directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
(Warner Brothers, 1990)
Stephen King's It is my favorite novel of all time, and even though this miniseries adaptation of the book is done about as well as it could possibly be done, I can only give it reserved praise. There are several reasons for this, the two most important being time and money.
The novel is an immense work, and no adaptation of three hours can even hope to do it true justice; even 10 hours would not suffice for getting at the essence of the story, that essence being not horror at all but childhood. The movie only allows the viewer to take in everything from outside, whereas the painstaking detail, insight and atmosphere of King's novel make the reader an active participant in events. Thus, a lot of things presented in the movie do not come off overwhelmingly convincingly, and there are more than a few noticeably sudden and seemingly unexplainable transitions even within single scenes alone.
The money issue is most evident at the end, as the special effects for the big finale were not very impressive even at the time of the movie's completion. Special effects are not all-powerful, of course, but the B movie-ish visuals unveiled in the movie's climactic moments serve to break the spell of the viewer's suspended disbelief and introduce a touch of camp into a movie that should not really be about the big bad monster in the first place.
The setting for this story is a familiar one to King fans, the disquietingly different town of Derry, Maine. Something lives underneath the town, a malevolent force that adults cannot and will not believe in, but which seven outcast kids recognize, fear and steel themselves to conquer back in 1960. Thirty years later, the monster they hoped they had killed as children returns, and the one character who never left Derry realizes this and calls everyone back to fulfill the promise they all made to return and kill the thing if it ever came back. The movie is, in a sense, two movies in one, as the action shifts between the parallel actions of the characters as children and as adults.
The main character, Bill Denbrough, is played by Richard Thomas, a casting decision I did not understand at the time and still fail to comprehend completely. Thomas does a good job, but he is still Johnboy Walton to me, and I just have trouble believing a pony-tailed Johnboy is Bill Denbrough. Harry Anderson and John Ritter are two additional big names lending their talent to the film, but the best adult performance is turned in by Annette O'Toole as Beverly Marsh, the group's sole female member. As I have said, though, this story is really about childhood, and the child actors are the true stars. Jonathan Brandis is young Bill Denbrough (and like his adult counterpart, just doesn't quite fit the bill as far as I'm concerned), Seth Green succeeds much more ably in the role of Richie Tozier than his adult counterpart, Brandon Crane (whom Wonder Years fans will immediately recognize as good old Doug Porter), turning in a winning performance, and Emily Perkins shines as young Bev Marsh. Tim Curry, it must be emphasized, was born to play Pennywise the Clown.
The monster in It is a conglomeration of everything each individual is afraid of; he is in a very real sense the ultimate monster because he is everything you were ever afraid of. The seven childhood friends who comprise The Losers' Club represent a cross-section of children everywhere: one stutters, one is a hypochondriac with an overprotective mother, one is the victim of child abuse, one uses comedy to hide his fears and to win acceptance, one is overweight, one is a paragon of logic and duty, and one is a black boy in a white community; all of them are outsiders and are tormented by a bully who ably represents all bullies everywhere. Sadly, the movie does not make it possible for the viewer to really get to know these kids and to relive his/her own childhood alongside them. A big problem with the adult actors is the fact that they oftentimes seem to be over-acting; I understand why this almost has to be so, however. It is merely a sign of the intense emotions they must try to convey in a very limited amount of time and space.
It remains one of King's better film adaptations, despite the problems inherent in its production. No movie can capture the magic of the novel, however. The only unfortunate thing about the movie is the fact that it comes off as primarily a horror movie. Certainly, there is great horror lurking in this film as it progresses, but that is not the original story's essence.