SPOILER WARNING: Key, important details from both the book and movie adaptations of Stephen King's IT are in play in this feature If you haven't yet seen the film and are sensitive to spoiling either experience, please bookmark this story for future reading and come back after you've caught up!
Stephen King's IT is a legendary story, that's both shocking in its horrors, as well as one that details the importance of the friendships of our youth. So naturally, being the watershed tome that it is, some folks were worried about whether the Andres Muschietti film would be a worthy adaptation. In this feature we won't be discussing the quality of the feature itself, but instead will highlight the big differences between the book and the film, and how they changed the story. So if you're looking to see if and/or how a particular portion of the IT story has been altered you've come to the right place!
There's no sign of Maturin The Turtle. One of the changes we knew about from the beginning was the fact that Maturin the Turtle, a character important to the mythos of the Stephen King universe, was nowhere to be seen in IT's film version. In the book, Maturin informed young Bill Denbrough on how to defeat Pennywise, his sworn nemesis, via the ritual of Chud. However, in the movie, there's only a mention of turtles in the waters The Barrens, as well as a LEGO model of one in Georgie's room.
The story's setting was updated to the 1980s. In Stephen King's IT, the narrative is split between two time periods: 1957-1958 and 1984-1985. The changes in the time period are key to how the characters grow up in and outside the city of Derry, Maine. While we will eventually see the adult events in the film sequel play out in 2016, this film is an Amblin-esque story set in 1989, full of sun-drenched hills perfect for bike riding, and Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 playing in the local theater. The novel showcases a 1950s vision of childhood, with The Mummy and I Was A Teenage Werewolf fueling the major scares that the The Losers Club face off against, but that's not the case in the sequel. Speaking of which...
IT's transformations have changed. With the change of era comes a change in choices for Pennywise's shapeshifting. For instance, instead of seeing a monster that recalls Boris Karloff's Mummy, Ben Hanscom sees a monstrous apparition based off a victim of the Derry Ironworks exposion. Richie Tozier doesn't see the werewolf inspired by I Was A Teenage Werewolf, rather he's tormented with a room of clown paraphernalia, complete with Pennywise himself. Stan isn't haunted by two kids who died in the standpipe, but instead by a seriously creepy painting. As for Mike, in the book he gets a giant bird, and here he is reminded of the death of his parents. The closest encounters to the novel equivalents were Eddie Kasperak's leper, who is more nightmarish in the film and doesn't offer any lewd propositions, and Beverly's incident with the voices in her bathroom sink. Here's hoping this means that the spider from the end of the adulthood part of the story is in for a re-write as well.
The story's narrative is linear. Stephen King's original text for IT is structured as a story that dips in and out of the past and the present. Huge sections of the massive novel go back and forth between first the events in the 1950s, and then those in the 1980s. One effect this has is knowing the fates of the adult versions of The Loser's Club as you read about their childhood adventures. For example, in the movie you watch Stanley Uris pal around with his friends not knowing that he will commit suicide before he can reunite with them 27 years later.
The gang bang scene is not included. Another big change that we all knew was coming is the fact that after defeating Pennywise, the Losers Club doesn't engage in the group act of losing their virginity to Beverly. In the book, this was a situation that happened in order for the group of kids to find their way out of the sewer. In the film, however, the gang's exit from the sewer is a pretty glossed over affair, with the focus being put into the climactic fight between the kids and Pennywise. So instead of the perils of escaping the sewers playing any part of the film's later narrative, we're given more of a set piece surrounding the final battle of The Losers Club versus IT.
Pennywise's defeat is re-written into a more action packed finale. With a change in time frame comes a change in the defeat of Pennywise. In the novel, Bill Denbrough learns about the Ritual of Chud from Maturin the Turtle. As such, through said ritual, the psychic power of The Losers' Club helps defeat Pennywise, as their horror movie research has them firmly believing that Beverly's slingshot skillls will kill the clown, courtesy of a silver dollar to the head. In the movie, however, the big showdown's result is a by-product of physical strength and the willingness to stand up to Pennywise. Though, similar to the slingshot, Bill does use a captive bolt pistol to weaken Pennywise, by shooting his manifestation of Georgie in the head.
