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Stephen King's It
Made as a two-part television movie in 1990, Tommy Lee Wallace's adaptation of Stephen King's It begins in Derry, Maine. It's the year 1960, and a young boy named Georgie Denbrough (Tony Dakota) is lured into a drain by a strange, yet seemingly kind, man dressed in a clown costume named clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry). Georgie is murdered and his older brother, Bill (Jonathan Brandis), finds himself stalked by the clown as well. To do something about this, he gathers up six of his friends: heavyset boy genius Ben Hanscom (Brandon Crane), asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak (Adam Faraizl), Beverly Marsh (Emily Perkins), resident comedian Richie Tozier (Seth Green), Stan Uris (Ben Heller) and Mike Hanlon (Marlon Taylor). Calling themselves the Loser's Club, each one of these kids has had some sort of experience with Pennywise and they're savvy enough to know that something needs to be done about him. Complicating matters for them is the presence of a bully named Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) who, along with his pals, tends to make life tough for the kids. Knowing that Pennywise lives in the sewers, the kids take the battle to him but are followed by Henry and his two cronies. A battle with Pennywise ensues and Henry's two friends are killed and he's locked away for it… no one's going to believe it was a supernatural killer clown, especially when Henry's already got a reputation.
Three decades after Pennywise escapes the sewer fight with the kids, a child murder occurs in Derry. Mike (Tim Reid) still lives in the town, he works as the librarian. When he finds out the circumstances around the death he knows what's happened: Pennywise is back. In order to deal with it, he calls up the six others (with Richie played by Harry Anderson, Eddie by Dennis Christopher, Stan by Richard Masur, Beverly by Annette O'Toole, Ben by John Ritter and Bill by Richard Thomas). After Stan commits suicide and writes the word ‘IT' on the wall in blood, the others agree that something has to be done. They reunite and catch up, but the happiness is short lived. The six remaining members of the Loser's Club have their own personal issues to deal with, the kind of personal issues that are going to make working together to take down an ages old enemy like Pennywise a lot tougher than any of them imagined, particularly once Pennywise cons Henry (Michael Cole) into working for him.
It is a film that effectively mixes up childhood nostalgia with some fairly effective moments of eerie horror. As this was a made for TV movie things are played fairly safe here, don't expect gallons of gore or any particularly strong content in that regard, but Pennywise? Yeah, Pennywise is creepy and most of the credit for that goes to Tim Curry. The makeup effects used on Curry certainly help but it's his turn as the demented child killing clown that makes this movie as memorable as it is. Curry is awesome in the part, and it's hard to imagine anyone else tackling the role as successfully as he does in this adaptation. The rest of the cast do fine work as well. John Ritter, Richard Masur and Harry Anderson are all quite good here and look for Olivia Hussey as Audra, Bill's wife. As to the ‘kids' in the story, it's fun to see Seth Green pop up here, and Emily Perkins too, quite a few years before she'd go on to star in Ginger Snaps and then pop up in Juno and Insomnia.
The movie is basically split into two parts, the first dealing with the events in the sixties and then the second dealing with the events in the early nineties. The first half of the movie is better than the second, mainly due to how King originally ended the novel (which is the approach that is taken here as well). The buildup is better than the payoff but getting there is still a lot of enjoyable fun. The earlier bits really do a good job of capturing the excitement of youth, all the dangers that bullies can provide, and all the tension that comes from growing up and changing together as friends. King's story ensures that we like these characters a lot and that carries over quite nicely into this adaptation. It's more fun and more exciting than the adult drama that takes over large chunks of the later part, though to everyone's credit that part is handled very well here. As a TV friendly adaptation of King's source material, this is pretty damn good, warts and all. Despite its length it is well paced, the cinematography and location shooting is great, most of the effects work still holds up very well and the score works really well.
Note: The version of the movie as presented on this Blu-ray disc runs one hundred and eighty seven minutes, which is the same as the DVD release. The VHS version ran longer, roughly one hundred and ninety-two minutes with the expanded running time made up by some opening credits and a scene at the beginning of part two where Bill has a conversation with a woman at the hotel (so this is not the ‘original, uncut, full-length version' as was advertised.The Blu-ray
Stephen King's It arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on framed in its original 1.33.1 fullframe broadcast aspect ratio and it looks really nice. Colors are pretty much spot on, the red's in Pennywise's clown costume really pop here but don't look oversaturated or bleed into the other shades at all, while black levels are nice and strong. Detail is very definitely improved over the previous DVD (which was widescreen), and texture and depth get a nice upgrade here too. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the disc is free or any obvious compression artifacts or excessive noise reduction. There's not much in the way of actual print damage here to note at all while a noticeable amount of film grain is visible, but never excessive or distracting.Sound:
Warner Brothers offers up an English language track in DTS-HD 2.0 and it sounds good as well. Dialogue stays properly balanced and is always clean, clear and easy to follow. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the score sounds good. Effects have some decent presence behind them and there's good range throughout. Alternate language options are provided in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish and Czech Dolby Digital 2.0 format with removable subtitles offered up in English SDH, French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish and Indonesian.Extras:
The only extra on the disc is the commentary track that includes director Tommy Lee Wallace, and cast members Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter, and Richard Thomas. Carried over from the previous DVD release, it's a pretty active track with each of the participants sharing a few stories. Wallace has the most to say, going into detail about the difficulties of adapting such a lengthy book into a format that works for the screen, while the cast members share insight into their thoughts on their respective characters, what it was like on set and a fair bit more. The disc also contains static menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Stephen King's It loses steam in its second half but remains, for the most part, a pretty engaging watch thanks to some great characters, solid direction and a truly memorable turn from Tim Curry as Pennywise. The presentation on the Blu-ray is quite good and while there are no new extras here, the commentary is enjoyable. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.