Stephen King's IT Review
Stephen King’s quite brilliant novel IT showed the horror maestro at his best, balancing childhood innocence and adventure, and the alienation and gulf between them and their parents with nightmarish horror cooked up from the depths of their own imaginations. Turning a thousand-plus page paperback into a two, or as it turns out, three hour film was always going to be a difficult task, yet with the finished article it is clear the filmmakers brought in to do it weren’t far off making a perfect adaptation.
Perfection in whose eyes though? In terms of pure cinema, Kubrick made the best effort in adapting King’s novel The Shining, but the completed film was quite different from King’s vision. Here, the filmmakers strive to take everything that is good about the novel and get it on celluloid. As well as recreating on the screen, as closely as humanly possible to what King envisaged in his head. The finished article isn’t perfect, however, for the most part it is ‘perfect’ Stephen King fiction on-screen, and that is why this little television movie has found it’s place in many a King fan’s heart.
The story, for the first half, is told in flashback and we begin in the present day. A young girl is found mutilated and the police have no leads even though, as we find out, there have been other murders of young children in the area. Mike, a forty-something librarian living in Derry, where the murders are taking place, begins to suspect that Pennywise may have returned. Pennywise, the dancing clown, had taken children thirty years earlier when Mike and his friends were still young. They made a pact, all those years ago to fight the clown, but swore that if IT ever returned they would all come back to Derry to fight IT again. When Mike find’s a photograph of a boy who was killed thirty years earlier, he knows it is time to call on his friends to meet their promise. Via phone calls to each of six friends, we begin to find out the true horrors they all faced thirty years earlier.
The story is a superb, captivating, and terrifically conceived original supernatural horror tale. Just as the book had readers sucked into the fantastical, the film does the same, and for the first hour and a half you can hardly fault it. It is the quality of the first half that makes the second half disappointing. What’s more, the second half feels like a different movie and shows this in such an obvious fashion not only brought on by the fact you have to turn the disc over at the point when the film begins its fall in quality, but the fact that writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace brought in extra writing help and it shows, but not for the good. It is a pity that the film struggles with the suspenseful tug it showed in abundance in the first half, but you have to put it down to the script and the adult actors playing the characters in the present, not totally grasping the essence of the roles.
You may wonder how a film can not be far off a perfect adaptation when half of it is largely poor, but the half that is good, is so very good, you can actually just watch side A of the disc, and that alone makes a very enjoyable movie. The child actors used seem made for their roles, and take them on with a child-like innocence that the characters need. It may have been easy for them to act like the ‘big’ heroes of the piece but they stay very level headed, each reacting to the horrors that present themselves as any child in the world would. However, the first half of the film works so well because it gets to the bare bones of the novel and that is the friendship between them. The pulling together in the face of danger, the laughter, the messing around; Bill’s horror stories by the dam; Mike’s tales of Derry’s strange, mysterious past; Ben’s fight with the school’s bullies; Eddie’s protective mother; Beverly’s abusive father. A real sense of togetherness between them, which carries the film for the most part. It is when the adult actors have to recreate this ‘friendship’ and ‘togetherness’ that the film falls down, because the task simply proves too difficult. The adult actors just don’t display the closeness that the child actors found, and the film’s most pleasing aspect is lost.
The ending doesn’t help the second half’s overall appeal because it doesn’t work at all. Here, the filmmakers fail for the first time in trying to stay true to the book. The ending in the book is much the same, but on paper its simplistic cliché can be glossed over, however, on film it shows up and stands out like black on white. It is strange how the film can suddenly look less than impressive after an almost faultless ninety-minutes.
Overall, there is much to enjoy and admire in this adaptation of one of Stephen King’s best novels. The first half is superb, the second half is average but for the most part it is thrilling stuff.
Warner have provided us with a pretty bare bones disc, with only a commentary upping its value.
The image on the DVD is very good. I was surprised at how crisp and clear it actually was. Presented in 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced this isn’t how it was originally shown on television. After a direct comparison with the 4:3 television version it would appear that the frame presented on the DVD is actually a cropped version of the full image. Picture information at the sides is intact, but some picture information at the top and bottom is lost. While this is a little unfaithful to the film, it doesn’t take anything away from its overall impact and it does look much more appealing in widescreen format.
The picture itself is crystal clear, with colours true and well defined. Taking a look at the first shot on chapter 2 gives the viewer a taster of what is to come. A close-up shot of adult Mike realising IT has come back. The water from the rain running down his face appears so very clearly, each droplet perfectly reproduced. The only minor problem is a little grain that becomes noticeable in some scenes, but this never becomes distracting.
The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 and it does its job adequately. There is some rear channel activity, which is used neatly throughout, but the film never really uses sound particularly well.
Screen-specific audio commentary with actors Dennis Christopher (adult Eddie), Tim Reid (adult Mike), John Ritter (adult Ben), Richard Thomas (adult Bill) and co-writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace - Apart from the lack of some of the child actors, and Tim Curry who plays Pennywise, this is a superb commentary. It is engrossing for most of its three hour run time, with the actors reminiscing about how they all became good friends (pity it didn’t show in the film), what they thought of the book and unanimously agreeing the ending is bad. The director, recorded separately but edited into the actor’s commentary, talks of how he wanted to shoot the film, working with the actors and his thoughts on the book. This is certainly worth a listen for fans of the film.
This is a welcome release of one of the better TV films to DVD. The only real pity is the lack of additional features since the commentary was actually very good. For fans of this film, it is a must buy. For fans of Stephen King, it is well worth checking out, and for horror fans, for the most part, it is a real treat.