It review by The Grim Ringler

No modern day writer has been adapted as many times as Stephen King, and sometimes it shows. Some of these adaptations are good, some are bad, and most are ok at best. What happens it seems is that in distilling the essence of the written word into a moving image, the heart of the story is often lost. And when you get into the realm of horror or fantasy stories you are in deep waters. The filmmaker wants the big action scenes, the battles with beasts and the murders of the innocent, yet they sacrifice the heart of the story in the process. This happens time and again and sometimes you just want to scream at the filmmakers its about the story, stupid, not the boogieman! Alas, this is the case of the made for television adaptation of Kings IT, a book that would be very difficult to adapt, but not impossible. Having read this recently, I can see where it would be hard there are a lot of needless subplots and some behavior in the book that, well, yeah they couldnt adapt it, trust me. But there is a great story here, a very adaptable story if its done right. Its a classic tale of children facing and conquering a great evil, only to find that the thing isnt dead after all. There is a lot that you get into in the film about the nature of IT, and you get a big fat dose of town history (which is interesting to read but not terribly necessary, even if It is the bloody town), but if you boil it all down, you have a great monster movie, and a very good tale of friendship and sacrifice. Sadly, we dont get that with this adaptation. What we do get is a passable monster movie with some great acting by a cult actor, some pretty bad acting from the stars, and a whole lot of meaningless changes to the book that serve no purpose whatsoever.

Set in the small town of Derry, Maine, It is the story of a group of misfit kids who are brought together via some strange magic and happenstance one summer in the late fifties. Drawn together by the bullying of a group of nasty teens, the children find they have a common enemy in the shape of a mysterious and nightmarish clown that has been appearing to them in various guises. This clown, named Pennywise they find, has already killed the younger brother of one of the kids and is not content there and has killed several other children. The kids band together and track down Pennywise to its lair, facing the monster it truly is (which is really glazed over in the book as It really doesnt have a shape humans can see), and seemingly defeating it. When the ordeal is over the group swears and oath that should It still live, they will return to finish it. A call comes when all are adults and successful, each having long forgotten that dark summer, a call from the one of them who has remained in town. One by one they return to the town and again must face their greatest fear. They are far older now though, their imaginations arent so great, and theyve lost one of their group, which raises the question do they even stand a chance?

This isnt a poorly made film as much as it is a poorly done adaptation. The film, on DVD, has an interesting set-up (even if the disc is a dreaded flipper) in that the first part of the story tells the tale of the group as children and the second part tells the story of them as adults. What this does to the film though is to break the great tension the book builds as you get both climaxes at one point in the book, so that the deaths of It are that much more gripping and meaningful. While the way the tele-film handles it is more a matter of making it a much easier film to understand, it severs the characters into two personas, instead of one an adult and child version of the same thing. The other changes to the book are seemingly minor, but again, take the heart out of the film. And everything here feels so rushed and forced its as if they are very conscious of the fact that they have about three hours to tell a story that filled twelve hundred pages. The acting is, sadly, mediocre at best. Tim Curry, as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, one of the many manifestations of It, is wonderful, creating an iconic character that still manages to chill viewers even now. The rest of the cast is padded with television stars and character actors, none of whom are bad actors but who managed to mail it in here. Again though I feel this is more a matter of a bad script than it is bad actors. There are too many speeches, too much talking, and not enough feeling. The strongest part of the film comes when it focuses on the children, and when you lose them, so then does the film lose your interest. The creature effects here too are, well, not so great. They arent awful but when you laugh at the titular creatures final, horrific appearance, well, its not a great sign. Which is probably why they should have at least tried to go for the novels ending, which focused less on the giant spider and more on a psychic battle between It and the children. Hard to do? Sure, but not impossible. The direction on the film is passable but boring, the director making this like a made for television film and not taking any chances in narration or direction. Yawn. The heck of it all is that the subtext the heart I keep speaking of is utterly lost. The pain and heartbreak the childhood can be is given away in order to serve a monster movie. IT, the novel, is a story about the beauty and power of friendship and believing in the power of yourself against any foe. Its the story about the true love for ones friends. Sure, the creature is a big part of the novel, but its a shadow that the children must defeat. The scariest parts of the book are the real parts, the parts about being a kid and being afraid of a bully, or your parents, or the world. The film loses all of that, and thus, is no more than a scary shadow on the wall, and not the real monster. And what bothers me most is that you can still make this work. It would have to be a mini-series, but you can make this work, and capture the essence of the story. Your proof is in what Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings books. He took books that are all but Bibles to fantasy nerds and boiled them down to the heart of the story, and then he added his own touch creating an emotional center to a book series that was more historical text than it was an emotional tale. It can be done, but the filmmakers of It just didnt manage it here.

This is a fun movie, and one I liked quite wellbefore I read the book. So as a creature feature it aint awful. It wont chill your bones and it wont haunt your dreams, but it is a good little monster movie and has a few scary moments. And its well worth watching for the performance of Curry, who is marvelous here. As an adaptation of one of the classic horror novels of the modern era though, well, it sucks. The heart was cut from the beast, as was the brains of the creature which, really, It is a pretty scary critter, which is hinted at but never too deeply in the movie and what you are left with is a mindless monster. And some will love that. Me, Ill stick with the book.

PS, as of this review, rumors of a television remake swirl. Well see.


6 out of 10 Jackasses
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