Mike Hanlon's parents die in a fire. One character that seemed to get a major re-write through the modern translation of IT was Mike Hanlon. One big way this changed is in the fact that his vision of Pennywise involves the death of both of his parents during his early childhood. That vision is similar to what fans of the novel know as the fire that destroyed the African-American nightclub The Black Spot. In the book, Mike actually loses his father to cancer in 1962, and before that, he learns about the incident at The Black Spot through his father's recounting.
Ben is the history buff, not Mike. We learn early on in IT's literary incarnation that Mike Hanlon not only stays in Derry his whole life, but also that he's the librarian and amateur historian for the town. As such, he's the one that catalogs the town's weird incidents, building the book of knowledge known as "Derry: A Look Through Hell's Backdoor". However, there seems to have been a change in the works, as Ben Hascomb wasn't the architectural whiz in the new film version of IT. Rather, he's the one looking into Derry's weird history. Could this wind up changing his future in the movie's inevitable sequel?
Bill cuts the palms of The Losers Club. The role of Stanley Uris has been drastically reduced in the film version of IT. It wouldn't be unfair to say he feels like more of a background member of The Loser's Club. This shows most at the end of the film, when Bill becomes the member of the club to smash the glass bottle and swear a blood oath to return and face off against Pennywise, should he ever return. In the novel, this is Stan's job, and as mentioned earlier, this turn of events has a sad irony. Stan is the one that commits suicide, rather than go to Derry and fulfill his oath.
Stan's level of religious conviction has changed. Another big change to Stan's character is through his father's new position as a rabbi. Through this new change to the film, Stanley's Bar Mitzvah is a big part of the story, with even a scene of him giving his synagogue a speech about safety through adults being deleted from the final cut of the film. It's a huge shift from the more lax Jewish faith that the Uris family followed in Stephen King's book, with Stan not even knowing the basics of keeping Kosher in the original text.
There's no dam building with Richie, Ben, and Bill. A big part of the bonding that Richie, Ben, and Bill engage in during the 1957-1958 period of IT the novel involves Ben foreshadowing his future career as an architect. This is shown through a dam in The Barrens that prevents the flow of grey water to the water processing plants that turn it back into usable water. It's a project that eventually gets the boys into trouble with the law, but nothing too huge. However, throughout their time in The Barrens in IT the movie, it's more focused on a loogie spitting contest, as well as some cliff diving and swimming.
Georgie's body is never found and his death is ignored by the neighbors. While the opening scene of IT captures the fateful exchange between Georgie Denborough and Pennywise accurately, there's some big variances in the aftermath of Georgie's death. In the movie, a local neighbor doesn't see or hear the incident - only Georgie talking to the storm drain and the blood left after his death. This, in turn, leads Bill to think that Georgie might still be alive in the sewers, or out in The Barrens, as he presumed he'd have washed up there due to the storm. This is handled differently in the literary incarnation, as Georgie's body is not only found and recovered, but the murder itself is noticed by someone gardening on the stormy day in question.
Beverly cuts her hair. Both the book and film versions of IT feature young Beverly in an on-going war between her abusive father as well as her maturing body - but the movie takes it one step further by having the girl cut off her beautiful red hair. It is not only a move that is clearly meant to deter her dad's disturbing and awful advances, but also winds up playing into Pennywise's manipulations. Bev is attacked with blood from the drain in her bathroom sink, just as she is in the book, but the evil entity also uses her shorn locks to bind her hands and trap her in place while the blood erupts.
Bev's mom is gone. There's a good portion of IT's story that details how Beverly's mother, Elfrieda Marsh, works hard for her family, while at the same time worrying her husband is molesting their daughter behind her back. Though she, like Mike Hanlon's dad, dies of cancer in the novel's text, she's not even present in the film version of IT. Rather, the audience is left to infer that the single parent Alvin Marsh is harming his daughter through his actions and body language in the movie.
Henry Bowers' dad is a cop. There's a lot of Henry Bowers' story that has been omitted from the movie version of IT, some of it dealing with Bowers' feelings of intense homophobia, despite engaging in sexual activities with a gang member. But perhaps the most significant change is the relationship between Henry and his father. Not only do we not specifically see the abuse that Henry experiences at the hand of his dad, but Butch Bowers is also not just a racist, farm-owning crazy man as he is in the novel. Instead, he is actually a member of the Derry Police Department - and winds up dying at his son's hand.