Adapted from one of the most celebrated and disturbing horror novels of all time, Andrés Muschietti's feature version of Stephen King's IT is currently destroying box office records with the best opening weekend ever for an R-rated horror movie. The big-screen take is definitely a crowd-pleaser, with ambitiously absurd scares and a stellar young cast that brings to mind kid-centered hits like The Goonies and The Sandlot. Comparisons to IT's 1990 TV miniseries are inevitable, and while this modern iteration surpasses that previous live-action take in many ways, there are several elements where the theatrical feature fell short.
Here are five things TV's IT miniseries managed to do better than the feature did, even taking into account the fact that Andrés Muschietti only told half of the story with this initial flick. Note that I'm definitely not shitting on IT's first theatrical chapter, because I'm a big fan. But I'm also a fan of Lawrence D. Cohen and Tommy Lee Wallace's original take on Stephen King's monster novel, and I've heard more than enough naysaying against it in the months prior to the film's release. BEWARE MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW FOR ANYONE WHO HASN'T YET WATCHED IT IN THEATERS.
Because this is the first of two planned movies, with the second aimed to focus on the adult timeline, IT obviously couldn't lay out the entirety of Pennywise's stronghold on Derry and its citizens. Still, instead of inspiring uneasy dread in audience members who should never be quite aware of when Pennywise's surreal influence would show up, appearances from Bill Skarsgard's colorfully evil entity are a constant string of jump-scare sequences -- albeit well-conceived ones -- that can be seen coming a mile away.
Following the fairly excellent opening, in which the sewer-bound and glow-eyed Pennywise lures Georgie in, IT doesn't really let the terrifying villain toy with its victims to build up their fears. More often than not, danger-filled scenes make it look like the toothy clown is just trying to kill someone (or make them float, to be sure) before he's stopped short for consistently arbitrary reasons. Tim Curry's Pennywise was a seasoned vet in calmly controlling horrifying situations with dialogue, while Skarsgard's iteration often came across as a Scooby-voiced threat borrowed from another horror franchise. Perhaps the larger special effects budget played into this, and that budget was certainly responsible for some of the wildest moments, but money can't buy me dread, I guess.
Granted, nobody was likely going to deliver the Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter relationship that Stephen King originated on the page, but I expected the IT movie to bring a defined sensibility to the concept of bullying. Instead of anything resembling nuanced, though, we basically get a psychotically angry and spittle-dripping Henry, or a teary-eyed and emasculated version, with little happening between those emotional poles to remind us this is supposed to be a real teenager. In a scene-specific nutshell, Jarred Blancard's Henry in the miniseries wanted to leave his name scarred on Ben's stomach, while Nicholas Hamilton's Henry seemed more intent on disemboweling Ben and then writing his name in viscera.
That's not to take anything away from Hamilton's angst-ridden performance itself, mind you. The movie just doesn't ever offer the vaguest sense of why he's so hard up to destroy the other kids, besides "bullies are gonna be bullies" and "his dad is probably pretty mean to him?" We didn't even get a revamp -- or re-wolf, as it were -- of the miniseries' movie theater scene, which was an easy way to shorthand a need for vengeance. Had we seen Pennywise's influence take over Henry's mind earlier, or if the other bullies were more than mindless minions, perhaps this wouldn't have felt so one-note.
The Bathroom Scene
In any iteration, IT's bathroom scene at Bev's house is pretty iconic, as well as being a major moment in the story itself, since it's the first and most horrific sign that Derry's kids and adults are on completely different wavelengths where Pennywise's powers are concerned. And there's no denying the awkward creepiness as it happened in the TV miniseries, with Beverly's curiosity about the children's voices in the pipe giving way to a blood bubble bursting and covering the sink and mirror. It was a mess that only Bev (at the time) could see, and one moment that still haunts me is her father leaning over the slick porcelain and then touching Bev's face with his bloodied hand.
