Stephen King has had more of his stories adapted into film and television than any other author in history. An impressive feat, considering he’s only been publishing since the 70’s. Well, as a result of the vastness of adaptations to his work, some are better than others. The TV miniseries are typically the worst of the lot, perhaps slightly edging out the straight to video films or ridiculous sequels (“Sometimes they Come Back…Again!”, “Sometimes they Come Back…for More!”). While, more often than not, the TV miniseries are atrocious, “It” is the exception to the rule.
Something strange is going on in the rural Maine town of Derry. In the 1960’s, a rash of child murders terrorized the community. A strange clown-like creature called Pennywise is at the root of the horror, yet his presence brings 7 friends together. Forming a close family, the 7 friends travel to the clown’s dank lair and put an end to the monster before he can finish them off. Or so they think. 30 years have passed and Pennywise has come back. Now adults, the 7 friends must reunite to fight Pennywise for the last time.
Being a television miniseries, released on home video as a “movie”, Stephen King’s It is very long; clocking-in at over 3 hours. However, “It” makes good use of the time, pacing itself perfectly and intercutting flashbacks of the group’s first encounter with Pennywise at all the proper moments through-out the first half. It builds tension when necessary, introduces each of the characters in their own personal “episodes”, so to speak, and developes the cast remarkably well.
“It” has a fantastic first half, however, it begins to fall apart after that. It eventually leads into a ridiculously abysmal climax that leaves the audience with a bad taste in their mouths about the whole film. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but, well…it’s pretty bad.
Now, ignoring that, what’s the best thing about this movie? Pennywise. Or, should I say, Tim Curry. Tim Curry has always been one of my favorite character actors, and this is a perfect display of the man’s bottomless reservoir of talent. Pennywise is terrifying and unsettling, as if clowns weren’t already hideus boogeymen, and is one of the best villains Stephen King has ever conceived. Tim Curry even makes a catchphrase like “They all FLOAT!” sound intensely creepy.
You’ll recognize several members of the cast, some standing out more than others. A young Seth Green appears during the flashback segments as the jokester, Richie. He’s quite good, though his gags can tread on the annoying side from time to time. Richie’s adult counterpart is played by Harry Anderson, AKA “the judge from Night Court”. As much as I like Harry Anderson, he could get teeth-gratingly obnoxious in this movie. The late John Ritter also appears prominently, and while he plays a good part, he doesn’t really do anything outstanding.
To get back to the difference in quality between the first and second halves of the film, it’s not that the second half was bad (at least up until the ending), it was just a different kind of story than the first half. The first half focused on the friends during their childhood and treated Pennywise as a sort of “Boogeyman” who could appear to them as whatever they feared most. Seeing these helpless kids gather the courage and strength to fight what scares them most was rather intriguing. The second half features them all as adults in their 40’s. I’m sorry, but it’s just a little less scary when a bunch of middle aged guys are running around terrified of a clown. There are several classic moments from the second half (I especially liked the fortune cookie scene), but it just isn’t as scary. And god dammit that ending was stupid.
“It” is one of Stephen King’s finer celluloid achievements, and certainly the best of all the TV miniseries to adapt his work. Pennywise is an unforgettable horror movie villain and the scenes in this film can be so grotesque you’ll often wonder how the box can be labeled “PG”. Still, the ending is so unbelievably bad it has the power to ruin the entire film for some.