I watched the theatrical movie of Stephen King's IT this week (more precisely, "IT: Chapter One"). To me, whether a film adapted from a book is "good" or not depends a lot on its fidelity to the source. In preparation for seeing this movie, not long ago I re-watched the TV miniseries and reread parts of the novel. So what did I like about the new movie? And which makes the better adaptation, the movie or the miniseries?
Good points of the film: The bonds among the seven kids in the "Losers' Club." The miniseries did this aspect well, too, IMO. The lovely scenery and contrastingly horrific special effects. The Gothic environment of the decaying, cobweb-infested Well House and the labyrinthine tunnels below, culminating in the lair of It (the only place we get a glimpse of the true extent of Its otherworldly power, as illustrated by the eerie image of the floating children). The chilling moments when adults witness attacks on the children, by either mundane bullies or supernatural forces, and react with blank gazes, then deliberately turn away.
What the miniseries did better: Having more time to work with, it developed all seven of the child characters more thoroughly. The climax showed It in Its spider form, which the movie doesn't, although the TV episode rendered that scene so inadequately that many viewers dismissed the creature as disappointingly "oh, just a giant spider." (The other-dimensional essence of which the spider is only a projection was completely omitted.) The series wove together the past and present, as in the book, so we see the children's experiences as the gradually re-awakened memories of their adult selves. Granted, if the movie had been structured that way, viewers might have found it confusing, especially since "Chapter Two," the adults' return to Derry, is apparently not going to appear until 2019!
Drawbacks of the new film: Again, the cosmic dimension is totally absent. We don't see the vision that reveals Its other-dimensional origin, when it came not "from space" but "through space" in the prehistoric past (a clear homage to Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space"). I've read a hint that this scene may appear in the second movie. I hope so, because without it so much of the story is missing. We do see one glimpse of the "deadlights," but viewers who haven't read the book won't get the allusion. In general, the Derry backstory that gives the novel such depth is covered too briefly in the film for my taste.
As reviewers have noted, the movie doesn't have time to develop all seven of the children as fully as desirable. In particular, I was disappointed that their individual methods of fighting It are almost completely neglected. What happened to Eddie's asthma inhaler shooting "acid," Stan's invocation of the bird names from his birdwatching guide, or Bill's preternaturally fast rides on his bike, Silver? (The miniseries included some of that.) Particularly, the character of Stan as the obdurate rationalist, who regards the supernatural as an unbearable "offense," needs better development. In the film version, he simply keeps repeating, "This isn't real." I was also sorry not to see Beverly's slingshot with the homemade silver bullets.
Beverly is a bit too old. In the book, she's on the verge of puberty, not yet there. One of the novel's major themes is belief. Children are especially vulnerable to It because they're still young enough to believe in the supernatural and suffer the simple, primal fears It feeds upon. That same capacity for belief, however, gives them the ability to destroy It, while adults wouldn't be able to. Therefore, it's important that Beverly remain on the "child" side of the line along with the boys. The central problem of the present-day story is whether they can resurrect not only the bonds that united them in childhood but also the power of belief that they've lost with maturity.
On the whole, I was pleased enough with the movie to plan to buy the DVD when it becomes available and look forward to the second half. But having to wait two years? Really?! Aren't the producers concerned that the prospective audience, at least the majority that aren't hardcore King fans, will lose interest by then? Or at least forget the details of the first half?
In case you'd like to read my essay in STRANGE HORIZONS on Lovecraftian motifs in IT, here it is:The Turtle Can't Help Us
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt