Why Doctor Sleep worked so well as a sequel, and Terminator: Dark Fate did not

Sequels have been around forever, just ask George Lucas. But there’s a recent trend of making modern sequels to older classics.

Cynics will say that’s because this generation of movie producers has zero originality or creativity. Those more forgiving will say it’s a way of paying tribute to the true groundbreakers of the industry.

For better or worse, movies like Blade Runner 2049, Jurassic World and even the Halloween remake/reboot/whatever have dominated the box office. Even if critic reviews have been mixed, the ticket sales have been good, so they’ll keep coming.

My theory is that it’s a demographic thing. Gen Xers finally have enough power and influence behind the scenes, so they want to pay homage to the movies they watched when they were kids, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

And we have two such movies playing in Singapore right now. But for my money, Doctor Sleep is a much better viewing experience than Terminator: Dark Fate.

HeresJohnny

I’ll be back

I’m not a huge Terminator franchise fan, but I know the bare minimum. And I was already confused at the premise of the movie. According to James Cameron, I’m supposed to forget every single Terminator movie after T2, including the one with Daenerys Targaryen, the Eleventh Doctor, and Arnie Schwarzenegger that I saw not too long ago. Ok fine.

So going in, all you need to know is that after T2, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) managed to save her son, John Connor, who is prophesied to lead the RESISTANCE of man against the machines.

And five minutes in, they kill off John Connor.

Now I’m normally a fan of subverting expectations in movies, but this was weird. After two movies (and in the real world, about 30 years), John Connor’s life doesn’t matter? And then it turns out that the new main character, Dani Ramos, will fulfill John’s role instead.

Intentions were good, execution sucked

Now racists will say this is PANDERING and will be mad about making the new hero of the resistance a Latina woman. And I love that even crusty old James Cameron can make more diverse casting choices.

But as a story-telling choice, I was super disappointed that Dani does the exact same thing as John Connor i.e. inspiring humans to fight back. It would have been better if she had become a hero in a different way, like writing a killcode or inventing something to defeat the evil robots.

Because as it stands, everything we’ve seen in Terminators 1 and 2 didn’t really matter. There will still be an apocalypse whether it’s Skynet or Legion, and there will still be a human resistance, whether it answers to John or Grace.

Maybe James Cameron is trying to say that ultimately, all tyrannies will be defeated and you can’t fight fate? I’m not sure. But it didn’t work for me.

Things I did like:

  • More diverse cast, and more women.
  • Mackenzie Davis is amazing and I am shocked she doesn’t have a bigger career at this point.
  • Using the older actors and not de-aging them with CGI. Linda Hamilton looks like a badass grandma and they don’t try to hide it.
  • Pretty good music and action scenes.

MackenzieDarkFate

Things I didn’t like:

  • Dani Ramos herself was rather bland.
  • The new Terminator (played by Arnie) having a family and a sense of humour. It’d make more sense to have him live alone in the wilderness and be more of a scary presence, not an ally with dad jokes. After all, he did kill John Connor.
  • Was hoping there’d be more of a political payoff to the scenes set in the border camp, but it was just a place for our heroes to be locked up.

Dark Fate was an alright movie — if it had been the first in a new series, or if we have never heard of the Terminator before. As it stands, it doesn’t work very well.

You can’t ignore The Shining

Which brings me to Doctor Sleep.

Mike Flanagan is a seasoned horror director who has managed to make his movies scary (Haunting of Hill House, Before I Wake) WITHOUT relying on jump scares. That’s already an invaluable skill.

But the adaptation of Doctor Sleep presents its own unique challenges. Even if you’re not a movie nerd like me, you probably knew that legendary director Stanley Kubrick adapted The Shining way back in 1980 and it’s become iconic in its own right.

Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’re probably aware of scenes like the river of blood gushing from the elevator, the creepy twins in blue, a kid pedalling a tricycle down endless corridors, Jack Nicholson chopping through a door with an axe.

GradyTwins
Even if you’ve never seen a movie before, you’ve seen these two creepy little kids.

But you may not know that Stephen King, who wrote the book, HATED Kubrick’s version. It didn’t matter that Kubrick made a classic. King had personal reasons, mainly that the movie turned Jack Torrance into an irredeemable monster and placed too much emphasis on the supernatural, instead of the version in the book where he’s a flawed father struggling with his internal demons, mainly alcoholism.

So the ending of the movie where Jack dies and the hotel still stands? It doesn’t happen in the book. In the book, Jack blows up the hotel, and that’s just one major change.

