Stephen King is an undisputed master of horror and has been for decades. It is one of his most celebrated works, and with good reason. The book is a masterpiece of cosmic horror and it spawned a television miniseries that quickly reached cult classic status. Tim Curry will forever be synonymous with Pennywise the Clown. When news of a remake first came about, people were nervous. With the success of said miniseries, it seems strange to think that anything good could come from a new version of the story.
In reality, the upcoming film has a lot of potential. It is a massive novel, clocking in at over 1,000 pages. Even a four hour miniseries is a very tight fit in terms of adaptation. It does not have the room to tell even all of the major points of the story, let alone some of the more minor ones. Director Tommy Lee Wallace and writer Lawrence D. Cohen did make smart choices by framing the two parts of the miniseries almost as two separate films. One focuses on the children in flashbacks and the other focuses on the adults in the present day. The problem is not so much that major story points were cut as what was cut.
Most of the mythology surrounding It and where It came from was completely omitted from the previous adaptation. We see the creature in Its true form, more or less, but receive none of the background info. This is unfortunate, because the mythology introduced in the book is crucial to the plot and has also impacted other Stephen King works, particularly The Dark Tower.
The major issue with the TV miniseries was not that it only had four hours to convey the story, but that it was on TV. It is one of King’s darkest, goriest novels. There are some truly horrific things in it, most of which could never be adapted to the confines of network television. In an R-rated theatrical version of It we can finally see a lot of the material that could never have made it into the miniseries. Even then, there are moments that probably could not fit an R rating, but that’s an acceptable compromise.
Another issue with the miniseries is its budget, which—given that it was a TV production in 1990—was small. It wasn’t given much to work with and a lot of the effects don’t hold up, some of them didn’t even look great when it first aired. It survived on the caliber of the story and the acting, particularly from Tim Curry as Pennywise. He was the major thing that made the miniseries work. And it is a presentation with a lot of merits, to be sure. But it also certainly falls short when compared to the novel.
It’s almost universally agreed upon that the first segment of It is much better than the second. Everything dealing with the gang when they are children is great. But watching the middle aged actors trying to recapture their youth in the second part doesn’t work as well. There are certainly ways to avoid this. There are no reasons to make the same mistakes that the miniseries did, for all of its benefits. With the right drive and passion behind the project and a deep understanding of the source material, this new version of It could truly be something to behold.