‘It’ (1990) Mini-Series Review

Disclaimer: This review was written in 2017 before the release of Andy Muschietti’s IT. I have not read the book. Everything is based on viewing the miniseries alone, plus additional research post-viewing.

It’s almost weird writing about the previous version of It, what with the newest adaptation of the best-selling Stephen King novel hitting theaters today. I went into this mini-series knowing more about the new film than this 1990 miniseries. But, maybe that’s fine. After all, this is a review about a 27 year old product, so this review will be bias to how things are today as opposed to then.

27 years. Let’s talk about that for a moment. It’s almost thirty years, and if you’ve read or watched It you know that that number plays a role in the film. The town Derry is haunted by the demonic being known as It every 27 to 30 years.  So for a new adaptation to be hitting theaters in that same time frame almost seems like sweet irony.

The film starts in the then present day of 1990 with cops investigating another child murder. That makes the sixth one so far. Michael Hanlon, the librarian, is at the scene of the crime and comes across a black and white photograph. However, the photograph shouldn’t be there. It is almost thirty years old, and harkens back to a time Hanlon wishes to forget, but can’t.

The mini-series jumps between the two time periods with ease, using flashbacks to the 1960s as character development for the group of characters, and taking it’s time setting everything up.

When we meet the Loser’s Club as adults Bill is an author/screenwriter; Ben, an architect;  Beverly, a fashion designer; Eddie runs a limousine company and still lives with his mom; and Richie is now a successful comedian who’s good enough to guest host The Tonight Show when Carson needs a break. Hanlon calls them one by one and with just a few words we see these characters flash back to their childhood and remember the summer they so desperately tried to forget.

In many ways, Michael Hanlon acts as the Nick Fury of the Loser’s Club, assembling his childhood friends together to stop a threat that nobody else can. They’ve beat it before, and together they stand a chance of beating it again. The threat is hiding in plain sight, and its name is Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

This mini-series is probably still regarded as one of the better Stephen King adaptations for one reason: Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise. However, I don’t find Curry’s Pennywise all that intriguing or scary.

For starters, that voice makes you picture a forty-year old obese male in his boxers, with a five-o’clock shadow, drinking beer and watching the baseball game on his television. If I heard that voice, I’d be tailing it back home lickety-split. Sure, Pennywise boasts some killer teeth, but otherwise he just doesn’t come off as something children would be afraid of. Hell, I’d be more afraid of those balloons that burst blood everywhere. Another thing, Loser’s Club circa 1950s defeated Pennywise almost too easily. “This is battery acid” and a couple sprays and he’s melting like he’s the Wicked Witch from Wizard of Oz. I expected he’d put up a better fight than that.

I’m not trying to say that Tim Curry didn’t give a good performance. He’s quite convincing in the role of the clown, the persona It uses to lure the kids in. It’s just whenever he tries to go all scary and whatnot that his portrayal loses all effect on me.

One thing I’ll give Pennywise is his shapeshifter powers. Georgie. Bev’s father. The Wolfman. Mrs. Kersh. Now that’s an effective way to lure someone into a trap. I don’t know what to make of his other powers, the shining light specifically, but that shapeshifting, now that’s badass.

The miniseries went through a lot of changes from early development to what you see on screen. Originally envisioned as an eight-to-ten-hour series, it was finally cut down to a lean runtime of just over three hours. Stephen King’s It is close to 1200 pages long, so a lot was cut to bring this to the screen, and the screenwriters did an admirable job in condensing the novel. I still think some areas of the series could have been tightened, while others could have used some expanding. The “I looked into its deadlights” is still hazy. Is It a force of light, or is it a spider, or is it both?

While on the topic of the spider, let’s take a moment to admire the old fashioned special effects used in this series. Whether it was the use of stop motion and animatronics to bring the spider-form of It to life, or putting Pennywise’s face on the moon or books flying off the shelf, it was done astoundingly. Simplicity is key.

I admire the ending for the fact that they are almost defeated. Stanley committed suicide because he couldn’t face It again; Hanlon ends up in the hospital after a run in with their old 60s greaser classmate Henry; and Eddie dies from the assault on It in the sewers. The Loser’s Club rises together and kicks that spider’s ass. It’s a moment of triumph that makes you want to shout “yes!” You’re right there going, “finish that sucker.” (Oh, and by the way, the spider is literally the scariest thing in this adaptation; that face is terrifying).

The music works perfect alongside this film, as well. Richard Bellis earned that Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition (Dramatic Underscore). I think this miniseries fits more in the thriller/drama genre than horor, but Bellis’ score, and the music in this series during certain key moments give it the right beats to really make you think “I should be turning on the lights right about now.”

Overall, It boasts a pretty stellar cast of names, most notably John Ritter, and a young Seth Green (again, almost ironic that Seth plays a young Richie who does voices everyone says sounds the same, when in 2017, Seth is a voice actor on a number of popular shows; an example of reality blending itself with fiction?), with enough B-list actors rounding out the cast to make you go “I’ve seen that actor somewhere.”

While condensing the lengthy novel to the small screen was I’m sure a tall order, the writers managed to put together a few hours of thrilling fun. Had my Blu-ray copy split the series into the two episodes, I would have watched this over two nights, but since it had combined them into one three-hour film, I sat back and watched this drama unfold over the hours. In fact, I would recommend you watch It either as the three-hour film or as back-to-back episodes. In this case, binging is the preferred method. I think you’re more there with the characters and part of the story as it happens.

The 1990 mini-series will no doubt continue to be loved by new and old Stephen King fans. Just like how It comes around every 30 years, fans will be able to share in their love of Pennywise the Clown no matter how young or old you may be. BEEP BEEP Richie!

Author: Marmaduke Karlston

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute Doc, uh, are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"