Stephen King’s It (1990) (TV)

27 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ** (Part 1: *** – Part 2: *1/2)

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I make it almost a rule not to review made-for-TV movies, let alone TV miniseries’. But the three-hour TV miniseries “It,” adapted from Stephen King’s best-selling 1986 novel, has become so popular (for good and bad reasons that I shouldn’t go into) that I decided to give it a shot. It’s hard to review a movie like this, especially when it is split into two parts and one part is far more interesting than the other. But here’s my shot at it.

In part one of the miniseries, events are being set to take place in apparently part two. “It” begins with Mike Hanlon (a quite effective Tim Reid), the librarian of a small town in Maine called Derry (notice that a lot of Stephen King’s stories take place in Maine), who is at the crime scene of the murder of a little girl. Apparently, this is not the first child murder or disappearance. Mike knows that something is terribly wrong and comes to a conclusion. What is it? We have to wait and see.

Mike spends Part 1 of the story calling his childhood friends, telling them to come back to Derry and explaining “It’s back.” They know what he means. With each friend Mike calls, we experience different flashbacks that seem to be in chronological order. The flashbacks tell the story of the “Lucky Seven”—seven young outcasts who become best friends and stick by each other. There’s Bill (Jonathan Brandis); Ben (Brandon Crane); Eddie (Adam Faraizl); Richie (Seth Green); Stan (Ben Heller); Beverly (Emily Perkins); and Mike (Marlon Taylor), who is the last to join the club after the other kids save him from a sadistic bully named Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard). All seven of these kids keep to themselves in the barren areas of town, building a dam. These scenes are intersected with scenes in the future as each friend (grown up to become successful individually—for example, Bill is a best-selling author) remembers their experience with the “it” that Mike refers to when he calls.

Who or what is “it?” Well, It is a clown named Pennywise (played by Tim Curry)…or is it? You see, Pennywise kills kids after either using his image to fool them or taking the shapes of their fears. Pennywise is some kind of creature that reads minds and becomes your fears before it eats you. And only children can see it, and not adults. Why? (“You grow up,” young Bill says. “You stop believing.”) Each of the seven kids is silent about their own experiences with “it,” which scares them like a cat-and-mouse game, until it finally frightens them all at once. They realize that they have to stop it, so they venture into the sewer tunnels to kill it.

This first part of the “It” miniseries is very interesting in the way it draws you into the story. The kids are all very good actors, especially Brandon Crane who avoids the “fat kid” stereotype as the overweight, sensitive Ben. And their characters are interesting as well. Also, Tim Curry, as the clown, plays it so over-the-top that it’s almost funny when being frightening at the same time. It’s unnerving just to think about a clown coming after these kids. Tim Curry is great as Pennywise. And also, the scenes in the tunnel in which the kids are finally faced with Pennywise is interesting because it’s fun to see them come together and confront their fears. Is it a great climax? Well, no. But this is more about feeling than about gimmick.

This brings us to Part 2, in which all of the adult versions of the Lucky Seven reunite in Derry Maine—Bill is played by Richard Thomas, Ben is John Ritter, Eddie is Dennis Christopher, Richie is Harry Anderson, Stan is Richard Masur, and Beverly is Annette O’Toole. They have forgotten most of their experiences with Pennywise and became successful, but when Mike calls them back saying it’s come back, they have new experiences that make them remember. This is fine, but we also get a series of ludicrous back stories that really slow the movie down. These back stories take a long time to be explained and the viewer is left shaking his or her head. And then when it tries again for horror (like when Pennywise comes back every now and then), it’s just dull instead of frightening. Also, the characters that were compelling as children have become dullards this time around. It doesn’t help that half of these adult actors are badly miscast. And then when the apparent final climax arrives, it’s just silly, silly, silly. It also has one of the worst creature effects in the history of TV movies.

You’d think that with a strong first half, you’d have a second half to be just as strong, especially when the running time is 192 minutes. But “It” doesn’t succeed. The first half (with maybe only the flashbacks) could have made a whole movie and I would’ve recommended it as a whole—I liked the kids, Tim Curry was fun, and there were a couple scenes that scared me, believe it or not (like the scene in which young Bill mourns the death of his kid brother and something creepy happens). But the second half is bogged down to horror clichés, dull plotlines, horrible special effects, and melodrama. Not even the presence of reliable actors Tim Reid and John Ritter could help.

So in conclusion, “It” is a mixed bag—strong first half, insipid second half. I have not read the novel so I can’t quite make comparisons to that. But there are a lot of Stephen King book-to-film adaptations that hardly capture the flavor of King’s stories (examples are “Cujo” and “Children of the Corn”). This is one of those adaptations, although I guess I should be kind enough to say that this is in the same league as “Cujo” and better than “Children of the Corn.” Oh, and don’t get me started on “Pet Sematary.” That’s a review all its own.

One Response to “Stephen King’s It (1990) (TV)”

  1. Rome July 28, 2017 at 9:05 am #

    Harry Anderson was badly miscast as the adult version of Richie! He was nothing like the character Seth Green played at age 12… Instead, he basically gave us Judge Harry from Night Court.

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