Stephen King’s IT is due for a reboot on the big screen this fall and having just re-read the horror classic with more mature eyes I can identify a number of problems with adapting the book for the screen. Spoilers obviously follow.
The original IT has been an inspiration for more things than you would normally imagine. The idea of a group of young pre-teens having a coming of age tale while fighting an evil monster has recently been regurgitated to amazing success in the Netflix show Stranger things. Because of this newer, younger audiences may feel that they have seen this all before. It will be unfair as one of the pieces of work that inspired the genre along with The Goonies and Stand By Me, IT will need to immerse us differently. It may need to focus more on the antagonist than the group of kids referred to as the Losers Club. In doing this though the film could lose the grounding in reality that is so important in the book. In the book, the normal humdrum lives and issues the children face are juxtaposed with the fantastical and extreme danger faced when taking on IT. If this is lost the film could just be another tale of children running from a monster.
Pennywise the clown is the most common iteration of IT in the novel and was memorably played by Tim Currie in the TV mini-series. Early pictures of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise are brilliant. He comes across as something more malevolent than Currie’s but this in itself may cause an issue. The thing about Pennywise in the book and TV series both came across as funny before the evil streak snapped. The clown lured the children in before revealing their true form. If the 2017 IT is as evil looking immediately as Skarsgård appears to be then there will be questions asked. Looking at how he is in the trailers, there is no way any child would not turn and run as fast as they could from him. He is simply too evil looking already. This could indicate a different direction. For one I cannot imagine this Pennywise engaging in the same conversation with the stars or appearing in the past instances like we see in the book. When Mike asks older people in the town, that have been witnesses to great tragedy if they remember seeing a clown nearby, they usually do and you are given a description of the scene. This Pennywise looks less human and as a result less likely to forget about. Unfortunately, despite the striking appearance of the modern Pennywise, the lack of humanity could make the film a simple monster chase rather than something sinister.
The Timeline And Setting
IT takes place both in the present 1985 and the past 1958. We already know the film will only focus on the early 1958 story. While a sensible decision for big-screen audiences, it means we are only getting half the story. While I may be corrected, current rumours suggest the film will be set in a present day setting. If this is the case the chances of a sequel with the adult cast are slim. The creature IT terrorizes Derry every 27 or so years. If the new film is entirely in modern times then any sequel would need to be set in the future. This also leads to the problems of modern technology. How do you place mobile phones in this story? They mean the children could take photographs of all the horrible things that IT does. If it is the modern day they could put them on social media and then the entire world would know. The central conceit is that IT preys on fear and only the children can see these things. Because of this, I can only imagine the film may be set in a slightly older time. 1990 would play into the 27 year cycle and also allow the makers to experiment with a different setting and different school relationships. 1950’s school life and 1990’s school life are very different and would give the film a unique take. I think the reboot desperately needs the adult storyline as the beginning of the book that focuses on this area is the strongest part.
The Difficult Elements Of The Book
There are scenes in the book which immediately spring out as being unfilmable. Some of them surround the side characters Patrick Hockstetter and Henry Bowers. In their most memorable scene together the two of them are experimenting sexually with each other while one of the main characters Beverly looks on. While this could be hinted at on the screen, the age of the boys when this happens could not be depicted and will most probably be ignored. Hockstetter has already featured prominently in the trailers for the film, so it is easy to suggest that this character will play a larger part. He is probably the most sickening character in the book. A trainee psychopath who has already murdered his brother when he was a baby. Hockstetter kills and collects dead flies and animals as well as inappropriately touching other students in the class. This can be described in a book, but to be shown on the screen would be too shocking considering the age the actor playing him will be and the age the character is meant to be. However, if this is completely ignored then Hockstetter would just be another statistic on IT’s trail of destruction. Because King characterized him so vividly his death meant more. The TV series glazed over him but this is a character which is very memorable to anyone who read the book. The same issue also affects the scene in the sewers where Beverly has sex with all the other members of the Losers Club in turn. In a strange and unnecessary section of the book, this happens after the children have defeated IT. It doesn’t add to the story in my opinion and is completely unfilmable on the big screen. It was meant to be a way for the group to bond together on another level, yet immediately afterward they made cuts in their hands and formed a circle. It felt out of place reading it years ago and still does to this day.
Despite the problems above, I think the main issue with IT is the unsatisfying ending. Despite reading it and seeing it a number of times over the years it still makes little sense. We are to believe IT is a creature from a far off galaxy. Older than our planet yet still not explicitly defined as the devil. There is only another being of equal age described as a turtle in comparison to IT’s depiction as a spider. In the fight, the creator is also referred to so we are left none the wiser as to what happens. If they try to put this on screen the film will fail. It is nearly enough to ruin all the good work from the book so how they deal with an ending of some resolution where there is none for the children will be interesting to see.
IT releases this fall so we can revisit the post then.