In the IT film, though, that scene gave way to Hollywood bombast. From the knotted hair being used to confine Bev in place -- which somewhat appropriately reminded me of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 using tongues to tie Joey to his hospital bed -- to the blood geyser that shoots up and turns the entire bathroom crimson (also comparable to an Elm Street scene), it was too much effort for too little payoff. And while the clean-up montage was cute and all, are we really supposed to believe the kids got rid of all that blood in only part of an afternoon?
All The Adults
Because Derry is a weird ass town, none of the adults ever seem to really be "all there" when it comes to being sociable and normal, for lack of a better word. Still, it's like the film went out of its way to make all of IT's grown-ups as ugly-minded and horrible as possible, both in terms of characteristics and even performances. Which isn't to say all of the parents and others in the miniseries' past timeline were angels, but their negative traits were still somewhat human, and you could see the familial through-lines.
For instance, Eddie's mom in the movie was less neurotically protective and more of a slovenly bitch who didn't want her kid to have any fun, and it's not at all obvious how her genes gave way to Jack Dylan Grazer's character. In the miniseries, Frank C. Turner's Al Marsh was the kind of simple man whose abusive habits seemed embedded in his psyche, while Stephen Bogaert just looked like he was mad at Bev for not wanting to bang him. (Perhaps closer to the book, but still not well-developed.) Bill's dad sucked, Stan's dad sucked, and not even the great Steven Williams could make much of his weak role as Mike's grandfather, especially since the film gave Mike's important story details to Ben.
The Magic of Silver
Because IT's central evil thrives on children's fear, the only real weapon its victims have is their imaginations, with Bill's bike Silver serving that point well in the miniseries. But there's very little happening in Andrés Muschietti's film by way of imaginations being used as magic weapons used to drive the evil away. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hoping for another ending where silver is used to defeat a giant spider-creature. But other than a brief shot of the "Silver" name as Bill rides along while saying his stutter-thwarting phrase, there's no sense of Silver's importance, or that the bike ever will become important.
Among other things, the miniseries' Bill uses Silver to save Stan from a horrific event, as it's stated the bike was fast enough to outrun the devil himself. And it's later used to draw future-wife Audra from a catatonic state following the group's final battle against Pennywise. But ignoring Silver's inherent power is similar to how Eddie doesn't use his inhaler as a weapon after learning of its placebo-ness, among other things. Perhaps things will get more magical in the sequel, since adults are always more in need of imagination than kids are, but it was still somewhat bothersome to see Bill's Silver shortchanged as an ordinary means of transportation.
"Beep, Beep, Ritchie"
While the IT film left me quite questionable with all uses of Pennywise's victims "floating," both in a spoken and physical sense, I can understand why the creative team might not have wanted Bill Skarsgard to face direct comparisons to Tim Curry's chilling "You'll float, too!" line reading. But when it comes to the equally memorable line "Beep, beep, Ritchie," I have no problem openly wondering how the hell the movie could have fucked things up so badly. Especially since Finn Wolfhard's excellent portrayal of Ritchie was a nonstop barrage of off-color jokes.
As it went in the novel, the miniseries' characters often threw a "Beep, beep" at Ritchie whenever they wanted him to shut up. That wasn't at all the case in the movie, though, when Ritchie's jokes often just inspired groans or straightforward commands for him to shut up. Which would have been fine, by all means, except the film flabbergastingly brought the line into the scene whenever Ritchie was trapped in the room full of clowns in the Neibolt Street house. Very, very few moments during IT's big-screen debut felt more illogical than Pennywise needlessly saying "Beep, beep, Ritchie," during that close-up. As someone who uses (and inspires other to use) that line on a regular basis, I was more insulted by that than I would have been to see the orgy scene come to life. (Pun intended.)
Again, there are so many things that the IT film gets just right, and it was written and directed with an obvious adoration for the source material. But it could have been even better had the aforementioned elements matched up with the first live-action adaptation. IT is currently in theaters, ready to make more audiences float, and I'll definitely be heading back for another viewing. For anyone looking to see what kinds of horror shows are coming to the small screen soon, head to our fall TV premiere schedule.