Stephen King adaptations are, historically, not awesome. For every Stand by Me or The Shawshank Redemption, there is a Needful Things — or a Dreamcatcher — or a Children of the Corn — or a Lawnmower Man — or a Maximum Overdrive — or a Tommyknockers — or, hell, even a Haven. Which, hey, could be good, for all I know — I’ve seen maybe ten minutes of it — but the show seriously stretches the meaning of the term “based on”. Hell, the show seriously stretches the meaning of the term “loosely inspired by”. Seriously, go read The Colorado Kid at some point and then watch even a promo of Haven on Syfy. It’s ridiculous.
But I’m not here to talk about Haven. I’m here to talk about another television treasure.
Periodically, Mekaela and I just have to pop in this DVD and rejoice in glorious mockery. As it’s a four hour miniseries, I’ll only be covering the first half now, but look for the second part of this review later in the week.
For now . . . welcome to Derry. Home of the creepiest clowns and the worst match cuts you’ll ever see on screen.
Spoilers for events that occur in the first fifteen minutes of the show.
In 1960, seven children come together to try and kill the monster that’s killing kids in their hometown. In 1990, they have to go back and finish the job.
1. Like any adaptation, the creators of this miniseries had to make a lot of changes in order to make this novel work for TV. Some of the changes are good ones. Some hurt — this is my favorite Stephen King novel, after all — but I understand time constraints, at least to a certain extent.
Other changes, of course, are just completely idiotic.
We’ll be talking about idiotic changes a lot in Part 2 of this review, but for now, let’s go over the alterations made to the basic structure of It.
In the novel, the story goes back and forth a lot in time. Specifically, the Losers (that is, the good guys) have two major battles — one as children, one as adults — and neither battle happens until the very end of the book. In the miniseries, however, the children’s battle with It is moved up because the screenwriters tackled the book in a more chronological manner. We do meet the adult iterations of our heroes, but the first half is primarily dedicated to the kids and the second to the adults. And while I like the parallel structure of the novel, this makes for a pretty smart change — it certainly makes the sprawling 1,000 plus page epic a little bit more manageable to adapt.
The biggest problem with this strategy is that you’re more likely to notice a shift in quality when it comes to the acting in Part One and the acting in Part Two. Because let me tell you, my friends, these kids?
They might not all be Oscar winners in the making, but by God, they are so much better than most of their adult counterparts.
2. Honestly, almost all of the adults are annoying: Bill (Richard Thomas) has absolutely no presence or charisma at all– which is kind of his thing, as the group leader– and he can’t pretend to stutter worth a damn. (Jonathan Brandis really couldn’t either, but he was all of fourteen at the time, so he gets a pass.) Audra (Olivia Hussey) is melodramatic and annoying as all hell, and Tom (Ryan Michael) is believable enough as a generic schmuck, but fails to exude any sort of actual threat or menace as Beverly’s abusive husband.
Still, no one is as horrifically miscast as John Ritter as Ben . . .
. . . and Harry Anderson as Richie . . .
Ugh. Just ugh.
Ritter and Anderson only have about five minutes of screen time each, so I’ll save the brunt of my annoyance for the second portion of this review. I only want to mention that, a year or two ago, I came up with an It remake dream cast, and even if you don’t like — or know — everyone involved, I hope you’ll agree that they would be six billion times better than this cast.
3. Of course, there is one awesome sauce actor in this TV miniseries, and that actor, of course, is Tim Curry.
Tim Curry plays Pennywise the Dancing Clown and he is, clearly, the best thing ever. If I could change one thing about Pennywise, it wouldn’t even be about his performance — I’m just not a huge fan of the slow close-ups on his teeth. Like, the scene with Georgie . . . we don’t need his vampire teeth for that. I mean, creepy teeth are creepy, I get it, but you know what’s actually creepier? Just Tim Curry, standing there in his clown makeup, saying these lines: “Oh yes. They float, Georgie. They float.” I mean, look:
Jesus Christ. Every time Pennywise says that, I sink back further in my seat a little and make fervent warding off gestures with my fingers. Tim Curry is my HERO.
But still — wouldn’t that scene have been even better without that last teeth shot? After all, Pennywise tears Georgie’s arm off. He doesn’t eat him. I don’t expect the miniseries to show us that particular brand of child violence, but shouldn’t we at least leave on a shot that suggests something close to what actually happened?
4. It’s sad, though, because I like Georgie quite a bit, despite the fact that he’s only in the movie for about three minutes. It’s the way his little round face falls flat at the thought of going into cellar. Cracks me up every time I watch it.
Still, the best child actor is easily Seth Green, who plays Young Richie.
Admittedly, he’s got a couple of years on the other kids — he’s sixteen — which you can tell because he’s the tallest in the bunch which is, er, unheard of. Height aside, Green is funny and likable, and I only wish he got the chance to actually do more than make the occasional quip. In the book, Richie is a hugely important player — especially in the second half — and he’s also Bill’s closest friend. Here, not so much. Which I get, at least a little — it’s those pesky time constraints again, always a problem — but since Richie’s my favorite character, I miss a lot of those scenes.
I will not be so forgiving when I talk about Harry Anderson, though. Grrrr.
5. I will also not be forgiving when it comes to the Apocalyptic Rockfight.
If you have not read the book, you might not understand the true extent of my ire, but surely you can understand that a rock fight which King has purposefully qualified as “apocalyptic” is supposed to be a rather Big Fucking Deal. It’s supposed to be a battle. It’s supposed to be epic. Think LOTR, people. It is not supposed to take roughly forty-five seconds where only one of our heroes — the girl, naturally — takes a single rock to the face, causing Young Ben to have MAN RAGE.
