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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Returning to Derry 30 Years Later: Why the Miniseries is My Preferred Adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’

On November 18th 1990, Stephen King’s It made its television debut. In the 30 years since its release, the two-part miniseries has become a renowned cinematic adaptation of the author’s writing. Among the many King stories that have jumped to the screen, It is my all-time favorite. Not only do I find It to be an awesome horror experience, but I also consider the miniseries to be a solid examination of childhood trauma. 

I was thrilled when I first heard It was being remade. Being delivered in two parts, each reflecting the childhood and adult segments of King’s novel respectively, I immediately went to the theatre for both films (2017’s It and 2019’s It Chapter Two). But of these three adaptations of King’s novel, I still find the ‘90s miniseries to be the strongest. 

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Stephen King’s It, I look to examine the miniseries and the remakes. Specifically, what they do differently from one another when it comes to the kid and adult counterparts of the Losers Club, and how each handles their representation of trauma. Please note there will be spoilers for all three movies.

Though their overall narratives are similar, the plotting throughout the 1990s It and the remakes are different. Whereas the remakes split up the kid and adult stories, starting with the kids, the miniseries starts in the present day with the adults. Unlike the opening of 2017’s It where Georgie is killed, ‘90s It begins with older Mike coming across a crime scene involving a murdered child. Realizing It is back, Mike calls each member of the Losers Club. One by one they each get their call, with the viewer being granted a childhood flashback for each to learn more about them.

In only focusing on the kids, 2017’s It allows for a different experience. This It, rather than feeling like a part of a whole, comes across like its own isolated story. Where this film achieves more than the miniseries is in its depiction of the bond between the Losers. The film shares a similar quality with that of another popular contemporary horror title– Stranger Things. Both works, though they offer unique chills, leverage nostalgia. The 2017 remake comes across like a time machine, offering an appeal that may entice one to recall their own childhood. The viewer gets an additional layer of closeness among the Losers; watching them play in kid-like scenarios is more immersive compared to a few scenes of them lounging at the quarry (like in ‘90s It). The worst thing I could say about the 2017 remake is that it does Mike a grave injustice, given how significant he is in the miniseries and how little he is utilized in the film. 

That said, both works present an authentic relationship between the Losers. From their encounters with Pennywise, to their own individual struggles, one gets the sense that these friends truly care for one another.

But of course, It is a horror story. Scares are subjective, so personally speaking, I find the horror of ‘90s It to land stronger than that of the remakes. To be fair, given how the miniseries and 2017 It establish their characters, each does provide a sincere means to feel for them when in danger. But how the danger and dread are conveyed in both the miniseries and remakes is different. 

2017 and 2019 It come across more Hollywood-esque in their creepiness; spooky music begins playing and then some sort of monster is introduced. The set-up is all very predictable. In ‘90s It however, there is an odd, uncomfortable delivery to each scare. Thinking of Eddie’s shower scene or Ben seeing his dead dad near the dam, these moments come on as naturally eerie. Watching the camera transition back from Ben to Ben’s father as the latter morphs into Pennywise is unnerving. The CGI monsters in both remakes are good fun (some more effective than others), but they don’t get under the skin in the same manner that ‘90s It does. Really, the miniseries is superb in presenting a psychological spin to its horror.

Another big difference between the three is that of Pennywise. Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgård both do an excellent job in their respective roles – but each does make for a different Pennywise. They each provide their own spin on the eccentric, evil clown; where Skarsgård’s is more unhinged, even goofy, Curry’s is more menacing. A noticeable aspect I see in ‘90s It is that, in the childhood and adult portions of the story, Pennywise comes across as cruel. I feel, for the most part, this is something missing in the remakes. In the 2019 film, Pennywise makes an effort to toy with the Losers, but in the miniseries, his taunting is more aggressive, purposely pulling at what hurts each of them. Pennywise is also utilized in a conservative matter in the 2019 film; he appears obviously, but it’s like his evilness is restrained. I feel a big reasoning behind this is to allow focus on the adult Losers – but this direction proves to be the film’s biggest weakness. 

For while the 2017 remake delivers on strong childhood friendship, 2019 It delivers paper thin characters with little to no feeling. 

