IT Mini-Series (1990)

Rating:

“We all float down here.”

Main Cast: Tim Curry, John Ritter, Harry Anderson

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

(NOTE: This review is of the two part 1990 mini-series, not the 2017 blockbuster movies)

I’ve never been a fan of TV-movie adaptations of books, or of TV-movies at all. But if Stephen King’s 1138-page novel IT was going to be made into a movie, then I suppose TV-movie was the way to do it, if for no other reason than time. No one in 1990 was going to want to sit through over 3 hours of movie (today, it’s a different story with such box office hits as The Green Mile and the Lord of the Rings movies). So TV it was.

The Story: For anyone who still hasn’t read the King novel . . . why haven’t you? Anyway, the story is about a group of seven kids in 1958 Derry, Maine who band together to fight a monster–in the guise of Pennywise the Clown–who is killing the children of their town. Thirty years later, they learn the monster didn’t die and they must return home to do battle once again. Not all of them make it, but their effort is a valiant one and in the end things seem like they might be over for good.

King’s novel worked because it was based on the way children have of believing things adults don’t. Ask a child how a magician makes a rabbit pop out of his hat and they’ll tell you “Magic”. Ask an adult and you’ll get either “I don’t know” or a rundown of the slight-of-hand tricks the magician uses in pulling off this trick. Ask a child why they’re afraid of the closet door being open at bedtime and they’ll say “Monsters”. Ask an adult and they’ll say “I’m not” and then get up and close the door anyway.

King understood this and he used this belief in the impossible to great effect in making IT one of his most terrifying novels. I know that word, terrifying, is thrown around a lot when talking about King’s books, but rarely has it actually been the case. A few scenes in The Shining, maybe, but overall I’ve never been scared by a King novel or story. Except for IT. The thought that all these things are real and if I believed in them they could have the strength to kill me . . . well, how can you help but believe in something when you put it that way, even though you don’t want to?

Anyway, that’s what King’s novel is about, and while the story isn’t told exactly the way it is in the book, it’s also what the IT mini-series is about, seven kids fighting the monster, and returning home 30 years later to settle the score.

The good: Lawrence Cohen (with some help from director Tommy Lee Wallace in the second part) did a great job adapting this huge book into just over three manageable hours of script, a task I’m sure I would never want to try. In an inspired move, in Part One Cohen used the seven acts of a regular two hour TV movie and devoted one act to each character, so we get to see the introduction of the adult character, and then flash back to that character’s first introduction to Pennywise 30 years earlier. Things were less precise in Part Two of the mini-series. By then the characters had been introduced and the second half was devoted to reacquainting the characters with each other, then moving to their final showdown with the clown.

While you wouldn’t think at first that the choice of cast was the most inspired, when you realize these are mostly (with the exception of Tim Curry and Annette O’Toole) television actors, the choices make more sense. I’d also never thought, reading the book, that a clown would actually be frightening, but, again, they pulled it off. Having Tim Curry under the make-up didn’t hurt, he’s a natural character actor and can probably manage just about any outlandish character you throw at him.

The child actors playing the seven characters during the 50s were fine enough – all they really had to do was be scared and band together. The adult actors had tougher jobs portraying the tortured souls 30 years later. I’m not a huge fan of any of the actors in this movie, but they all had me convinced enough in their roles.

The bad: The cons are limited to little things, like Richard Thomas and Jonathan Brandis acting Bill Denbrough’s stutter. I’ve never seen an actor really pull off stuttering convincingly. And Tim Curry, a great actor, does tend to go over the top at times. Harry Anderson also goes overboard at times as wisecracking loudmouth Richie Tozier (portrayed as a kid by a very young Seth Green).

But the biggest problem I had, and everyone who has seen this movie has had, is the climax. The climax of the novel is a metaphysical, mental battle between the monster and the adults. Naturally, that wouldn’t have been easy to manage on television, a visual medium, so the producers opted for a physical final battle where the adults face the creature in its true form and take it down.

Unfortunately, the monster’s true form was unconvincing and laughable. If they’d held off 10 more years, they could have gone the CGI route, but in 1990 people were still depending on animatronics, and this was one of the worst examples I’ve ever seen. I was actually glad to learn from the commentary track on the DVD that no one was satisfied with the climax.

The mini-series adaptation of IT is a good example of the differences between a theatrical movie and a TV movie. You can’t watch this, even commercial-free, and mistake it for a big screen movie. It’s got “TV” written all over it. That’s not a bad thing. They made some cuts in the story here and there, things that never would have made it past the television censors, but in the end I think those cuts were probably for the better. If nothing else, it gives someone who watches the movie and THEN reads the book, a whole bunch of brand new stuff to get from the novel, and that’s always good.

I would first recommend people read the book, but I’m a book junkie anyway. But if you’re absolutely against reading 1138 pages, then, sure, see this mini-series. The intervening years since I first saw it have shown me it’s not the piece of crap I once thought it was. It’s got its moments and overall it’s a very watchable two part series.

Cast:
(adults)
Harry Anderson as Richie Tozier
Dennis Christopher as Eddie Kaspbrak
Richard Masur as Stan Uris
Annette O’Toole as Beverly Marsh Rogan
Tim Reid as Mike Hanlon
John Ritter as Ben Hanscom
Richard Thomas as Bill Denbrough

Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown/It

(children)
Jonathan Brandis as Bill Denbrough (age 12)
Brandon Crane as Ben Hascom (age 12)
Adam Faraizl as Eddie Kaspbrak (age 12)
Seth Green as Richie Tozier (age 12)
Ben Heller as Stan Uris (age 12)
Emily Perkins as Beverly Marsh (age 12)
Marlon Taylor as Mike Hanlon (age 12)

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stand By Me(1986)

The Lawnmower Man (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

Sorry, Right Number (1987)

Pet Sematary (1989)

The Cat From Hell (1990)

The Graveyard Shift (1990)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)


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