The ‘IT’ Movies: The Problem with King’s Film Adaptations

Last night, I finally finished Stephen King’s It, a 1,138 page monster of a novel that I’ve been steadily working through since June. I promptly then spent the next four hours going through the book’s two recent film adaptations, It and It: Chapter Two, as I’ve been wanting to see them for awhile now.

So what did I think? Based on the title of this article, you may already have assumed that I vehemently disliked the It movies, and it would have been fair for you to do so, but I didn’t. Not only did I think that the films stood well on their own, with disturbing visuals and a surprising amount of humor, but I also thought that they honored the spirit of the original text. They touched upon the same themes of childhood and identity as well as the personalities of the original characters (even Pennywise, who, dare I say, was even funnier on screen than on the page).

Yet that’s all the films did, touch upon them. The characteristics of each member of the Loser’s Club were superficial at best, and with some of them, completely absent at worst, and Pennywise, while I did find him pretty funny, he wasn’t the least bit frightening. Sure, sometimes he had fangs and claws and blood dripping from his painted mouth, but what makes Pennywise one of my most favorite literary monsters is that he strikes an almost perfect balance between humor and fright. He’s a clown so, of course, he’s going to crack a few quips (I swear that, at one point in the book, he tells the “Prince Albert in a can” joke, which caught me so off guard that I burst out laughing in my bedroom), but he’s also an otherworldly space demon, a Lovecraftian horror from beyond the rim of the universe. What makes Pennywise scary isn’t what he does but rather what he is, a representation of how minuscule we are, how insignificant – frankly, how meaningless. We’ve only been around for a few hundred thousand years – civilization for even less – while there are other god-like celestial bodies out in space that have been burning for billions, and will be burning for another billion long after we’re all gone.

With the Loser’s Club, each character was distilled down to a single trait: Richie Tozier was the the comic relief, Eddie Kasprak was the germaphobe, Bill Denbrough was the leader and Beverly Marsh was the “cool outcast chick”, I suppose, with the personalities remaining two, Stanley Uris and Mike Hanlon, reduced even further down simply “Jewish” and “African American”.

The Loser’s Club | Image via Entertainment Weekly

And with the themes of childhood and identity, they were passed by so quickly that only those who have read the book would have even recognized them, yet, despite all of these criticisms of mine, I don’t blame the movies themselves. Why? Because they didn’t have enough time!

It is 1,138 pages long! It’s an absolute gargantuan piece, one that took me the entire summer to get through. While It: Chapter Two seemed to pace itself far better than the first one, both movies still felt incredibly rushed, which is why I believe that this project was doomed from the start, and I think this is why so many film adaptations of Stephen King’s work fail. It’s not because a lot of Stephen King’s books are over a thousand pages long, but rather because of how dense those pages are. So much plot and characterization is packed into each one of King’s books that, with only a permitted one and a half to two hours of runtime, it’s impossible for every element to be properly explored. Some are able to pull it off, like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, but the majority don’t translate well to the big screen, because, instead of using King’s work simply as a loose storyboard, they attempt to touch upon every story beat, creating a disjointed mess.

 

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