The Master of Horror unleashes everything you were ever afraid of.
Good old Stephen King. For some reason I feel warm and fuzzy knowing I've
lived in the peak time period of the modern master of the macabre. While I
haven't read all his books or seen all the movies, I do respect the guy and
think he's got one hell of a storytelling gene bobbing around his family pool.
In the realm of King movies there are three categories:
Facts of the Case
When the small New England town of Derry is plagued by a series of child murders, the police are baffled and the local adults terrified. What they don't know is that the malevolent force that's killing the town's youths isn't human but a destructive force out to feed…and seemingly nothing can stop it. That is, until a band of rag tag outcasts show up to put a dent in "Its" midnight feeding! Each child has seen the monster (it takes the shape of what they're scared of) and also in its hidden form of a malicious clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry). With a lot of bravery, the kids are able to stop the evil "It" in the sewers beneath their quaint little town.
Thirty years later, Mike Hanlon (Reid), the only child from the group to stay in Derry, begins to see another rash of murders and quickly deduces that "It" is back. Without haste, he calls upon his childhood friends to help stop the terror once and for all. In a flash the old gang is back in Derry, including funny guy Richard (Anderson); the asthmatic Eddie Kasprak (Christopher); the only female of the group Beverly (O'Toole); the once chunky Benjamin (Ritter); and the stuttering Bill (Thomas), whose brother was killed years ago by "It." As the group reforms their bond, they'll need everything inside them to face down Pennywise and defeat their darkest fears…
If you can believe it, I actually started watching Stephen King's It on side 2, not noticing I was putting the disc in the wrong way. After about a half hour I kept feeling like I was missing something (and indeed I was—about an hour and a half's worth of story). Don't ask me how this happened or why I didn't catch I was jumping in during the middle. It just did. I feel I have a very unique advantage of seeing this movie somewhat out of order; it was like watching Stephen King's Memento.
But enough about my personal and professional stupidity. On with the review…
Stephen King movies are normally a hit-or-miss commodity. Some of them are good (Pet Sematary, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery). A lot of them are bad (The Mangler, Sometimes They Come Back, Children Of The Corn). And a few of them fall somewhere in between, which is the case with Stephen King's It. Originally produced as a prime-time TV event ala The Stand, Stephen King's It was spread out over two or three nights so viewers had plenty of time to bite their nails waiting for the next chilling installment. The only problem is that Stephen King's It isn't so much chilling as it is cheesy and goofy.
At around three-plus hours, Stephen King's It tries to pack a lot of characterization and exposition into its tight, made-for-TV budget. There's a lot of stuff going on, though much of it often feels like filler. The dialogue sometimes induces a bit of eye-rolling, but it's all in good fun. Because we not only have to get to know the characters as children but also adults, this makes for a somewhat quick overview of each protagonist. Of the adult group John Ritter and Harry Anderson fare the best. Ritter, best known for his hijinks on Three's Company ("Come and knock on our door…"), shows that he's an able-bodied actor even if the script features a lot of hammy dialogue and hokey situations. Harry Anderson is also fine as the group's resident jokester—while he's good in comedy, the guy also seems to be fine at playing it straight. Both Tim Reid and Dennis Christopher also fare well with their roles, though they're much smaller compared to the heftier marquee names.
Yet, among the good there's the bad—namely Richard Thomas. Attempting to play against type of his John Boy image, Thomas sports a long ponytail (or, most likely, a clip-on from the costume department) and tries to induce a little edge to his character. His attempts come up snake eyes—maybe it's just me, but I can't stand Thomas' overwrought acting style (he seems to play everything as if he's working on a community college production). The always great Tim Curry plays the Pennywise villain with so much lip smacking relish that it's like watching Bozo the Clown crossed with Charles Manson. While Curry sometimes overdoes it, he's still a real joy to behold.
I never had the chance to read King's enormous—and enormously popular—novel on which this film is based. I know that it's got a lot in it, and director /co-writer Tommy Lee Wallace tries hard to do what he can within the limited time constraints. There's a lot of flashbacking going on from childhood to adults to childhood and back again. It's never confusing, though it is sometimes a little tedious. What special effects there are seem to be limited to flashes of light, some stop-motion animation ala The Nightmare Before Christmas and a decent helping of gooey red blood. One of the major problems with taking a Stephen King novel—notorious for their gore and scares—and slapping it on the small screen is that you never fully receive the impact you deserve. Often these TV events are watered down versions of what should be premium bloodbaths.
Stephen King's It is an decent little flick in its own right, though it's not the best of King's filmed book adaptations. While I can't wholeheartedly recommend it, it's also hard to say that it would be a complete waste of your time if you watched it. Or, maybe your time would be better spent reading the book. Ah, decisions, decisions…
Stephen King's It is presented in a "matted" 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is a wonder for those in possession of a 16x9 TV set. The film was originally produced in a 1.33:1 full frame version, so you're actually missing a slight amount of picture on the top and bottom of the screen. No matter, as I'd personally rather have this widescreen version than a dull full frame version any day. As for the image quality, this transfer looks good but not great—because of the restraints of the TV and the low budget nature of the film, there are some noticeable defects present (including some softness in the image and a tad bit of grain). Otherwise, the colors were fairly sharp with the black levels almost always on target (save for some grayness in a few spots). Fans won't be jumping out of their seats because of the quality, but overall it's better than I expected.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo Surround in English and is, alas, only mediocre. There aren't any meaty directional effects to go around here, though the mix is clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Not much else to say about this track, except that it's serviceable and supports the film just fine. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
I was actually a little surprised to find only one extra feature on this disc, though it's most likely the best fans would have hoped for: a commentary track by director Tommy Lee Wallace and actors Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter, and Richard Thomas. The track includes a lot of production information, but also a lot of gaps—there seem to be stretches that go on forever without anyone saying a word. If you have three hours to kill, this track might be worth the while of die-hard fans—otherwise, it's not a necessity.
And that's all she wrote—since this was a TV deal, no theatrical trailer has been included.
Warner has done better-than-average work on this title: a nice anamorphic widescreen transfer, decent audio, and a bonus commentary track. Rabid Stephen King fans will definitely want to pick up this disc. For the rest of you, it's best served as a rental.
Stephen King's It is acquitted due to a hung jury!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Director Tommy Lee Wallace and Actors Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter, and Richard Thomas
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