Fasten your seatbelts, people. This is going to be a long one.
It was originally released in September, 1986. I read it shortly thereafter, because I distinctly recall pulling the heavy hardback copy out of the new release shelves at my local library.
Not much of a story perhaps, save for the fact that I was eight-and-a-half at the time. I don’t know if my mom was awesome or negligent in signing off on the adult library card.
Obviously, most of what I read went over my head, and I skimmed a lot. But I returned to the work in 1990, when the original ABC miniseries aired, and I’ve read it multiple times since.
Short and sweet – the newly-released film edition is dynamite. It both homages and updates the materials in clever ways. I’m excited for the second part to come out – heck, to be honest, I’m excited just to see casting news, to see who’ll be stepping into the shoes of our heroes.
More detailed – and spoilery – thoughts after the jump.
I’ll try to keep it coherent, but this is largely train of thought stuff on what worked and what didn’t work for me. Oddly enough, some of the stuff that worked dovetails into aspects that didn’t work. I’ll lump those together as best I can.
The transition of the setting from the 1950’s to the 1980’s largely works. It makes sense that Eddie’s hypochondriac mother would be considered about AIDS, for example, and Eddie confusingly describing how a friend of hers got AIDS from a paper cut by merely touching a bloody light pole. One bummer is the loss of all that great music – a high point of the mini-series. There is some solid usage of Anthrax at one point, which was highly entertaining.
The interplay of dialogue between the Loser’s Club is great. The only bad thing was, it was so snappy at times that it was hard to follow. I look forward to the disk release and subtitles. (Holy crap, I’m getting old. But not yet middle-aged, so there’s that.)
For the kids, casting was dynamite. I thought each youngster was perfect in their role. I had a bit of a quibble about Ben’s height, as we was visibly shorter than Beverly, but that’s a minor issue. Though I did lean over to one of the friends I saw the movie with and whispered that he looked nothing like John Ritter.
Some of the story decisions involving the characters were strange.
Ben – his mother is non-entity in the film; she’s never seen on screen. This is understandable to some extent because she is, in many ways, a similar character to Eddie’s mom, but we never see her, nor is the death of Ben’s father ever mentioned, if he’s even dead in the movie version. Ben does write the poem, though he never mails it. There is no dam scene (one of my particular favorite parts of both the book and the mini-series.)
Beverly – her mom is removed from the movie entirely save for one reference. Her father is actually played pretty well. It’s a more subtle menace than the over-the-top performance we had in the mini-series, and his later, IT-prompted actions toward her are closer to the book. There’s no slingshot. That kills one of the great things about her character. The entire Club, in fact, suffer the consequences of that. Instead of the meticulous plan, the casting of the silver slugs, Beverly is basically used as bait to draw the rest of the kids to It. She’s the first one to realize that It won’t hurt them if they aren’t afraid, which basically kneecaps one of the themes of the book. Fear was a seasoning; It could still kill you. She’s still a cool character, but the changes make her and the rest of the group more reactive than proactive.
Bill – Bill and Georgie’s mom can be heard playing piano, but she’s never seen and has no dialogue. In the book, It rips off Georgie’s arm and leaves him in the gutter to bleed to death. In the film, we see the dismemberment, and we also see Georgie pulled into the sewers. This leads into one quite good scene with Bill’s dad, showing how Bill has become somewhat obsessed with trying to find his brother, insisting that he’s alive. This is a powerful scene, and Bill’s belief that his brother is alive is used to good effect later in It’s lair, but it strains credulity a bit much. If he’s been in the sewers all this time, what’s he been eating? Why didn’t he die of blood loss or infection? The scene is drawn-out and filmed in such a way to lead the viewer to think, wow, Bill was right, his brother is alive, but it’s an obvious twist. Just one of the very strange decisions made about the confrontation in the lair.
Eddie – Eddie’s character is the most unchanged from the book, but there are still some big issues. He learns in the pharmacy that his medicine is a placebo, but it’s from the pharmacist’s nasty daughter, who then signs his cast with “Loser”. It was a nice touch, especially the funny way that Eddie modified it. The confrontation with Henry Bowers when his arm is broken is removed; his arm is broken in the first fight with It at the house on Neibolt Street. One of the things that I’m still scratching my head over was the decision to have Eddie cast away his medicine before the final fight with It. It undercuts the theme that a child’s belief has power, and we lose a couple of great potential “battery acid” scenes in the balance.
