I’ve been meaning to write about IT for quite awhile…but then I got a little distracted. I saw It the first week it was released, but then I saw Dunkirk the following week and was kind of blown away and had to write about it right way, Tom Petty was dead, then he wasn’t, and then he really was, and I also developed this new hobby of trapping and killing fruit flies (it’s all in the flick of the wrist, honey). With these distractions fading to the background and Halloween (and Stranger Things 2) just around the corner, I think now is the appropriate time to talk about It.
Let’s get something out of the way: Nothing can compare to the terror of reading the book. Nothing. Now, I’m not one of those snobs who thinks the book is always better than the movie because that’s just not true. Get over it. (I have written about this before.) But the terror and thrill of reading the book is something that is going to be impossible to translate to the screen. I made the mistake of reading It on my Nook Glowlight Plus (RIP my original Nook Glowlight and Barnes & Noble caring about their customers)…I’ll just say that when the back cover states that it should only be read in well-lit rooms, IT MEANS IT!!! If you have any doubts about Stephen King as a writer, read It because not only is It extremely well-written but It is also about much more than a dancing clown named Pennywise.
Now that we have established that is impossible for any screen adaptation to match the novel, we can do what everyone I know has been doing: compare it to the three-hour television mini-series produced in 1990.
As a child, the television adaptation was frightening, but so was the Radio City Hall stage version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (Actually, that’s still a little scary.) For what It was, this version is a decent translation of the novel, albeit constricted by length and television standards (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). After seeing the film version, however, the mini-series appears tame and dated, not to mention sleep-inducing.
On the big screen, there are changes: the childhood portion of the story (which is the sole setting of this adaptation) is shifted from the 1950s to the 1980s. Initially the change startled and bothered me, but the more I thought about it and continued to watch the film, it just made sense. The 1980s is far more relatable — soundtrack, cultural references, etc. — for a film audience today than the 1950s would be. Reflecting on the novel (and the 1990 miniseries), however, there is one part that the filmmakers chose to leave in (without explanation) that is out of place in the 1980s setting — Bill’s bicycle, Silver. The bicycle plays a key role in the novel, and its name derives from The Lone Ranger, which is a lost cultural reference point for (I’m guessing) the majority of a film-going audience. In the film, the bicycle is still clearly named Silver, but it is unexplained, and there are no shouts of “Hi ho silver away!”, which is just sad (if only because it brings back memories of Captain Sobel in Band of Brothers). But, I guess that is really nitpicking and would only affect you if you’ve actually read the book.
The biggest change — in my viewing — was the fact that IT takes Beverly down into the sewers, luring the other Losers down there. I don’t remember that happening in the book, and it kind of soured my viewing. The filmmakers did, however, choose to omit that one scene from the book, so maybe this alteration was their way of strengthening the bond between Beverly and the other Losers.
Changes (major and minor) aside, the acting from the child actors is superb and a vast improvement from the miniseries (which, again, was decent). They perfectly convey the terror and trauma of battling IT and the bond of friendship between seven outcasts. Yet, my chief criticism of the film, however, has to do with the portrayal of these children — and whether they are 11 or 14 (or whatever age they are supposed to be in this new version), they are under 18 and so they are CHILDREN.
It is rated R, which doesn’t always mean much. With the graphic violence and horror displayed in It, an R-rating makes sense. Apparently, however, an R-rating gives the filmmakers the freedom to drop the f-bomb in every sentence of dialogue, 90% of which is spoken by these CHILDREN. This kind of vulgarity is not only done in poor taste, it is absolutely unnecessary. Yes, King uses language in his writing. Yes, real people talk like that (…but they don’t exactly sound intelligent or cool doing it, no matter what anyone might make you think). And yes, sadly, there are even some children who know and use this kind of language. But you know what? They don’t come out of the womb talking like that. It is learned behavior, and if they don’t learn it at home (which, sadly, some do), they are going to learn it from media. What an irresponsible and tasteless decision on the part of the filmmakers because the language does nothing to make the film better or more believable.
(I spent months researching and writing a 40-page thesis about the Hays Code and how filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s made BETTER and more INTELLIGENT and more ARTISTIC films by WORKING AROUND CENSORSHIP LAWS AND NOT SACRIFICING THE STORY, so forgive me if I seem like I’m on a soapbox right now BECAUSE I AM. I have zero tolerance and respect for this kind of lazy, vulgar filmmaking, and the more I think about it, the more I dislike this film version because of it.)
I’m really worked up now. I really didn’t plan for this blog post to take that direction. I actually liked the movie when I was watching it…but I’m having a hard time reconciling that positive feeling with the idea of how lazy and tasteless the amount of language in the film is.
So I will returning to the night I first saw the film: IT scared me. I didn’t want to go home alone. I woke up multiple times in the night and was afraid that there was a dancing clown in the corner of my bedroom, or out in the hallway, or in the–heaven forbid–bathroom. I heard mysterious tapping noises in the kitchen. I was really scared. But then I watched the video for Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” for half an hour or more and felt totally fine.
So I guess the point of this blog post turned out to be that Billy Joel actually cures all. Thanks, Billy!