It, Part I: It (1990)
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
WARNING: This review will reference sexual activity, so read at your own risk.
You may remember me gushing about It, one of the most massive, but nevertheless most memorable stories that Stephen King ever wrote. The sheer amount of heart, creepiness, and high-stakes adrenaline provided within amounted to a touching, eerie, and all-around epic portrayal of facing your fears, whether you’re a kid or an adult. Well, in anticipation of It: Chapters One and Two, I think it makes sense for me to start with the first screen adaptation to immortalize the story – in a sense.
That would be the ABC miniseries starring Tim Curry.
The first thing I’ll say about it is that whereas the book was a little over 1000 pages long, the miniseries altogether ran for a total of a little over three hours, so I knew going in that some things had to be changed around to fit the runtime, not to mention the broadcast standards, since this aired primetime in ABC.
Before I dive into that, I ought to talk first about the acting in this show.
I am going to give credit to the child and adult actors who portrayed Bill, Ben, and Beverly. They all gave their characters some depth in their performances and were mostly on cue with their expressions and portrayals of their characters’ personal dilemmas. And I might also say that Ben and Beverly felt a bit like how I imagined them in the book. I’ll admit, though, the actress playing the adult Beverly was a little hammy in places, like when she left Tom Hagan, or when she told Ben about the haiku.
The rest of the actors were pretty hit-and-miss. The actor who played adult Mike gave him a sense of confidence and respectability, but the acting from Mike as a kid felt a little wooden, and the kid himself looked a little old, like he could have been 13 or 14 instead of 10 or 11. While I found the acting from all the actors portraying Stanley, Richie, and Eddie decent – especially the acting from Richie as an adult, I liked just how conflicted he sounded with the whole idea of reuniting to fight against It once more – I also didn’t find them appealing enough to leave a big enough impact on me.
While I did find myself connecting with the Losers’ Club in their adventures due to the merits in their acting, the faults I mentioned about it made the chemistry between them feel a little fluttery; one minute, they felt like the best of friends, and the next minute, they looked like they were still getting to know each other. It never ruined the general mood for me, though, whenever I saw them together. It’s just that I caught onto those patterns as the rest of the miniseries went on.
And last but not least, there’s Tim Curry as It in its “Pennywise the Dancing Clown” form. He did a fantastic job of giving It an unnatural sense of cheeriness, as well as the sinister, underlying Boogeyman-esque qualities generally associated with his character. And in the moments where he’s supposed to be at his most monstrous, he definitely looked more unsettling than ever. It was not perfect in spots, but at the same time, it was no wonder that his portrayal of It became so memorable over the years. In fact, I’m surprised he never received any Emmy recognitions for his performance.
Knowing the time period in which it aired on TV, as well as what had to be sacrificed in terms of content from Stephen King’s original source material in order to fit in ABC’s primetime mold, I was curious to see how well this version of the story did in terms of the murders and encounters with It. Unfortunately, I can sum up my overall thoughts on its presentation of such events in one word: hokey.
The murders that occurred in the miniseries felt either too toned down or were just mentioned in conversations only, and the encounters the Losers' Club had with It didn’t carry as much terrifying intensity as they did in the book. One reason for that may be that the general tone of those encounters carried resemblances to the classic horror films from the 50s, as if to say the miniseries was trying to replicate that. I got those impressions since the forms that It took looked like they could easily have fit into those kinds of movies. Well, it didn’t fit because those encounters were supposed to feel like matters of life and death, something far more real than any 50s horror flick. Even the epic confrontation the Losers' Club had with It in the sewers, both as children and as adults, didn’t feel as special as it did in the book.
Many of the murders that occurred in the book carried shreds of the terrifying intensity I mentioned, and every time the Losers' Club or anyone had confrontations, whether it was with It, or Henry, or anyone else, King wrote them all with a heightened sense of dread and grandeur to them. The confrontations in the miniseries felt too standard by comparison, and they left me feeling bummed that the miniseries didn’t take as much opportunities as it could have with what it may have gotten away with in primetime TV.
