“Home is the place where, when you go there, you finally have to face the thing in the dark” - Stephen King (IT)...
...The 1990 miniseries based on Stephen King’s IT has just turned thirty today, marking three decades since Tim Curry brought Pennywise the Dancing Clown from the pages of King to small screens across the US. IT introduced the world to the Losers Club, the seven charmingly unpopular kids who were both lucky and brave enough to survive the fear and death that Pennywise brought to so many others. Their mutual survival formed the bond that compelled them to warily return to their hometown of Derry 30 years later and rid it from Pennywise, once and for all.
Before Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season Of The Witch) was attached and eventually directed IT, George Romero was going to bring the story to life. I would have loved to have seen George’s vision, which was set to be longer than what ABC eventually decided with Wallace. It was rumored to be in the 8 to 10 hours range and there are varying reports to how much work Romero put in before the switch. Who knows what it would have ended up looking like, but it would have been a different beast for sure. Still, Wallace was more than up to the task and presented a version that is very satisfactory to both constant readers and the casual viewer alike.
The narrative structure of Wallace’s version hews closer to that of the book, unlike the 2017 and 2019 adaptation in IT Chapter One and Two by Andy Muschietti, which for the most part splits the time between the young losers club and older, respectively. The miniseries jumps back and forth between the adult and child lives of the protagonists. This works very well for the miniseries, as you get more time to tell various plot points of King’s novel and it gives someone not familiar with the book a chance to make sense of the chaos. If they did what the films do, essentially split them up into parts, many viewers may be lost due to the varying actors who played the different Losers Club roles. The two parts of the miniseries proved it was vital to show it more like the book as it gives the viewer the chance to see the whole story take place over two nights on broadcast TV, and for many people, unless this was recorded this would be the only time they saw it before an eventual home video release on VHS and Laserdisc in 1991.
Telling a tale like IT on the small screen was a complete risk for ABC, and the pre-release reviews were not too favorable. Some loved how it leaned into character development, but a lot of the reviews saw it as just fluff. Yet once IT hit television screens, over 30 million tuned into the saga of seven friends battling a creepy creature beyond anyone’s imagination. Based on metrics at the time, IT was beyond a smashing success. Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise will be fondly remembered for years to come for bringing disturbing believability to a clown who is also the self-proclaimed “eater of worlds.’ Most importantly, the series is enduring because of its compelling representation of the bonds of the friendships that are fostered in childhood and the trauma that can surround childhood events. It’s safe to say that growing up most children didn’t fight a being that can resemble their fears in the literal way Pennywise did, but much like the book, Pennywise only emphasizes the adversity each already faces. Though each member of the losers club has their own personal antagonists, Pennywise is the shared terrifying and immediate danger. Still, there is such a positive message to IT; How amidst all of the darkness there is light to be found in each other. Sometimes that light is bright enough to stomp out the evil. Yet it can never be done alone. The value of that lesson is remarkably strong. The light, and strength, are found in other people. In this case, it is found in the Losers Club, which is a profound message for the 1990 production. It is one of the reasons that many still turn to this story; it’s got the heart to match the scares, and that is a rare quality in a TV miniseries.
We’ve had many Stephen King adaptations since IT, and luckily, many more to come. Still, there is something incredible about this version. How the viewer can see themselves in these characters and moments that have displayed on so many TV screens, and will for years to come. Of course, not everything by the film's end is hunky-dory. The pain and loss the characters experiences are reflective of the suffering of existence, but it’s a reminder to keep on fighting. We, as humans may not always win, but we will always have each other, and the bond that comes from that is worth weathering any storm.
By Justin Drabek
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