Is Tommy Lee Wallace’s original IT miniseries really deserving of the acclaim it receives?
When news first broke that Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) was set to helm a new adaption of Stephen King’s 1986 novel IT, the internet was set ablaze with hatred and a hefty amount of “I can’t believe they’re REMAKING IT!!” complaining regarding the film. Having already been adapted by Halloween III director Tommy Lee Wallace in 1990 as a much-revered TV miniseries, the story of The Losers’ Club and the terrifying evil named Pennywise was considered a classic by many. When it was announced that not only Fukunaga had left the project and Mama director Andy Muschietti had stepped in, but that Hemlock Grove’s Bill Skarsgård had been cast in the role of the evil clown antagonist, people were quick to mention that the film wouldn’t be as good as the original IT and that Skarsgård would never meet the performance that Tim Curry gave in 1990, let alone top it.
Sure, this week has laid a lot of that complaining to rest, with first full glimpses of Skarsgård in action as Pennywise, but I’ve noticed quite a few people still playing the game of “this remake won’t hold a candle to the original” and I have to be honest with you, dear readers, it makes absolutely no sense to me. Not only is Muschietti’s IT NOT a remake (it’s an adaption of the novel and resembles the book much more than the 1990 miniseries), but it should be judged on its own merit, with the precious “the original film is a classic” jazz tossed aside. Yes, Tim Curry was great in Wallace’s film, but if you really revisit the film, you won’t find much to it, aside from one amazing performance in an otherwise mediocre and soap opera-like miniseries.
Let’s start this off with what DOES work in the 1999 version: Tim Curry. The acting legend completely embodies the clown persona of the evil found in King’s novel and every single scene Curry is in, is absolute gold. When Pennywise is being playful and taunting The Losers’ Club, Curry plays it in a very silly way that comes off like an annoying little brother or better yet, a father trying to frustrate his child. It works. When the silliness comes off and the evil clown is ready to get vicious, the actor opens his eyes and becomes one of the most terrifying monsters around, leaving so many viewers with nightmares (including this one as a kid) and rightfully so, the Rocky Horror Pictures Show/Legend actor revels in putting his all into the role. I think that’s where genre (and non-genre) fans make the mistake of holding the miniseries up on a pedestal a bit too much. Yes, Curry is legendary in the role and yes, he lives up to whatever hype Pennywise has received over the decades, but if you take the actor out of the equation, the film itself greatly suffers.
Filled with amazing actors such as John Ritter, Tim Reid, Richard Thomas, Harry Anderson, Annette O’Toole, Dennis Christopher as well as many more talents, the film’s script and direction never quite does justice to the talents of said actors. While they’re all great in pretty much everything else they’ve been in, in IT, everyone seems either bored or as if they’re acting in a school play. It’s overdramatic and closer to a soap opera than the characters and intensity we were given in King’s novel. The flashbacks to the childhood era of the story are done in a fashion that feels like a silly Lifetime movie and the late Jonathan Brandis as the younger version of Bill is, like the adult Richard Thomas version, without much to work with. We’re given scene after scene of brooding kids and their adult versions, all of which we really don’t care about, making us as viewers just constantly wait for the next Pennywise-led scene. When Curry does show up, it’s easy to forget about the melodramatic silliness we just watched prior to the clown wreaking havoc and it’s easy to forgive the rest of the miniseries not being very fleshed out. The bullies come across as silly caricatures of their book counterparts, the emotionally-based childhood scenes come off as great setups without any emotional involvement, and we never quite get to the point where we learn to actually care about a single character, aside from, again, Pennywise.
The danger never feels real or authentic in the 1990 miniseries, and it lacks any of the emotional punch that the novel had. Sure it was made for TV, which explains the lack of a lot of violence the novel had, but even with what it WAS allowed to show, it just never feels like much more than a completely watered down adaption, one that holds a great performance from Curry and constant misuse of otherwise very talented actors, young and old. That’s where the great tragedy lies within the original IT: it’s lack of giving the countless amount of great actors proper material to help bring arguably King’s best novel to proper life. Instead we’re given quite literally a movie-of-the-week version, something that many people hold as a genre classic without it really having the merit to stand as such.
So, before we’re all quick to compare Muschietti’s version to Wallace’s, let’s remember… there isn’t all that much to compare it to, aside from Curry’s wonderful performance. Instead, go into the film with an open mind and a desire to see a terrifying film, based on one of the most terrifying novels of all time. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, this writer is ready to go to bat for Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise and The Losers’ Club in the new film. Judging from the trailer and the clips released, it seems as if we’re finally going to get a group that you actually FEEL for and the danger involved seems like it’s going to feel real and be quite the experience. As far as horror “classics” go, we all have childhood favorites, but I urge you to take a while to revisit the miniseries and chances are, you’ll discover that it doesn’t quite hold up as much as some of you think it does. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. I doubt it though…