I will admit it, I am a fan of Stephen King's movies. From the colossally horrible to the downright excellent, I seek them out, the theatrical releases and made-for-television ventures alike. I am no fool, though. Some are masterpieces, and some are stinkers. I am gleeful to report, that for the most part, It leans toward the former.
There are a few problems with It, most of them to do with the nature of its format, the made-for-television movie. Video rarely looks as good as film and It is no exception. The picture quality is not as pretty as it might be. It also has cuts for commercial breaks, which interrupts the flow of the narrative a little. It looks like a made for TV movie, and after viewing Band of Brothers, this just doesn't seem like it has to be. However, It was made before such heights were reached and there are those who would disagree with me that a horror book deserves the same sort of treatment artistically. So It works well within those constraints. The mood manages to be dark and a little funny, which is appropriate for a movie about a killer clown thing.
It is about a cursed little town called Derry (in Maine, of course). Every 27 or so years, an evil force comes up and demands a sacrifice from the town in a BIG way. This force, for most of the movie, appears in the form of Pennywise the Clown, brilliantly played by Tim Curry. Ever the creepy cult character actor, it would have been possible for him to phone this one in. Instead prepare to be thoroughly terrified when little Georgie Denborough runs into him in the sewer, and just about every other time he's on screen. We associate certain types of characters with certain actors, and in spite of Home Alone 2, Tim Curry is to most of us, still the Devil in Legend, and Frankenfurter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The opposition to his evil presence are a group of friends of Georgie's big brother stuttering Bill (the late Jonathan Brandis). These seven kids take on It when they are twelve and come back again because of their promise to each other after It comes back again.
The child actors are excellent. They are all fairly natural, which is not always the case with TV movie actors, let alone ones under the age of 18. One exception is when they are all uttering ad libbed lines that are supposed to be similar and supportive content. You can almost see the page of the script saying "ad lib here." However, forced ad libbing in groups rarely works for me, so I blame the writing more than the kids. Stuttering Bill is exactly how you expect him to be when you read the book, terrified and yet strong. The exchange between Bill and Georgie that occurs before the sewer scene is touching and not overly sentimental.
The adult actors who portray the magnificent seven in the latter half of the miniseries do a pretty good job. There are a lot of familiar faces here, including several major TV actors, such as Harry Anderson and John Ritter (playing Richie Tozier and Ben Hanscom respectively). One of the biggest flaws of TV movies is that they frequently cast B rated actors with less than stellar results (look to the made for TV version of The Shining for an example). Not so here -- the transitions between the adult and kid scenes are smooth, with each character being played as one, not two versions of the same person. This is particularly important in It, because so much depends on the adults' ability to relate to the kid that is still, in some way, back in Derry.
As far as the script goes, It remains very true to the heart of the book. Much has been eliminated, some seemingly for content, some for lack of time. What It becomes at the end isn't as frightening as what I imagined It to be, but I kind of like that in a way. What we are frightened of, truly rarely is. More time is spent emphasizing the Pennywise version of It then what I remember from my reading, but this is effective because Pennywise is effective. Some details, such as the background stories of It and Derry, are extremely condensed or missing, and while this is understandable, it is also disappointing. Like all adaptations, the movie is never As Much as the book. Yet, often when making a movie, it becomes something else entirely which It avoids.
My main disappointment from It comes from what could have been if it had been made as a movie for the big screen. To give a 10 out of 10, I have to be able to say I wouldn't change a thing, but I can't say that. The saving grace of It and what makes it one of the finer Stephen king movies, is the excellent book it draws from, and its commitment to the book's vision. "It" is a scary book. Precisely because It is whatever we are scared of. That is only part of the story however, there are real things too that are frightening and both versions of It let those things lurk in the background. Beverly Marsh's father's ghost continues to haunt her. Eddie Kasprak's mother still holds him prisoner through manipulation. Despite their many successes, these seven adults are still being plagued by the essence of It.
The problem with many King adaptations is they think they can do a better job of scaring us. This version of It says, "Okay, that's a great story. Here's what we saw when we read it." I think that given the same quality casting, acting and writing but big movie treatment, it could have been one of the best King adaptations to date. Due to the media's limitations, this is not the masterpiece it deserves to be. However, even if only to see the king of the weird play the scariest clown ever, this is worth a rental. Heck, It's even worth paying the extra to own it, just to hear him say, "Kill, ha, me? I am immortal, child. I am the eater of worlds and of children. And you are next."
Seth Green's character is afraid of werewolves. Green would later go on to play Oz, a werewolf, on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."