The story as it was played out similarly to the original story – you can see my review of the original book for more details – but a few key details have been switched around and changed around. Never mind that many of the mature content was taken out for primetime TV in a broadcast network; as someone who read the book first, there were plenty – and I mean plenty – of things I caught that felt different than they did in the book. And because I could go on about the changes forever, I’ve instead decided to highlight the top 10 differences I caught while watching the miniseries.
The murder that jumpstarted the whole plot, besides the murder of George Denbrough, was the murder of a young girl who just came home on her bike. This was a far cry from the original book, where the murder was of a man named Adrian Mellon, who was just assaulted by other men earlier out of homophobia.
Some of the encounters the Losers’ Club experienced were changed around. Ben saw It in the form of his deceased father, who died in the Korean War, Stanley saw It in the standpipe in the form of the mummy (as opposed to how Ben saw it in the book), Eddie saw It as the school showerheads changed positions to mess with him, and Richie saw It in the form of the Teenage Werewolf in the school basement. Only Bill’s and Beverly’s encounters were left as they were.
Mike’s backstory was barely addressed. I never saw why Mike and Henry Bowers shared such a personal hatred for one another, and I never saw or heard Mike discuss about running into It as a bird at the Ironworks. This, as a result, made him feel like he didn’t have a reason to be with the Losers’ Club outside of just hating Henry.
Everything involving Neibolt Street never occurred here in the miniseries. Because Eddie’s fear was changed around, I never saw any of what happened in the book, such as Bill and Richie encountering It in its Teenage Werewolf form, or the Losers’ Club fighting It in that particular house with Beverly’s slingshot (that kind of physical retaliation was saved for their encounter with It in the sewers, anyway).
Unlike in the book, I never saw the Losers’ Club build a small clubhouse in the ground. Because of that, I never got to see any of what they did with it, such as when they used it to hide from Henry Bowers and the gang, or when they found out about Its origins via Native-American-influenced smoke practices.
While Beverly did tell Ben about how she knew he wrote her the haiku, it was when they were together as adults, unlike in the book, where she told him about it as kids while hiding in the clubhouse.
The miniseries never addressed the fate of Patrick Hockstetter. I never saw his backstory, I never saw him die at the hands of It in the form of leeches, I never saw him stuff pets in the fridge in the Barrens’ junkyard, I didn’t even see the scene with Beverly eavesdropping on him, Henry, and the others in the junkyard.
The miniseries also never addressed the issues and ultimate fate concerning the Corcoran family. It involved the father being abusive towards his two children to the point where one of the children died from his inflicted wounds, and the other ran off only to be killed by It.
When the adult Henry Bowers approached Mike Hanlon, the fight that ensued between them occurred in Mike’s hotel room instead of in the library like in the book. And, by the time he died, he was still fighting Mike and was killed by both Ben and Eddie on the spot, as opposed to fighting, and being killed by, just Eddie in the hotel.
This goes without saying, but the scene in the climax when Beverly allowed her friends to have sex with her after fighting against It was never carried over into the miniseries.
Now, what do I think of all those changes? Did they complement the story or detract from it? Well, much like the acting, this also had fairly mixed results. Since the miniseries had to tell as much of its story as it could have in its three-hour runtime, I have to congratulate it for condensing some parts of it so that it would have flown properly in this presentation and still made sense. The other changes, on the other hand, kind of diminished the impact of what were otherwise terrific and well-written scenes from the book.
At the end of the day, that might be my ultimate verdict on the miniseries: it was hit-and-miss. It did the tricky task of translating a massive book into a miniseries that obviously may have had a pretty restrained budget, and the collective result was decent, at least. And, it was fortunate enough to have brought over one of the most appropriate actors to portray its most menacing entity; Tim Curry, I think, was the main reason this had such a massive following over the years, and it’s pretty hard not to see why.
Whether you’ll get a laugh out of this or get the chills from this, IT, the miniseries, makes for a nice introduction to Stephen King’s massive tale and the little quirks that made him a household name. Just don’t expect to see a lot of his trademark horror in this one.