Before I even set foot into the movie theater, I felt surrounded by references to Stephen King’s IT. When I walked into my favorite Irish pub, Smoky Robinson’s “The Way You Do the Thing You Do” was playing over the sound system, which is used during some of the Losers Club scenes in the 1990 TV adaptation (most notably, the dam building scene). On the walls are the names of the counties in Ireland – Derry, Maine is named after County Derry, as King notes in the book. Having re-read IT twice in the last couple of months (and on another re-read currently), it felt like a good sign.
Interestingly, the two adaptations intersect at the same place – in the TV mini-series, 1990 shows the Losers Club as adults; 1989 is the starting point for the Losers as kids. I remember seeing the TV mini-series when it aired. Watching the current film, I remembered 1989 and where I was and what I was doing while the Losers were battling bullies, abuse, indifferent adults and Pennywise. I picked up IT for the first time when I was 17, about two to three years before that intersection. I read the book in three days. It was my life – except, you know, without the killer clown living in the sewers under the city (although, where I live, I would not be surprised).
Comparing and contrasting the two adaptations is a fruitless exercise, although many of the new film’s shots echoed the original. Adaptations and re-makes are tricky, especially when the film-makers want to honor the sources that came before. This was particularly noticeable at the beginning, when Bill and Georgie are building the paper boat. When Bill sends Georgie to the basement for the paraffin, the shot of Georgie standing at the top of the basement stairs and his very palpable fear of the dark echoes the 1990 version. Even the Denbrough house resembles its TV counterpart.
Seeing the 2017 movie was like falling into the book – all 1192 pages of IT. Having read the book so many times, I could probably find my way around Derry without a map. I recognized Up-Mile Hill as Mike cycled his way to make a delivery to the butcher shop. The statue of Paul Bunyan watches over the park, just as he did in the book. The rotting house on Neibolt Street, where Eddie encounters the leper, has sunflowers in the front yard. The Kenduskeag River that flows through town and into the Barrens, where Ben runs to while trying to escape Henry Bowers and his gang.
Derry, Maine is, as the book description says, as familiar to me as my own hometown.
Many of the events that occur in the book happen in the movie and while, in some cases, the context remains the same, how it occurs is different. The Apocalyptic Rock Fight, for example, is how Mike Hanlon meets and becomes a part of the Losers Club. In the novel and the TV mini-series, Mike is running away from the Bowers gang when he stumbles upon the six kids who would become his best friends in the quarry. In this adaptation, the Losers come upon Mike being beaten up by Henry and his gang. Beverly strikes the first blow with a well-aimed rock that eventually drives the bullies away. This scene is, in fact, the only time we see Beverly’s skill and keen eye – the sling-shot and silver slugs were removed from this adaptation, for what purpose, I am not quite sure.
As closely as the 2017 film adheres to the novel (or, at least, the kids’ story), it deviates in many ways from the source material. Most of the deviation is with the characters – Ben (as the New Kid on the Block) is the historian of the group, not Mike, and his first encounter with It is not as a mummified clown, but a child victim of the ironworks explosion of 1908. Bill is the one who uses a weapon against Pennywise in their final showdown, not Beverly. Instead of being chased by Henry Bowers and fellow bullies, Eddie breaks his arm falling through the ceiling of the Neibolt Street house.
Adaptations and re-makes are tricky – fans of both the original source and the original adaptation are likely to hold a microscopic lens to the new interpretation. Changes, re-shuffling of scenes and assigning one character’s skills/interests to another often occur to make a more cohesive narrative in a linear medium like film. Even The Black Stallion (1979) bears little resemblance to the novel it’s based on, but it still tells the same story.
There are many references to the novel IT (1986) in this film. Some went by so quickly, that I know I didn’t catch all of them. More than once, I found myself anticipating and reciting bits of dialogue among the kids that came from the novel. And it wasn’t until the end that I realized that the camera angles were at the same height as the Losers, making the entire experience told from their points of view.
Did I enjoy this film? You bet I did. Were there some quibbles? Of course – I felt that the characters of Beverly and Mike were not utilized as well as they could have been, but it wasn’t my directorial vision on-screen. However, I have many questions that hopefully will be answered in the follow up, featuring the Losers as adults.
I’ll be seeing IT again, perhaps this weekend, perhaps next week. As I said, it was like falling into the novel that I didn’t just read, but lived.
And it’s a journey that I don’t mind repeating, to a childhood I do remember and the friends I shared it with.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.