven’t seen the movie. It has some brilliant insights into the members of the True Knot and the things in their costumes that you may have missed, fleshing out characters who are a little underdone – but in an enigmatic way – and even including a whole sentence from star Ewan MacGregor.

‘Return to The Overlook’ is 15 minutes and focuses on the Shining/Overlook recreations built for the film. It is fantastic and shows the love and joy and reverence to the first book and film that every single person involved had as well as highlighting how breathtaking these completely real hotel sets are.

It’s a small set of extras but they will still make you want to rewatch the film again straight away. They are also full of tantalising little hints that there was more shot than you saw…

SO LUCKILY, you can then stick in the second disc and watch the Director’s Cut which is half an hour longer and (from just chapter skipping through being nosey) has a lot more of the excellent Shining recreation material throughout and we can maybe talk about it some more after I watch it on Monday.

Film

Disc

Doctor Sleep is released on 4k UHD, Blu-Ray, DVD and digital on the 9th of March.

There is also a steel book available from HMV.

(Please bear in mind that the Director’s Cut is only available on the 4k UHD and Blu-Ray)

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