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IT, IT, IT – Part 2: The Mini-Series

IT Mini-Series PosterWelcome 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.

IT, IT, IT – Part 1: The Movie

it_movie_posterIT is the 2017 theatrical adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous horror novel about a group of children who face down a scary clown named Pennywise. It’s done gangbusters business at the box office largely due to two things. First, clowns have become real life objects of terror with cosplaying creeps scaring people in public. Second, the movie does what a horror film should –  make you jump out of your seat. It’s beautiful to look at, but it feels hollow for much of the journey. I’ve never read the book and I haven’t seen the mini-series since it aired, but this felt like a cliff notes version of the story. Nonetheless, as a horror fan it was worth a watch.

IT’s good – this movie plays rough.

It took me an hour to really get into IT (so many chances for puns). There are traces of a meaningful story, but King’s novel has been abridged in this adaptation. Also, the characters are so numerous that it takes time to understand each of them. That being said, the cast of newcomers is excellent. The film has age appropriate casting and dialogue. That realism is one of the pluses. This story is rough with the innocent in a way I’ve rarely seen. We identify with them because they are vulnerable, not because they have well defined personalities. All of their parents are absent or abusive. They’re on their own. The filmmaker’s willingness to terrorize and isolate young children is what makes the film engaging.

IT is chock full of cringy gross outs and jump scares. It’s reminiscent of recent fare like The ConjuringSinister and the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. There’s lots of darkness interupted by music stings and digital monsters that go “boo!” It’s formulaic, but it works. This is a high priced version of an internet scare video. (Put your headphones on for this car commercial.) That’s all this film really aims to do. It does it pretty well.

IT’s bad – inexperienced filmmakers.

Now, on to two things that irritated me. Director, Andy Muschietti, uses too many wide angle tracking shots. Instead of creating interesting static compositions, handholding or cutting to close-ups, the camera rolls into every scene. This creates a dreamy quality that works well for the fantasy scares, but it’s an overused visual tick. It looks nice, but it started to grate on me. His scenes play like a cinematographer’s demo reel rather than a piece of storytelling. This is partly why the characters feel so distant. We’re frequently in a master shot, watching everybody at once in a sweeping movement.

My second beef is with the music. Benjamin Wallfisch is an orchestrator and conductor who stepped up to composing recently. He’s able to create effective music stings for the scares, but when it comes to smaller dramatic moments the music swells to a meaningless crescendo and/or cuts to an inappropriate pop song. I think this is another cause for my lack of empathy in the first half of the film. There are no character thematics in the score and no clues to what anyone is thinking or feeling.

IT’s ugly truth – lazy episodic filmmaking has arrived.

By film’s end, my care for these kids had been established and they were finally on their way to an objective – then the film ended with a card that read “Chapter One.” What is this – TV? Who pays to see half the story? Apparently, a lot of people. This is becoming acceptable now that studios are obsessed with franchises.

IT is visually terrifying, but it felt like the monster bits were finished and the rest of the film was just an outline. I’m not sure the Stephen King pedigree really adds to the experience. The one impact this picture makes is with mood and digital character effects. Those jumpy monster scares and designs are really top notch. Pennywise is scary as hell, but half the time he’s animated. It takes outstanding make-up and VFX to make Bill Skarsgård into the clown.

The film is definitely worth a watch for horror fans as it does the essentials of the job, but I don’t think it warrants the hype. It’s a curious bit of zeitgeist – clowns, kids on bikes and the always dependable King of horror. Still, I was intrigued by the remnants of story tucked in between those scares, so maybe everyone else was too. I’m going to take on a little three part project and review all the versions of IT. Next up will be the 1990 mini-series and then I’ll tackle the novel itself. Check back for part 2.

© 2024 by Maximilian Gray