For as long of a movie as Chapter II is, it rushes so much. When thinking about how adult Bill is introduced in the remake, I don’t feel like that’s the Bill I met in 2017. In fact, apart from Richie and Stan, there is a distance when coming to meet these characters again. There isn’t much of a sense of re-connecting with these adult versions of the Losers. I feel what makes ‘90s It stronger in this regard is how the adult counterparts sincerely feel like their childhood counterparts. The miniseries takes its time with each individual, whereas 2019’s It quickly re-introduces everyone and moves them along towards their confrontation with Pennywise. In the slower approach, the viewer gets a stronger understanding of each person and the aspects of their personality and trauma that has traveled with them from childhood into adulthood.

Much of 2019’s It does little to show its audience the psychological turmoil of its characters. When a small peak into each Loser’s respective mind does appear, details are sped through. In particular, the narrative surrounding Bev is horribly rushed. When it comes to everyone returning to Derry, Bev has the most to confront: not only is she confronting her own history with Pennywise, but she is also revisiting the history with her abusive father. Audiences see in the miniseries how that history has carried over into her adulthood, but the 2019 remake runs through that trauma as if it is a side note. 

The issue of lack of depth is felt through the adult counterparts of 2019’s It. Little is mentioned about the trauma they each went through as children (with some getting a brief scene with Pennywise to quickly recap anxieties and fears). If anything, the film tries to carry over Bill’s guilt in losing Georgie. He meets a young boy who he believes is in danger from Pennywise and strives to save him. However, that psychic thread between Georgie and the boy feels vague, for the film doesn’t do much to explore Bill’s headspace beyond cries of wanting to save the kid. 

An element I really appreciate in the miniseries is how intimate the Losers are with one another as adults. Watching them laugh and be happy is nice, but it’s beautiful to see how they are there for one another when hurting. When one of them cries or remembers something tragic, one or two of the others will come over and give a hug. It’s a small but key component as to what makes the emotional drive of ‘90s It more compelling. That aspect of remembering something tragic flops in 2019 It. The amnesia is used as a plot device to provide revealing context, but that’s it. There are few moments of warmness or coming together when one of the group is struggling.

Many of the problems in 2019 It boil down to weak writing (and unfortunately some lackluster performances from great actors). But also, I would argue that the flashback manner in which the miniseries portrays its characters is more effective.

Rarely does Hollywood release a three plus hour film. It makes sense for a new vision of It to come out in two parts (audiences want to see the whole thing and they’ll pay twice as much). In this case, it makes further sense why the childhood and adult stories would be separated (as to provide a balanced focus of each). Now I’m not saying that this type of delivery is an issue – there’s totally a universe where the remake adult Losers were fully fleshed out with a solid script. But the narrative mechanic of first meeting each character as an adult and then seeing them as kids comes with a greater psychological lens. 

When meeting the adults and seeing their childhood life in ‘90s It, one is able to see how they grew. When watching the 2019 It, I feel like I’m watching a movie about a bunch of generic people who are trying to kill an evil clown. Any mentioning of who they were and what they’ve gone through is either glossed over or used to provide something to the story’s supernatural angle. 

In the miniseries, the adult Losers are burdened by the horrors of their childhood; whether it is memories returning, or elements of their childhood still lingering in their adult years, these Losers are haunted. Their pain isn’t just about Pennywise, but living with everything that coincided with what he represented. And most importantly, the miniseries shows the Losers coming together in that trauma – it shows them listening to, embracing, and supporting one another.

Regardless of version though, at the heart of It is a story about confronting trauma. Though I appreciate the heartwarming moments of friends being together and having fun, I am equally intrigued by how these friends battle the darkness of their past. In that representation, I view the ‘90s It to be the superior cinematic adaptation of King’s novel. As I re-watched the miniseries in preparation for this article, it hit me in a surreal way when Mike would talk about how it has been 30 years and It has returned. I was born a little before the miniseries’ release, so as a 30-year-old reflecting on one of my favorite works turning 30 – that’s pretty special.

Stephen King’s It is a brilliant and chilling tale of childhood trauma. Though it may be most remembered for its iconic evil clown, it is a story that proves that whatever form our monster may take, we are strong enough to confront it. The more together we are, the better.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3641943/returning-derry-30-years-later-miniseries-preferred-adaptation-stephen-kings/

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