Pennywise Empire

It is set to terrify audiences everywhere this weekend as the latest Stephen King adaptation hits theaters today. It’s a surprisingly excellent studio horror film, filled with thrills and chills and constructed with care. It is the story of a group of kids who dub themselves The Losers’ Club – a group of social misfits and outcasts drawn together by friendship and a mission: to stop the evil force plaguing their small New England town of Derry, Maine. That evil has manifested itself in the form of a shapeshifting clown, Pennywise, a creature that feeds on children and flourishes through the indifference of adults. Director Andy Muschietti and his team really put a lot of thought and care into the film, bringing King’s 1,138-page novel to vibrant life in the process.

That’s not to say It is an entirely faithful adaptation of King’s book. Screenwriters Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman have taken King’s prose and altered it significantly to create this film, and we’re going to examine some of the biggest differences. But first it’s worth noting that while It may not be 100% faithful to King’s novel, it does stay faithful to the spirit of the book – the heart and soul, if you will. It’s as great an adaptation of a King work as one can hope to get. But now let’s examine some of the key differences.

Spoilers follow, of course.

Stephen King's It Trailer

Time Period

King’s novel covers a variety of time periods, at one point even going back to 3.3 million years ago. But the two main time periods that take up the bulk of the book are 1958 and and 1984. Muschietti’s film, in contrast, is set firmly in 1989. This enables It to fit in some pretty killer ’80s-themed humor, including a running New Kids on the Block joke that gets funnier the longer it goes on. The time period change is the result of updating the story: King’s novel has the Losers’ Club as kids in the late 1950s and adults in the late 1980s, but Muschietti and company have shifted this timeline a bit to have the Losers be children in the ’80s. Which brings us to the next key difference between book and film.

Losers Club

One Storyline Instead of Two

King’s novel features two concurrent storylines – the Losers as kids fighting It for the first time and the Losers as adults, returning home to finish off It once and for all. Rather than split these two distinct sections apart, King has them intermingle throughout the novel, similar to The Godfather Part II, which keeps jumping from past to present and then back again. The 2017 It takes an approach like the one used for the two-part 1990 miniseries adaptation of the book: this part is devoted to the kids, and the planned sequel will focus on the adults. There’s a key difference, though: the miniseries actually opens with the Losers as adults, then flashbacks to their childhood for the rest of the first installment. The 2017 It starts right when the Losers are kids – we won’t get to glimpse them as adults until the sequel. This works fine in the film as presented, but the intermingled timelines was a big part of King’s novel, particularly the representation of how the present keeps mirroring the past, as if the characters are stuck in an endless cycle that they must destroy once and for all or be doomed for eternity.

Stephen King's It

Georgie’s Death and Pennywise’s First Appearance

In both the novel and the film, there’s a pattern to Pennywise’s murderous cycle. Pennywise, aka It, usually sleeps for 27 years, then awakens for a period of feeding. Whenever It awakens, it kicks off its cycle with one particularly gruesome act. In both book and film, that act during the period when the Losers are children is the murder of Georgie Denbrough, brother of Bill Denbrough, the leader of the Losers Club. In many ways, the death of Georgie is very similar to the source material: during a rainy day, Georgie goes outside to sail a paper boat (made by Bill) through the flooded streets and gutters. The boat vanishes into a sewer grate, where it is “rescued” by Pennywise the Clown.

Here, the film begins to veer off slightly from the book. While the sight of a clown hanging out in a sewer is no doubt creepy, in the book, Georgie isn’t instantly creeped-out as much as he is surprised. The clown in King’s book seems almost friendly at first, as evident from this passage: “The clown held a bunch of balloons, all colors, like gorgeous ripe fruit in one hand. In the other he held George’s newspaper boat. ‘Want your boat, Georgie?’ The clown smiled. Georgie smiled back. He couldn’t help it; it was the kind of smile you just had to answer.” In the film, however, Pennywise, as played by Bill Skarsgård, is instantly creepy. Skarsgård’s approach to the character is much different from both the book and how the same character was portrayed by Tim Curry in the miniseries. Skarsgård plays Pennywise as inherently inhuman, with an utterly bizarre voice that keeps fluctuating in pitch and tone, as if he has no control over how his voice sounds.

Pennywise proceeds to murder Georgie, and the scene is brutal and scary, just like the novel. But then comes the biggest disimilarity: Pennywise yanks Georgie into the sewer with him, and Georgie effectively vanishes. This serves as a catalyst for the film’s version of Bill, who still holds out hope that Georgie is alive somewhere, since his little brother’s body was never found. In the book, however, Georgie’s body is found, and Bill is firmly aware that his brother is dead.

Stephen King's It

The Barrens

In King’s book, the Losers primarily play together in a spot dubbed the Barrens, a woodland area near the middle of town. This secluded, underdeveloped place is a refuge for a group of kids who feel shunned by society and who frequently need to hide from bullies. The Barrens do appear in the film, but they don’t receive the same prominence. For one thing, the Losers don’t actively hang out in the Barrens on their own. Instead, Bill believes that if Georgie is somehow alive, he might be hiding somewhere in the Barrens, specifically in the sewer pipes that empty out there. This is a bit of a strange detail, as if the filmmakers thought that just having the kids actively hang out in the area wasn’t good enough and needed to provide them with a motivation.

It Bev

The Losers

It 2017 almost perfectly translates the Losers from page to screen. The roles are all cast perfectly, with Jack Dylan Grazer, as hypochondriac Eddie, and Sophia Lillis, as Bev, the lone girl in the club, as standouts in particular. Best of all, the Losers seem like actual friends in the film, not a bunch of actors playing parts. Their interaction comes across as genuine, and they also ring true to the book. However there are a few differences, some minor, some major.

In the book, Mike is the de facto historian of the Losers Club. He uses his father’s scrapbook to piece together a history of Derry and Pennywise’s seemingly eternal presence in the town. In the 2017 film, however, Ben is the member of the club who does this.

In the film, there’s a moment where, after having confronted Pennywise and nearly been killed by him at the House on Neibolt Street, Richie (Finn Wolfhard) turns on Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and demands the Losers stop trying to fight It. Nothing like this happens in the book, but adding it to the film isn’t an entirely bad idea. What is a bad idea, however, is how Bill handles the moment. In the film, Bill gets so angry at Richie during this heated exchange that he actually punches Richie in the face. The Bill of the book would never do something like this – he’s the leader of the club, and he does everything in his power to keep his friends safe while working had to remain cool-headed.

The biggest mistake the film makes with the characterizations of the Losers, however, involves Bev. For pretty much the entire film, Bev as a character is represented perfectly – she’s troubled but brave, and Lillis plays both angles exceptionally well. But for some bonehead reason, the 2017 It decides to suddenly turn her into a damsel-in-distress near the film’s conclusion. This is a really, really bad move on the script’s part, and should’ve been changed the minute someone brought it up. The Bev of the book is no helpless damsel in need of rescue, and neither is the Bev of the film for that matter – until the script suddenly decides she is, for no good reason.

Continue Reading It Movie and Book Comparison >>

Pages: 1 2Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: