Despite being a huge Stephen King fan, I did not get around to reading the writer’s seminal horror novel until this past month. A few days after finishing the book, I was lucky enough to score tickets to a preview screening of the 2017 film.
Like most folks, I was more than a little worried that this would turn out to be yet another failed King adaptation. For every great page-to-screen translation (like 2007’s The Mist), there are a slew of mediocre to downright rotten films and television series that completely miss what made the books great in the first place.
Sometimes it’s due to the difficulty of expressing the rich psychological aspects/struggles of King’s characters without the benefit of the written word. Other times, it’s simply because the screenwriting and interpretation is just downright atrocious (like in the recent television adaptation of The Mist).
But fear not, fellow constant readers…or actually, fear a lot, because It triumphantly distinguishes itself as one of (if not the) best Stephen King film or television adaptions ever. That may sound like a low bar to reach, but trust me when I say this is a film that even the most jaded horror fan can enjoy. My AiPT! colleague Nathaniel Muir was not nearly as enamored with the film as I was, but we both agree that IT manages to distill many of the novel’s best parts into a tight, effective, and character driven film.
All gushing aside, however, the focus for this space will be on some of the major differences–for better or worse–between the novel and the film.
Fair warning: There will be a crap ton of spoilers for both (and probably a few typos I manage to slip by my editors), so read at your own peril. I will also be writing this from the viewpoint of someone who is recently and/or intimately familiar with the 1986 novel.
In other words, if you haven’t read the book and are looking for a quick summary of it instead, it’s going to be turtles all the way down.
The Obvious Stuff
Unlike the novel, the movie stays with the kids for the entire time. There is no jumping back and forth between The Loser Club’s childhood and adult years. This linear structure completely changes how the narrative plays out. Instead of parallels between the events of 1958 and 1984 (and linking the bonds between childhood and adulthood), we get one very strong–and horrifying–coming of age story.
We also don’t get any deep dives into the turbulent history of Derry beyond Ben’s research and some exposition from Mike. There are no flashbacks to the Black Spot being burned down, the Bradley Gang shootout, or the massacre at the Sleepy Silver Dollar.
Also, the shifting of the child portion of the story from 1957-1958 to 1988-1989 obviously changes the world the characters inhabit in a million subtle ways. It also helps provide two of the movie’s best/hilarious moments via Ben Hanscom’s not-so-secret obsession with New Kids on the Block.
On a more terrifying note, there are multiple background characters (both male and female) wearing mom jeans and mom jean shorts, which might be one of the scariest things you’ll ever witness on film or in real life.
Jaeden Lieberher does an excellent job portraying the brave leader of The Losers Club. Aside from his stutter being tamped down quite a bit, Bill comes across pretty much like he does in the book.
The movie doesn’t go to great lengths to show how sharply Bill’s relationship with his parents deteriorated after Georgie’s death. In fact, after Georgie’s fatal encounter with Pennywise, we never see his piano-playing mother again. We do see his father once, but it’s in a somewhat forced scene where he yells at his son for obsessing over his missing/dead little brother.
Thankfully, the lack of Denborough family strife is countered by Lieberher’s ability to perfectly balance Bill’s steadfast determination with his crushing (and unfair) guilt over his brother’s death. Bill’s romantic connection with Bev also ends up being quite a bit more pronounced. Speaking of Bev…
I had never seen Sophia Lillis on film before, but after IT, I’m already a huge fan. The 15-year-old actress is an Oscar-worthy talent who brings Bev to life better than I could have possibly imagined. She manages to be tomboy-tough and old-soul clever without ever crossing into the realm of parody or abandoning Bev’s teenage girl core. Just like in the book, she’s the glue that keeps The Losers together, pulling them back from the brink time and time again.
One aspect about the characters’ life that gets altered quite a bit for the film is Bev’s relationship to her father. In the book, things between them are much more complicated. Bev truly loves her father–at least most of the time. He loves her in return, but also feels a need to control her that manifests itself into physical violence. Bev knows this isn’t right, but despite her rebellious nature, she struggles to gather the courage to fight back against a man who she has been indoctrinated to see as an absolute authority and selfless caretaker.
The movie, however, skips all this emotional entanglement and goes straight for Mr. Marsh being an incestuous creep. Aside from his recitations of “I worry about you, Bevy. I worry a lot,” he barely resembles his literary counterpart, instead serving as a paper-thin representation of Bev’s own personal demons without any messy attachments. Bev’s mom is also missing from the picture, this time both metaphorically and physically.
The end of the film gives us a couple changes to the character from the book that bothered me. It’s bad enough we don’t get to see Bev’s bad-ass slingshot skills, but she also gets put into a damsel in distress role that just doesn’t fit her at all.
That being said, I do have to give the filmmakers credit for one of the reasons WHY Pennywise captured Bev and used her as bait (because she wasn’t scared of IT). I also liked how Ben’s kiss was what freed her from the deadlights. When he and Bev got together as adults in the book (after the final battle), it felt weird and tacked on. Now there’s at least a spark of something to make that potential coupling feel genuine and believable.
On a final and very important note, we were mercifully spared having to view Book Bev’s decision that a child orgy was the only way to strengthen the group’s bond and escape the sewers. Yes, I know there was more to it than that, but I don’t care. It’s still gross and I’m glad the scene got cut.
Pitch. Freaking. Perfect.
We already knew that Finn Wolfhard (best name ever) could play an 80’s kid from his brilliant turn as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things. But thanks in no small part to a hilarious script–and a merciful reduction in Book Richie’s silly impressions–Movie Richie might be my favorite Loser of them all.
In addition to providing the film with some badly needed moments of levity, old Trashmouth also manages to give us some of the film’s most genuine moments of fear and friendship.
We don’t get to see Richie’s family in the film, but they barely played a part in the book anyway. We do see the Paul Bunyan statue that chased him, but only as an Easter egg and/or a set up for its transformation to chase Richie as an adult. We also never see the werewolf wearing a Tozier letter jacket, but that’s probably for the best. Whether you agree that werewolves would seem as scary to kids in the 80’s in a post-Teen Wolf world or not, there was a nice symmetry (and narrative fit) to the greatest fear of Richie the Class Clown being actual clowns.
Sadly, we only get to hear “Beep beep, Richie,” uttered once, but at least it was by Pennywise–and during one of the film’s most terrifying scenes.
Eddie’s character arc and individual scenes play out very closely to how they did in the book, right down to the encounter with the leper on 29 Neibolt Street (which was way more horrifying than I thought it would be).
Jack Grazer plays the character a bit more confidently than I was expecting, reacting to Richie’s insults by throwing some of the film’s funniest lines back in his friend’s face. The big confrontation with his mother is very condensed, but still just as effective.
His discovery of the placebos she’d been making him take is condensed even more–and relayed to him flippantly by a snotty pharmacy tech rather than a tense conversation with the pharmacist, Mr. Keene.
(…and speaking of Mr. Keene, I’m not sure I like the supremely creepy version we got in the movie).
Eddie manages to overcome his hypochondria a bit more cleanly/completely than I thought he should. That being said, his rapid fire recitations of the world’s many dangers–along with Grazer’s wonderful portrayal–made me like Movie Eddie even more than his literary counterpart.
Perhaps I just felt bad for the poor kid from the book and was glad to see him have a little more gumption this time around. Either way, I’m proud of ya, Eds.
None of the Losers get shafted more from page to screen more than poor Mike.
Some of this is a result of the timeline. Most of Mike’s narration is told from his adult perspective as he recounts the history of Derry and gathers the Losers Club back to their cursed hometown.
But in the film, his parents are both dead, killed in a fire during which he could hear them trying to reach him before being saved. Instead of his loving yet stern father, Mike is now being raised by gruff extended family–forced to help slaughter sheep on the farm with a captive bolt pistol that eventually becomes a stand in for the book’s infamous slingshot.
As far as Mike’s encounters with IT, the giant bird is a complete no show. Instead, he sees smoke and burned grasping hands that pour out at him through doors and Pennywise’s mouth. Still very effective, but not nearly as cool as a giant bird could’ve been.
We are also deprived (or spared depending on your point of view) of adult Mike’s recounting of Derry’s history, which gets taken over by Child Ben’s photographs and exposition.
Mike is still routinely tormented by Henry Bowers, but only because he’s homeschooled/different–not because of a violent family history between their fathers. While this is a disappointing (yet understandable) cut from the book, it does spare us having to learn about or (even worse) watch Henry kill Mike’s dog.
Chosen Jacobs does an admirable job with a sparse amount of material, but the character barely feels like he’s joined the Losers Club by the time the movie is over. Let’s hope the adult version of Mike gets the screen time he deserves in the next chapter.
From his unrequited love for Bev to his stoic determination, Jeremy Taylor brings the very best parts of Haystack’s character to life. The aforementioned New Kids on the Block obsession was a nice update, as was his 9/11-truther level obsession with Derry’s bizarre history.
Unfortunately, Ben’s engineering knowledge (one of my favorite things about the character) is nowhere to be seen. No homemade damn clogging up the river or turning silver coins into slugs.
There’s no mummy chasing him through the streets, either. Instead, Pennywise first appears to Ben has a headless victim of the Easter Ironworks disaster, which was arguably a better and more effective scene.
Tone-wise, Wyatt Oleff’s portrayal of Stan is darn near perfect, right down to his obvious reluctance to be involved in the Loser’s crusade against Pennywise.
There’s no bird book or pursuit by dead children, but those are forgivable omissions…especially when you consider how Movie Pennywise appeared to Stan, instead. Maybe it’s because I’m a middle school band director, but that demonic flute player about near made me piss myself.
I was a little disappointed that Stan wasn’t the one to start the blood oath, though, especially if his fate as an adult remains the same for the next chapter.
Nicholas Hamilton’s version of Henry Bowers is so close to what I saw in my head while reading the book that it freaked me out. Even with the character all mulleted and douched up and for the 80’s, his resemblance to my mental image of him felt uncomfortably familiar.
Movie Henry doesn’t get anywhere near the backstory or character development that Book Henry did, but the script does an excellent job of relaying all the important aspects of his personality and actions in a very small amount of time.
For example: We only see Henry Bower’s dad once before he’s killed, but that one scene –which lasted all of around two minutes–perfectly summed up their dynamic.
Unfortunately, the most pivotal member of Henry’s gang is reduced from a sociopathic force of nature to cannon fodder for Pennywise.
Instead of flying leeches, Patrick meets his demise in an incredibly well shot scene involving the corpses of Derry’s missing children. I still would liked to have seen those flying leeches, but I can’t deny that what the movie did was pretty cool.
The subplot with him keeping a refrigerator full of dead animals is completely abandoned, as is his backstory in which he killed his baby brother. Thankfully, we didn’t have watch him give Henry Bowers a hand job, either.
Although it doesn’t take place where it occurs chronologically in the book, Georgie’s death opens the movie in the most horrifying (and best) way possible. The scene also hews incredibly close to the novel.
One area the movie departs with Georgie’s depiction is also one of its best aspects. In the book, Pennywise doesn’t appear as Georgie to Bill until he’s an adult (unless you count his yearbook photo looking back at him). It’s something you’d figure the creature would want to do while the grief and despair caused by the death of Bill’s younger brother was still fresh.
In the film, Pennywise uses Georgie’s image for two incredibly unsettling scenes against Child Bill. Hats off to actor Jackson Scott for being able to seamlessly switch gears from tragically adorable to pure, unadulterated evil (and making me never want to have kids).
Okay, I’ll admit it…when I saw the first pictures of Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, I was underwhelmed. Maybe it was simply because Tim Curry’s portrayal in the 1990 miniseries is so iconic, but it just didn’t grab me the way I’d hoped. Thankfully, Skarsgard portrayal of It has made me happily eat crow.
Instead of going full on murder clown from the start, Skarsgard plays Pennywise with a subtly childish nature, buttressed by an undercurrent of malice which could easily be missed by a trusting child. When he DOES go full-on murder clown, though… hoo boy.. .it’s all types of terrifying. From It’s scratchy, grating voice to the way the clown’s mouth transforms into a cavern of teeth before a kill, this version of Pennywise should help refresh a whole new generation’s worth of coulrophobia.
As you’ve hopefully noticed by now, Movie Pennywise abandoned its portrayals of classic movie monsters. Instead of the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Frankenstein’s Monster, we get the Deformed Flute Player or the Headless Burned Kid. I wasn’t sure it would work, but it totally did–mostly thanks to a combination of expert direction and great special effects. They were so good, in fact, that I barely missed many of the books original/aforementioned creatures. Movie Richie’s fear of clowns also allows Pennywise to give us one of the film’s scariest/best scenes.
As I was watching the movie, I wondered if people who hadn’t read the book understood why Pennywise wasn’t just killing the children right away…or why he hunted children in the first place. Aside from his brief mention of “delicious fear,” the movie audience doesn’t get the benefit of an entire chapter from the creature’s perspective as It discusses “salting the meat” and how children’s imaginations make generating fear much easier.
We also don’t get an explanation for the deadlights. Those of us who read the book knew what we were seeing when those lights appeared in IT’s mouth to a chorus of horrified screams, but I’m not sure that folks unfamiliar with the book would.
The same goes for Pennywise uttering the word “fear” right before he fell down the well. Book readers will recognize this as him expressing surprise at feeling that emotion/sensation for the first time in IT’s very long existence. For people who haven’t read the book, though, it might come off like a cheesy non sequitur.
As far as IT’s “real” self goes, a lot of that gets tossed out the window. The creature never refers to itself as Mr. Grey (which was probably good so people don’t associate this movie with Dreamcatcher) and it’s never revealed to look like a giant spider to the human eye.
Look, I get that I’m one of the nine or ten people in the world who thinks the giant spider final form is cool, but I was more disappointed that the film deprived us of the stunning reveal that It was actually female…and had laid a crapload of eggs.
That being said, Pennywise does do some cool creature shifting during its final confrontation with the Losers, including one form that looks like a giant praying mantis. Still, it would have been great to see this film wash out the bad taste that the stop motion creature pictured above from the 1990 miniseries.
On a final note, I’m not sure why Movie Pennywise went from using multi-colored balloons to just red ones, but I like it.
Story, Scenes, and Settings
We don’t spend nearly as much time here as they do in the novel. We also don’t get the clubhouse (re: Ben’s MIA engineering/architectural talent), which eliminates the smoke lodge vision where Richie and Mike see It coming to earth millions of years ago.
Also, Bill’s mad dash from the Barrens to the drug store to get a fresh aspirator for Eddie is cut completely.
No macroverse or Turtles to be found here…although Ben does mention seeing a turtle underwater when the group has their first big bonding session at the lake. A turtle also appears in Lego form in Georgie’s room when Bill walks in there to mourn his brother.
Considering that we now know the second chapter will explore the story’s cosmic elements, I think it’s safe to say those turtle Easter eggs were very intentional.
Beverly’s Blood Bath
Happens almost exactly like it does in the book, right down to her father being completely unable to see it. When the Losers come to help Bev clean it up, we get a great 80’s montage of them working and bonding together.
There are multiple scenes in the novel where the Losers see pictures of It throughout history come to life, both in Georgie’s yearbook and Mike Hanlon’s father’s album.
In the movie, these scenes are all composited into one great, terrifying sequence. The Losers set up a large screen picture projector to track IT’s attacks with a map of the town sewer system. As they are doing this, the slides begin changing by themselves to a picture of Bill’s family back when Georgie was still alive. After focusing in on Georgie, IT moves to Bill’s mother, who morphs into an enlarged version of Pennywise that bursts through the screen and attacks them.
I may or may not have almost lost bowel and bladder control during this scene.
The Apocalyptic Rock Fight
It happens and it’s awesome. We even get a great metal soundtrack to go along with it.
29 Neibolt Street
Eddie’s first confrontation with IT plays out much like it does in the book, right down to the part where he walks by the church to hear the gospel music.
The second time we visit 29 Neibolt Street, the Losers Club goes together instead of just Bill and Eddie. It’s here that Eddie breaks his arm rather than getting beaten up by Henry and his gang.
The confrontation between The Losers and Pennywise also plays out very differently, as well–no mad dash on Silver to get away from the werewolf. Instead, we get some horrifying imagery of dead children (along with the aforementioned clown room) followed by a direct confrontation with Pennywise as he morphs from a creepy clown into a monster.
Also, Bev shoves a piece of rebar through It’s head, which is all types of cool.
Henry and his gang
Henry falls down the well after trying to kill Mike and we never hear from him again. I assume he’ll be found and institutionalized in the second chapter, but who knows. We don’t see Victor or Belch during Henry’s attempt to murder The Losers, either.
No child-sized/sigil emblazoned door, no ambient light coming from the walls, and no spider web. Instead, there are a bunch of dead kids floating around a giant pile of items they’ve lost over the centuries. The actual lair space itself isn’t nearly as large as I’d imagined, but it’s still impressively big and ominous.
Ritual of Chüd
Nowhere to be found.
While The Losers’ final battle with It does have a heavy psychological aspect, it definitely does not involve any sort of astral projection or conversations with Maturin/The Turtle.
The Final Battle
As stated before, there is no giant spider.
Eddie is spared from having to stomp on IT eggs and kill little IT babies. He also gets a pass on having to defeat a giant eyeball by pretending his aspirator can spray battery acid.
One way not having a spider be IT’s final form enhances the final act (much as it pains me to admit that) is when It confronts Bill as Georgie. Bill is finally able to process his grief while also confronting his own personal demons in a much more tangible manner.
When Pennywise is defeated, the dead children float down to the floor rather than raining down on the Losers like horribly grotesque bombs. That’s one visual that could have been great, but also might have been so unsettling that it negated the children’s victory.
Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age, but the moment when Bill ran after Bev and kissed her really got to me (and was definitely more sweet/enjoyable than reading about a child orgy). Combine that with the blood oath scene before hand, and you really can’t ask for a much better ending to such an intense coming of age story.
This newest version of It is also one of the most book-accurate King adaptations we’ve ever gotten–and definitely one of the best. With plenty of book material left to cover, and a sequel film already announced, I can hardly wait until Chapter Two floats its way into theaters.
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