It really has been a weird year for cinema if a Stephen King movie about a scary clown is one of the biggest movies of the summer.
Well, okay, maybe it’s not really summer anymore, but coming in at the tail end of a fairly lackluster blockbuster season, this feels like an exception we can allow.
IT is reviewing well across the board. Fans of the original movie, the paperback source material, and newcomers alike have grown to love this new iteration of Pennywise, have been impressed by seeing one of the Stranger Things kids in an Eighties horror story all over again, and have generally gotten on board with this film in exactly the opposite way to how The Dark Tower mostly came and went without incident.
It’s worth noting that this is not a straight adaptation – the novel version of IT works pretty well when sliced in two, which is what the Tim Curry TV movie did as well in order to separate the kids’ story from the grown-ups.
We’ll be getting a future sequel to this movie that will tell the story of the main characters once they grow up and find themselves haunted by Pennywise all over again, at which point the story will shift to some far more mature themes to line up with their new, post-puberty fears and insecurities.
A lot of adult stuff has been kicked out of this film including one scene that’s incredibly adult in all the wrong ways, despite featuring the younger versions of the characters.
There’s no easy way to say this, so we’ll just come out with it: in the original written version of IT, the group of children find a way to escape from a maze of sewers by having an orgy.
Yeah. It’s weird.
Trapped in the sewers, the group’s only girl character, Beverley, realizes for some reason known only to Stephen King himself that the only way they’re going to remember the way out of the sewers is if she has sex with everyone.
Supposedly, the group needs to be unified or something in order to remember the layout of the town’s sewer system, and the best way to unify them is for them all to do something very grown-up. It’s a flimsy excuse at best for an entirely gratuitous element of the IT mythos.
Stephen King has said publicly that he doesn’t know why people make such a big deal about the scene. It’s just a bunch of underage kids having group sex in the sewers in order to escape an evil clown – why is that so controversial?
Thankfully, writer Gary Dauberman, who was partly responsible for the final script for the movie (along with Chase Palmer and former director Cary Fukunaga), doesn’t share King’s belief that the only way for pre-teens to come together in unity is to do something gross and icky.
“While it’s an important scene, it doesn’t define the book in any way I don’t think and it shouldn’t. We know what the intent was of that scene and why he put it in there, and we tried to accomplish what the intent was in a different way.”
So what does this new movie do to unify the kids? An early draft had Beverley simply holding the boys’ faces in her hands one by one instead, inspiring them to team up.
In the final film, however (spoiler alert), there’s no specific “lost in the sewer” moment. The movie skips the entire controversy, and those who really want to imagine that things played out like the book can do so, while the rest of us are spared having to think too much about things.
At the end of the day, if what the heroes of the story need is a way to unify after being worn down by Pennywise’s attacks, then defeating an unspeakable evil monster clown as a group is probably going to do the job. The unifying moment is the fight with Pennywise itself, rather than post-battle coitus.
Do you know what? Gary Dauberman has taken this in the right direction.
One of the things that changes in this movie by splitting up the child and adult sections of the story is that the counter-balance between childhood and adulthood isn’t quite such a strong theme. In the novel, chapters about the children and their older selves are interwoven, one after another, so that readers experience both stories concurrently.
This, perhaps, is part of the reason why King has the children behave the way they do in the heat of the moment after a battle – it’s a blurring of the lines between youth and adulthood.
In this movie, though, the grown up themes have been stripped away. This is a movie about children fighting a monster, while the second film will be about adults facing their childhood fears. It’s better to keep these themes safe, and present the first movie in a chaste, innocent manner that contrasts Pennywise’ own evil, and the way that the heroes will have changed by the time we next see them twenty years later.
This is a well-crafted movie. A lot of thought and effort has gone into taking a complex novel and breaking it down into digestible cinematic chunks.
The controversial kiddie sewer party scene is better left in the prose, rather than sullying one of the year’s biggest surprise hits with unnecessary adult themes that get in the way of the kids vs scary monster premise that the story has been built around.