Mike – Mike’s character is a bit butchered, in all honesty. He’s still a farm kid, but he lives with his grandfather. His mother and father died in a house fire, which is the source of his fear that It manipulates. His love of history is shifted off to Ben (which . . . okay, you have to give Ben something to do since his understanding of engineering is taken away by the removal of the dam scene, but how do you then say Mike stayed in Derry as the librarian? Because he’s a home schooled kid?) I don’t know. It was annoying. There is no smoke hole scene, which makes sense because Mike is not a history buff and doesn’t know about the tradition. Maybe we’ll get that scene in flashback in the second chapter. Also, in the book, Henry Bowers kills Mike’s dog. In the film, Bowers makes reference to the house fire, and you think wow, they really amped up the antagonist . . . but no. He says “wish I’d done it.” The moment kind of falls flat as a result, and we’re never overtly told just why Bowers hates Mike so, though it’s obvious from subtext.
Richie – Richie was great. He is hilariously unfunny throughout. Every single one of his jokes falls flat, which is going to make his adult evolution even more interesting. But . . . we didn’t get the Voices hurting It. Maybe that’s because there’s no dam scene, and thus no reference for his Irish copper accent? I don’t know. But there is no Ritual of Chud (no history from Mike, no smoke-hole, etc.) Which makes the fight in It’s lair super, super off.
Stan – Movie Stan isn’t a bird watcher. He doesn’t get much depth at all, really, save for being portrayed as the lazy son of the rabbi who’s not studied up for his bar mitzvah. His fear involves a creepy painting in his father’s office, and that’s an avatar of It that is very well-realized. It was creepy as all get out, and, at one point, I thought they might be giving us a twist and killing Stan off early to avoid having the suicide scene in the next chapter. (Don’t complain about spoilers, the book’s been out for 30+ years.)
Okay, so the kids finally get down into the sewers for their final fight after wounding It.
Henry Bowers at this point is under It’s influence (and up until this point, the Bowers scenes are very, very well done. He’s a truly menacing bully.) Except, instead of being the patsy for all of the murders, he’s basically shoved down a well, never to be heard from again. Okay, weird, but I can go with it.
So instead of being forced into the sewers by Bowers and his gang, they’re going in to save Bev. During Bev’s exploration of It’s lair (which, I will admit, is spectacularly represented. Much better than the mini-series, for sure. Though I kept looking for a little door. Maybe next movie.) she discovers the missing floating in mid-air, orbiting the junk pile that It seems to be living within. When It discovers that she no longer fears It, we get some pretty ham-handed foreshadowing of the deadlights, and she falls into a trance, and begins floating herself.
The kids find the lair, they pull Bev down, and there’s a cool/cute scene where Ben kisses her and wakes her up. It’s almost like a Disney movie, what with true love’s first kiss and all.
So It, attacks, morphs into various monstrous forms (Ben’s fear of the mummy is used to good effect, here) and even possibly foreshadow’s It’s arachnid form when it grows desperate.
But there’s no Chud, there’s no silver, there’s no battery acid. They basically beat It to death with pieces of rebar and metal stakes from the fence around the house at Neibolt Street, and it flees into a pipe and falls out of sight, much like Bowers did. Flash-forward, summer is over, the kids swear to come back if It returns, fade to black.
As I look back, it may seem that I’m quibbling about a lot, but the only real egregious things are the disarming of Bev and the usage of her as the damsel in distress, the changes to Mike’s character (with Ben, my favorite in the book), and the final beat down. The movie really is great, with some tense moments and jump-scares that had the entire theater crying out. It’s at worst a 4/5, worth a spot on your shelf at home, and well-worth keeping up with for the second installment.
Edit/Postscript: A friend pointed out that another aspect of the movie that strains credulity. In 1980’s America, there’s no way a kid is going to innocently talk to a clown, what with stranger danger and all that. Sure, okay, Derry’s a small town, that can be hand-waved away. What cannot be, and what is something that the min-series wins on by far — nu-Pennywise is creepy as all get out. There is nothing charming or endearing about him that would prompt a kid to trust him at first blush. That was one of the more remarkable aspects of Tim Curry’s portrayal; classic Pennywise was charming and funny — until he wasn’t.