Making King and Kubrick hold hands

So imagine you’re Mike Flanagan. You’re tasked with adapting a book which is a sequel to an older book. But the older book has a great movie based on it, and for better or worse, the movie version is the one that the audience will be more familiar with.

What should your sequel look like? Should you straight up adapt the book, or make a sequel to Kubrick’s Shining?

To his great credit, Flanagan managed to do both. According to a comment on Reddit, Flanagan “made King and Kubrick hold hands”.

I don’t know what kind of magical negotiating powers Flanagan has that he could satisfy, all at once:

  • Stephen King.
  • The Stanley Kubrick estate.
  • Warner Bros.
  • AND the audience.

But he did it! And the end result is a movie that works.

Actions with consequences make for better stories

Doctor Sleep isn’t a Kubrick sycophant. The Overlook is mentioned early on, but it doesn’t actually show up until the last 20 minutes of a 2.5 hour movie. It begins with young Danny Torrance, Dick Hallorann and Wendy Torrance, but then it tells its own story.

Side note, I love that they recast the parts with new actors instead of using soulless CGI and recreated images.

Now this is what I mean when I say that for sequels, the previous movies have to matter. Danny doesn’t instantly get better. He realistically suffers from the trauma of The Shining. He remains mute for a long time after escaping the Overlook, the ghosts have followed him home.

And even after he defeats them with movie magic, he still suffers! Danny grows up an alcoholic and an addict, trying to escape the horrible sights he can see with his powers. Not to mention that as his father’s son, it’s in his DNA to succumb more easily to temptation. There are organic consequences to this movie that are a logical result of what happened in the previous one.

You might say “Sure, all this is in the book” but Flanagan didn’t ignore it. And the movie somehow manages to improve upon the book as well. The True Knot in the book were kind of hard to take seriously, as was Rose the Hat.

RoseTheHat

But a STUNNING performance from Rebecca Ferguson and others made the characters of Rose, Crow Daddy and Snakebite Andi seem more menacing than they ever were in the book.

And the torture scene — that was legitimately hard to watch. Film has so much potential to do better than books, and this was one scene which sets itself up to do just that, and the movie doesn’t waste the chance. It’s one thing to read about a group of evil vampires torturing and killing a kid, it’s quite another to hear his screams of agony and despair for yourself.

Going back to the Overlook

So the movie mostly sticks to King’s book, which is good. But then comes the return to the Overlook. And that’s where it shifts into high gear.

Now because in the book the hotel was already blown up, the climactic confrontation takes place at a camping ground built on the site of the former hotel, which is gigantically underwhelming.

But after following King for a while, Doctor Sleep now transforms into a Kubrick sequel. And this was absolutely the right choice.

Seeing the car wind its way up the mountain like it did in the opening of The Shining was a rush of nostalgia. So was seeing the dread facade of the hotel, now abandoned, for the first time.

TheOverlook

The Overlook definitely looks different from how it did in The Shining, it’s bigger and darker, almost like something out of Silent Hill. Again, another deviation from the source material that works.

When Danny opened the door and took his first steps into the hotel, that was one of the best parts of the movie. The dread and suspense builds up with each little callback (the boiler room! The elevator! The hole in the bathroom door!).

Until Danny sits down at the same bar where his father sits down, and the low-key references becomes an immensely high-key one.

Danny has a conversation with “Lloyd the bartender”, a spirit who serves him spirits. But then the camera moves up — and we see JACK FUCKIN’ NICHOLSON.

Now the actor is retired, and they got someone else to play him instead of using CGI, which is absolutely the right choice. Always go with actual acting talent instead of soulless machines. But he looked enough like Nicholson to send chills down your spine. And the scene where Danny refuses to drink, thereby proving he was a better man than his father, was a powerful one.

After this it was just a fun trip the whole way. As audience members, we know what kind of nasty surprises the Overlook has in store. But Rose the Hat doesn’t. Ready Player One did pretty much the exact same thing, where a character in the Overlook clearly doesn’t know what’s going to happen but the audience does. And it employs the trope that I personally love, which is to use former enemies (in this case, the ghosts of the Overlook) against a new enemy (Rose the Hat).

Doctor Sleep is just a well-written, well-paced and well-directed movie. It made sensible choices, respected the source material (both the movie and the book) but wasn’t afraid to make bold changes when that served the story better. It’s a textbook example of how to make a sequel work well.

And when the Overlook does actually blow up — it’s an emotional punch to the gut that I’ll remember for a long time.

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