The Creepy Conviction of Curry
I think, at this point, I have to admit that I'm just not a fan of Stephen KingRising to fame with the release of his first book, Carrie, Stephen King is one of the most prolific, and most successful, American authors (in any genre, not just horror).'s It. I've now seen both versions of the story -- the 1990 mini-series, which we're covering here, and both parts of the 2017 films, It and It: Chapter Two -- and I just don't care about this tale at all. The kids part is okay, mind you, but the story of the adults, back in town to fight the creature once again, does absolutely nothing for me. And since the adult story is the big conclusion of the tale, well, that's right where it all falls down.
Not that there's a lot to like about this 1990 mini-series at all. It's an absolute slog of a show, a tale split across two parts (as the original book is huge and splitting it across tele-films, or actual films, is necessary to get everything), but both halves lack any kind of momentum, development, or, frankly, scares. This is just a long, sloggy mess of a production, start to finish.
I did wonder if maybe some of my issues with the story are more to do with the fact that both productions I've seen so far, 1990 and 2017, divide the story up such that the tale of the children going up against "It" is the first half of the films (such as they are) while the adult story is split out into it's own tale with just a bit of the kid's leaking back in to add accent to the story. The original novel cuts back and forth more often (at least, from what I've seen as I just can't make it through the book, either) and maybe if these tales were told in parallel, as intended, the momentum of one half would carry the other. Maybe this is just an unfilmable story because of the way the book was written. Whatever the case, we're now 0-for-2 on the It front.
As noted, this mini-series more or less follows the same structure that the later 2017 films take. Although we do first start in "modern" Derry, ME (i.e. 1990 at the time of filming) to see the characters as adults for a few brief scenes, the majority the first of the two 2-hour-long episodes is focused on the kids, how they met, and what brought them together to eventually become the Losers Club. They get bullied by some greaser teens, end up bonding, and then, as they each see the apparition that is It (played by Tim Curry going full clown), they eventually decide to band together to fight It and save the town before It consumes them all.
This is then followed by the adult tale. Here they all come back together in Derry, thirty years later, because IT has resurfaced; they didn't kill the creature, they only stalled him for a time. Now, as adults, they have different fears, different worries, and they aren't sure if they can take on It once again. However, they eventually band together and find a way to fight past their fear to once again take on the alien and defeat it while saving their lives, and the town once more.
I think the issue with It, and what makes it such an unfilmable story (as has been proven twice now) is that it's a very cerebral tale. It feeds on fear, so as he tortures each of the kids -- Bill (Richard Thomas adult, Jonathan Brandis child), Beverly (Annette O'Toole adult, Emily Perkins child), Ben (John Ritter adult, Jay Ryan child), Richie (Harry Anderson adult, Seth Green child), Eddie (Dennis Christopher adult, Adam Faraizl child), Mike (Tim Reid adult, Marlon Taylor child), and Stanley (Richard Masur adult, Ben Heller child) -- he does so by playing on their fears, getting into their heads, making them squirm with terrors very specific to them. That can play well in a book when you spend time learning about each of the kids and understanding, from their perspective (even if the book was told from a third person view) why these things frightened them. That cerebral space, though, is lost in film and TV.
Not that the TV mini-series was all that great at fleshing out anyone at all. Despite having three-and-a-half hours to tell this whole novel, so much of the character development is cut from the TV production. The mini-series was originally supposed to be a ten-hour tele-film, but eventually ABC backed off of that and cut it down to two episodes, so a lot of material had to be cut to that new run-time. Apparently that meant anything that could make you care about the characters, either as kids or adults (but especially as adults as the adults here really suck).
It, too, suffers in this version. Much of that is due to the small TV budget, being unable to properly portray the alien force that is this evil clown in any kind of believable way. I like Tim Curry, and then man emotes and scenery-chews for all it's worth here, but the monster, It, just isn't scary here because all we have is Curry, in a clown costume, with some sharp teeth. TV standards wouldn't let them get too gory or violent, and TV budget wouldn't let the monster be effective or interesting. It was a lose-lose here. Casting Curry was the right call, hobbling the monster wasn't.
But then, from everything I've read, trying to put the conclusion of the story, when the adults fight the monster, may not be possible in an effective way. The mini-series has the part where the Losers go into the sewers and fight a giant spider version of It (which is as silly as it sounds) but it loses the part where they go into It's mind and try to battle him there (as that would be hard to film effectively). it also skirts out and goes for as much of a mega-happy ending as it can get, undercutting some of the drama and bleakness of the book. In general this mini-series just doesn't know what to do with the end of the story so it cops out, hard.
I just don't know what you do with It. Perhaps ABC had the right of it the first time (except for the part where ABC produced the story). Maybe this needs to be a four- or six-part story, done on a streaming or pay-cable service, like HBO Max. Perhaps, with a proper budget and the ability to show all the gore and scares, along with the time and pace to tell the child and adult stories concurrently, this story could actually work on the screen. You need the right production team, one that can find a way to truly convey the characters and their internal struggle such that the meat of the book that always seems to get left on the cutting room floor actually is conveyed, for once.
For now, though, I think the best version of this story is probably the book (and that's just for the fans as I find it to be a slog). I liked the 2017 movie, on its own, but even the sequel dropped the ball, failing to create a proper conclusion. This story has a very specific pace, a very specific tone, and no one, but especially not the people behind this mini-series, managed to get that right. Skip this 1990 travesty and maybe only watch the first of the two 2017 films. You'll get all you need from It there.