Welcome to Part 2 of a three part analysis of the various versions of Stephen King’s IT. Click here for Part 1.
1990 saw the release of the first adaptation of King’s famous book as a TV mini-series. I saw it during its original airing, but had little memory of it. I’ve watched it again after seeing the 2017 film adaptation and it is with good reason that I remember none of it. It’s completely forgettable. Let’s compare.
IT Begins Different.
The mini-series does not begin the same as the movie. We are introduced to the characters as adults with sequences that flash back to childhood. The first character we meet is Mike played by Tim Reed. Mike hardly spoke in the film adaptation and yet here he seems to be the ringleader of the group. He’s also researching their home town to understand where IT began. In the movie, another character, Ben, is the one looking into town history.
After about 10 minutes, we reach the scene that begins the novel and the movie. Little Georgie follows his paper sailboat along the gutter until he meets Pennywise. It’s filmed much more naturally. Tim Curry actually puts on a performance. Skarsgård didn’t do half as much in the movie. It’s a battle between acting chops and make-up/fx. I love Tim Curry, but I’m giving this scene to the movie. It’s much scarier and it puts you on edge from the very first scene.
IT’s Focus is Different
This mini-series frames Pennywise as a childhood trauma revisited. The movie viewed him as a current problem. I think the thematics are stronger when seeing the kids through the lens of their adult selves. As best as I can tell, reflection on a horrific past seems to be the point of King’s story. I’m giving this point to the mini-series for providing a meaningful context for the horror.
IT’s Kids are Older.
The characters are better developed in this adaptation. I knew them all before the first hour was up. Unfortunately, the kid actors cast in the mini-series are older and prettier. The performers in the film looked more like misfits who embodied innocence. Their bullies seemed more maladjusted and dangerous too. The time period has changed from the Eighties to the Fifties here, but I don’t think that accounts for it. It’s more about the medium. This was network TV after all. The realistic treatment of the children was the films’s strongest point. I expect that will also be true of the book. I enjoyed the movie more for making me believe those kids were vulnerable.
IT’s a Lot Longer.
The mini-series runs for a little over 3hrs. I watched it in HD. It looks better now than when it aired in 1990. The cinematography and production values are quite good for a 20th century television program. Occasionally, it feels like a movie, but most of the camera moves are simple and the visual compositions are designed for the 1.33:1 frame. The show also spends far too much time in daylight and high key interiors for a horrific tone to develop.
The narrative continued to bounce back and forth between the characters’ present day and their past as children. After 2hrs, the plot switched to the adult storyline permanently. I found myself being reminded far too often of Freddy Krueger. There are shower scenes and boiler rooms where people are being terrorized by a gruff voiced boogieman who causes waking nightmares. They are isolated and singled out by this monster and discuss having seen him in visions. The first A Nightmare on Elm Street film preceded the release of King’s book by two years, though I assume he must’ve begun writing it far earlier. I’ll be interested to see if reading the novel recalls the same associations. I didn’t notice it nearly as much in the 2017 film. It’s a bad comparison as Freddy Krueger had a raison d’etre. I still don’t understand what Pennywise wants after two adaptations.
IT’s No Classic.
I’m giving the first round to the 2017 movie. It was terrifying and creepy with realistic performances. The film’s story omissions made me want to read the book for the full experience. The mini-series was lame by comparison. It was overstuffed with characters and it lacked any real sense of menace. Tim Curry gives a nice performance, but the show is just not frightening. It may have had better drawn characters, but it never put them in jeopardy in the way the movie did. I didn’t care about them. The only tension I felt during the three hours was in my bladder.
Please check back for Part 3 of this series for a review of Stephen King’s novel IT.