This is a bullshit rock fight. I want what I was promised, dammit.
6. Also, you can’t just transplant the dialogue from one scene into a completely different scene and expect it to work. The very worst example of this is our introduction to Adult Ben. In the novel, see, Adult Ben is calmly drinking what ought to be a fatal amount of alcohol while he talks to the bartender about his childhood, how he used to be a fat kid, etc. The bartender is, quite rightly, aghast when Ben squirts raw lemon juice up his nostrils and starts drinking whiskey from a beer stein. He tells Ben, “You’re gonna fucking kill yourself,” which, you know, makes logical sense.
Now, in the miniseries, Ben and the Girl on His Arm are both just obnoxious drunks, and Ben tells her how he used to be real fat while they’re in the middle of making out, like this might be a turn-on he uses with all the girls. And hey, I won’t judge your kinks. Maybe you like thinking about how your partner was once a chubby child, or . . . no, wait, I think I will judge that. But also, it’s just transitioned so awkwardly. Like . . .
Writer Joe: Hey, Ben used to be fat. That’s an important plot point — remember how he told Ricky Lee in the book? Well, can’t he just tell this girl instead? Because, you know. She’s cuter than Ricky Lee.
Writer Susan: Well sure, Writer Joe, that sounds swell. Except . . . aren’t they just fooling around? What’s Ben going to say? Let me kiss you, let me love you all over, hey, you know, I used to be a porker?
Writer Joe: Well, something like that. Oh, I know! He could say he loves her body, right, and she could say she loves his too, and he could be like, yeah, I was a real butterball when I was a kid, I was F-A-T, and she could be all turned on and shit. That happens, right? That’s a natural progression of thought.
Writer Susan: . . . or we could just cut all that dialogue and reveal that Ben used to be overweight in the flashback that’s about to happen anyway.
Writer Joe: Hmm, no, Writer Susan, I don’t think we can do that all. No, we need to get in as many actual King words as possible. The actual scene itself doesn’t matter, just the dialogue!
Writer Susan: Is that why you changed “bet your fur” into “bet your fern” for no reason? Because the dialogue matters?
Writer Joe: . . . wait . . . aren’t you usually the unreasonable one? When did I become the Crazy? What’s happening right now?
Ben also pours himself a drink — one drink, and admittedly, it’s a fairly large glass and he’s already pretty drunk, but there’s no Raw Lemon Juice of Insanity, anyway, and he’s only taken one teeny-tiny sip of it when Girl on His Arm cries, “You’re going to kill yourself!” Because that makes sense. That’s exactly the same situation as before.
Really, she’s just pissed because he gives her The Hand. I mean, really, after the phone call beckoning him home, Ben literally just shoves his hand in front of her face and walks off. Cracks me up even harder than Georgie and the cellar. Because, really, she’s so annoying. When Ben drunkenly breaks his architect award, she calls it tragic, and I’m like, “No, honey. Your dress is tragic.”
Also, Ben’s bolo tie. Is anyone else glad that it’s no longer 1990?
7. More Transition Fail: the visual match cuts from flashback to present. Oh. My. God.
Look, match cuts are a fine thing — nothing wrong with them in principle. But, you know. Like many things, they work best when they’re a bit subtle. This?
This is not subtle. This is the antithesis of subtle. And every single flashback transitions like this, although, admittedly, nothing is quite as bad as the One-Handed-Face-Cup-of-Terror.
8. By the way, Bill? He grew up to be a terrible writer. Supposedly, he’s a wildly successful one, but he’s supposed to be talented too, right? Well:
“Taggert steps onto the moors as the fog curls around his ankles. He shivers, buttons his coat, and walks on, disappearing into the mist. A shadowy figure lurches into frame, dripping with foul water and dark, oozing mud.”
Okay, this is for a screenplay — it’s not prose, like I initially assumed, but still. It’s worse when you actually hear him reading it out loud (in an oh-so-spooky VO). And, also, we will have no shadowy figures lurching into frame, dammit! Lurch is a very hard verb, best used only with a sense of humor.
9. Adult Bill also can’t lie worth a damn. None of them can. They each get phone calls about the return of It, and whenever it comes time to tell their current loved ones who called, most of them are like, “No one. No one at all. Watch me not acting suspiciously here. By the way, I just have to leave. Like, right now. But nothing’s wrong. Really. A-okay with the world.” Oy.
10. It would be lovely if the asthmatic actually bothered to inhale after taking, you know, his inhaler. I’m not asking for an in-depth portrayal of asthma here, people. Just, you know. You have to do more with it than put it in your mouth. (Ew, that got creepy fast. Moving on.)
11. Also, some of the Losers don’t seem to really know each other — like, Ben’s supposed to be new, I get it, but Bill and Beverly look at each other like they’ve never seen one another before. Which I guess could happen in a small town — even though it totally doesn’t — but it’s especially ridiculous when you change the story so that all the kids are in the same class.
12. Finally, my last adaptation bitch, at least for now: Little Beverly? She really ought to be a redhead.
I am usually in favor of casting actors for talent, rather than looks, and I understand why you wouldn’t want to dye a twelve-year-old’s hair, but if you’re going to leave in this haiku . . .
Your hair is winter fire.
My heart burns there too.
. . . then it would make sense to cast a girl whose hair might inspire the image of “fire” in some way. I mean, Jesus. Buy a wig or something at least.
(Also, I remember the poetry I wrote when I was this age. It . . . wasn’t good. My twelve year old inner child is jealous of Stephen King’s little love haiku.)
I will hold off on the MVP, tentative grade, and all conclusions until I’ve reviewed the second half of the miniseries, but a moral to hold you over?
Clearly, we need to teach our children that clowns in sewers are not to be trusted.