Release Date(s)2019 (February 4, 2020)
Studio(s)Intrepid Pictures/Vertigo Entertainment (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
Set nearly 40 years after the events of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep reveals that time has not been kind to Danny Torrance, now played by Ewan McGregor (and by young Roger Dale Floyd in flashback). Haunted by the events at the Overlook Hotel—and by the demons he first encountered there—Danny’s spent his entire life trying to escape his trauma. But he’s also learned how to control his “shining” and uses it to help others. When a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran)—who also has the ability—stumbles upon a cult that hunts children who “shine” to feed off their psychic energy, she quickly becomes their next target. So Abra and Danny must join forces to survive and defeat “the True Knot,” as the group calls themselves, even as their leader, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), grows ever more powerful, dangerous, and cunning.
As a slice of pure cinema, Kubrick’s original The Shining (reviewed here in 4K at The Bits) would be a tough film to top. You simply can’t out Kubrick Kubrick. So director Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game, Absentia, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House) wisely doesn’t bother to try. Instead, what he’s done is to make a straightforward narrative sequel. Whereas The Shining was something of a cypher, its horror more purely elemental, Doctor Sleep is a supernatural drama. But Flanagan has a few stylistic tricks up his sleeve—a scene in which Rose the Hat psychically soars over the Earth while hunting Abra is as visually arresting as anything I’ve seen in a good long while. McGregor, Curran, and Ferguson are all terrific in their roles. Good too are Cliff Curtis (as Danny’s friend), Zahn McClarnon (as Crow Daddy), Carl Lumley (taking over for Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann), and Alex Essoe (as Wendy Torrance in the place of Shelley Duvall). But what’s most interesting here is that Flanagan has managed to untangle the well-known differences between Stephen King’s novel version of The Shining and the Kubrick film, and then weave them back together in a credible adaptation of Doctor Sleep that unifies both versions of the larger narrative. King even says as much in the extras on this disc; Doctor Sleep actually makes him like the film version of The Shining—no small trick. By the way, be sure to watch for Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) in a nifty cameo role; it actually works well enough that I didn’t even realize it was him at first.
Doctor Sleep was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec at 6.5K using Arri Alexa 65 cameras with Hasselblad Prime DNA lenses. It was finished as 4K Digital Intermediate at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and graded for high dynamic range for its UHD release (Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+ are all available here). One thing is abundantly clear when you start watching this disc—the result is spectacular. The image has very exhibits impressive depth and dimensionality. Fine detail is exquisite, with delicate texturing—visible at once in skin, hair, the age-worn fabric of Rose’s hat, and even the iconic carpet patterns at the Overlook Hotel. Colors are nuanced and accurate, though definitely cool looking by design. You’ll appreciate them in that same carpet, the lustrous gold door handles of Room 237, and the violet flower petals in the opening. HDR enhances both shadows and highlights, as you’d expect, allowing darker scenes to be even darker without losing detail, while the look of daytime sky is bright yet gloomy oppressive. Dolby Vision has the edge here, followed by HDR10+, but the regular HDR10 presentation is no slouch either. Whichever you can take advantge of, this is an intentionally dark film—you’ll want to darken your viewing room as much as possible to fully enjoy the experience. This is a reference quality 4K UHD image.
The 4K disc offers its primary audio in an equally impressive English Dolby Atmos mix that’s full of ominous atmosphere and subtle spatial/environmental effects. The soundstage has a larger quality here than most films of this kind, with both surround and height channels serving to create a truly hemispheric listening space. Dialogue is crystal clear, while effects panning and movement are wonderfully smooth. Just listen to the sound of young Danny’s tricycle as he pedals around the hallways of the Overlook in the film’s opening—there’s a tremendous sense of space! When he wakes up from his nightmare, the sound of thunder is full and weighty, with plenty of bass. The film’s score—crafted by The Newton Brothers—takes obvious cues from The Shining as it delivers shrill strings and ominous piano chords. The quality of this sound experience is every bit a match for the visuals; it’s one of the best mixes I’ve heard for a non-action dramatic film in a long time. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include English Descriptive Audio (US and UK), and 5.1 Dolby Digital in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. Subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Italian for the Deaf, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Arabic, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, and Swedish.
Warner’s 4K Ultra HD disc includes three special features as follows (all in HD):
- From Shining to Sleep (4:56)
- The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision (13:57)
- Return to the Overlook (14:59)
Produced by Laurent Bouzereau, these are obviously limited by their runtime but still manage to rise above the usual EPK material. Stephen King makes significant appearances here, as do Flanagan, McGregor, and Ferguson. There are good insights on how The Shining and Doctor Sleep differ from the books they’re based upon and the ways in which Flanagan manages to unify them all. You also get a nice look at the effort taken to recreate the Overlook Hotel and its characters for the sequel. I really wish there was a commentary with Flanagan and King, but this content is well worth your time.
As you would expect, the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. But this disc doesn’t include the three featurettes listed above. Instead, the version of the film here is the Director’s Cut, which runs a whopping 3 hours—fully 28 minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut on the 4K. The differences include more of Abra’s backstory and relationship with her parents (including a flashback scene and more time with her father). The fate of the little girl in the film’s opening is implied more clearly, and we see more of Baseball Boy’s fate as well. We learn additional details about The True Knot’s plan to capture Abra. It’s also more clear that Wendy Torrance is well aware of what’s going on with her son. And Danny’s conversations with the spectral form of Dick Hallorann are expanded too. The cumulative effect is to enhance both the film’s tension and its character arcs. Most importantly, the Director’s Cut is segmented into “chapters” with new title cards to give it a more literary feel. To be sure, all of this makes a long film even longer. But if you appreciate the story, it’s also a better viewing experience. I’d give this version a B+ (though it’s mostly onlt for fans). Note that my overall extras grade for this set reflects not just the three featurettes on the UHD, but this longer cut on Blu-ray too. The package also includes the usual Movies Anywhere Digital code.
Doctor Sleep isn’t a great film per se, but it’s a better sequel that it has any right to be… and certainly a better one than I expected. It’s thoughtful, clearly made with love for both Kubrick’s film and the King books. Best of all, Warner’s 4K Ultra HD delivers Doctor Sleep in truly outstanding A/V quality, which is reason enough to try it if you’re on the fence. The film is recommended, the 4K experience very highly so.
Film Grade (Theatrical Cut/Director’s Cut): B/B+
- Bill Hunt