Director Andres Muschietti has received mountains of praise from critics and fans alike following the success of his re-imagined Stephen King story, IT. The movie has already smashed Deadpool’s record for highest grossing opening weekend for an R-rated film, and cinemas are still seeing paying customers walking in to see the film.
When compared to the success of the 1990 screen adaptation of IT, the difference is notable and staggering. There has been (and still is) an overwhelming amount of hate towards the original mini-series starring Tim Curry. How did director Tommy Lee Wallace screw up the opportunity that Muschietti seemingly aced? Why did the public feel the original was such a disappointment?
For starters, the story of Stephen King’s IT revolves around a group of seven kids known as The Losers Club. The kids are social outcasts in the small town of Derry, Maine and begin to experience deadly assaults from a seemingly otherworldly sinister clown known as Pennywise. Without spoiling too much of the plot, Pennywise is just a form this evil entity can take, and it has been nesting in Derry for years. Pennywise rises from the sewers every 27 years to feed off the fear and flesh of innocent townsfolk. The Losers learn the value of will and courage in this great suspenseful horror tale from a literary icon.
The most notable difference between the two screen adaptations is that Wallace’s 1990 iteration was produced for a TV audience whereas Muschietti’s iteration was produced for the big screen. The fact that the original mini-series had to be prepped for a nation-wide audience seated firmly in their living rooms put a lot of pressure on the producers to not cross lines with conten. Considering the original Stephen King novel contained very graphic content, fear of offending audiences with gruesome visuals resulted in a rather boring four-hour ride.
The next issue was the collective run time of the two episodes that aired in 1990. Each episode was two hours long, which wouldn’t be too bad when you look at other lengthy screen adaptations such as The Lord of The Rings or 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, those were screen adaptations for the big screen. The TV audience of North America does not have a very good reputation when it comes to sitting still for too long, and considering this occurred in the nineties, the visuals made a mish-mash job of putting together an already convoluted plot. Muschietti’s new film came in at a snug 135-minute length, which left ample time to tell his vision of the story.
The final difference is the execution of plot and the decisions made to keep or discard story elements from the original novel. Stephen King is a talented writer but has a habit of creating very “all-over-the-place” stories for his creative writing universe. The novel contains lots of nods to cosmic/creationist meta-theory, much like other King novels. Most of King’s novels see their horrible antagonist monsters being born out of “the macro-verse”- an abstract reality where positive and negative entities wage war over human spirit.
Bill Denbrough, one of the main protagonists in the story learns how to project his spirit into the macro-verse and consults with a giant turtle that reveals a long complex ritual process needed for defeating the evil entity of the story. Audience members in 1990 did not jump for the cosmic plot devices present in the mini-series. In 2017 Muschietti saw Wallace had failed to drain the swamp and decided to change the narrative to one that focuses more on the individual growth/background of the stories main protagonists: The Losers Club.
By cutting away content that a general audience will see as confusing and in most cases pointless (here’s looking at you, Prometheus), Muschietti nailed the suspense and drama needed to bring the individual struggles of The Losers Club members to life. No uncomfortable sex bits, combined with the tight focus on childhood camaraderie and adventure, created a fool-proof formula for a story that will be sure to simultaneously warm and chill the hearts of movie-goers for years to come. Rumours of a sequel in the works that will tell the tale of the latter half of the Losers’ journey have fans rejoicing in anticipation of what Pennywise will have in store 27 years down the fictional story’s timeline.