The 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It may have opened to positive reviews, but for some viewers, the experience may be different. While the movie objectively hits many high marks, subjectively there can be a different “feel” for fans of the novel.
Much of this stems from notable changes from the book, for better or worse. Sure, we may be used to movies straying from their source material; some alterations, however, may cross a line.
As someone who read the book as a child, and who was heavily influenced by King’s work, these are the changes that struck me the most.
((WARNING: The following contains some spoilers for both the book and movie!))
In the novel, Bev is one of the strongest characters, striding forth into danger and often on the frontlines of the group. This presentation is critical in a book written by a man that consists of 90% male primary (and even supporting) cast.
While the movie starts off strong with this, they falter in some notably short-sighted changes.
The first notable difference is the shift from a physically abusive father to suggestions of a sexually abusive one. This alteration adds an unnecessary “rape” factor to the character; while possibly intended to give her fears to overcome, it instead creates a victim stereotype.
Even worse, instead of leading the others to the final confrontation in the sewers, they turn Bev into a “damsel-in-distress.” Captured by Pennywise and used to lure the others, this drastically removes her role as the vanguard of the Loser’s Club. They even throw in the cliché “kiss” to wake her up, as if to double-down on the trope.
Now, I applaud them for removing the controversial sexual encounter from the book. Already criticized, that scene would have been inappropriate on the screen, especially with such young actors. The replacement with the above alterations, however, weren’t much better choices.
In the novel, Mike is the brains of the operation, a historian at heart who pieces together Derry’s past. As the only PoC primary character, this adds depth and diversity to the protagonists.
The movie not only ends up stripping him of that role but hands it off to a white character.
Ben Hanscom becomes the would-be researcher that explains everything and directs the group. Mike is demoted to a tacked-on token minority whose main contribution is his use of a bolt pistol (a replacement for Ben’s slingshot). Given Hollywood’s problem with representation, this alteration was questionable at best.
On top of this whitewashing (swapping?) of the role, they remove all reference to racism. Henry Bowers’ gang only tell him to get out of their town, but don’t state why they hate Ben. Given today’s issues with people turning a blind eye bigotry, this change from the explicit prejudice and racism in the book feels like more attempts to bury one’s head in the sand.
While Bowers remains a strong representation of his written counterpart, his gang ends up far less interesting. The film turns them into two-dimensional background characters that play almost no significant role other than as occasional antagonists.
Patrick, the most memorable member, loses all mention of his psychopathic actions as well as his homosexual encounter with Henry. (In fact, like the racism mentioned, the movie turns a blind eye to the novel’s mention of homophobia and violent attacks on gay men.) Patrick becomes nothing more than a violent bully who ends up being killed by the monster and is barely mentioned again.
Vic and Belch fare worse, although they do at least mention Vic’s morality for a brief moment. The two play no role in the final confrontation; they simply disappear from the story rather than end up the last victims of It.
Not all the changes were bad, as some were necessary and may have made the movie better.
The first part of the original novel is set in the 1950’s as the remainder occurs in the then-present day of the 1980’s. Given this adaptation was released 31 years later, they’ve changed the time frame by the same amount. Now the book occurs in the 1980’s and the (hopeful) second chapter will happen in the present-day of the late 2010’s.
As the creature manifests as the nightmares of each person, there’s a notable change from the B-movie monsters the kids fear in the novel. The mummy, werewolf, Gill-man, Frankenstein’s monster, etc. are replaced with headless ghosts, clowns, murdered children, and misshapen monsters.
Not only does this allow for the fears to be more personal but it also cashes in on modern sensibilities of what’s “scary.”
Stephen King’s novel includes some notably arcane and esoteric aspects that explain what It is, where it comes from, and how it’s defeated.
Bill and Richie perform a Native American sweat lodge ritual to learn the history of the creature. The final fight doesn’t occur physically but in a battle of will and spirit, with the kids using a Lovecraftian ritual that causes Bill to astrally project into the monster’s mind and encounter cosmic entities.
The movie strikes all mention of any of these aspects. There are no rituals and no reference to Matuin the World Turtle or Gan. It’s history remains a mystery – the asteroid and Macroverse are ignored, and the Deadlights have a brief appearance with no mention of their name.
Although these changes remove a lot from the book, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a Horror movie is best left in that genre, rather than verging on Fantasy or Science-Fiction. Audiences might have been confused or disappointed to shift toward these more mythological concepts.
I still think some of them played a significant role, however, especially the Deadlights and their effect on people.
Stripping the mythos from the series meant a major change to the battle between the Losers’ Club and Pennywise. Without a battle of wits, the children physically fight the monster; this ends up making It far less terrifying than the mental mindf*** of the novel.
Also, the ending jumps straight to the Blood Oath, bypassing numerous scenes. Although we’re glad they skipped over Bev’s encounter (which we mentioned before), they also ignore the fate of Henry. Unlike the novels, where he’s found and blamed for the monster’s murders, he’s last seen apparently falling to his death and then never mentioned again.
It remains a solid movie, but a questionable one for fans.
From an objective perspective, It was a decent Horror film with some excellent performances. Some of the characters and scenes are even taken directly from the novel. Unfortunately, there are enough significant changes, especially to key characters, that the movie leaves some fans conflicted.
Will they fix some of their faux pas, such as Bev and Mike, in the future? Will they return to Henry and his fate, given his role in the remainder of the novel? What will they do regarding the more mythological components of It’s origins and nature?
If they create a Chapter Two, here’s hoping they address these problems and remain a little more faithful where necessary.
Otherwise, straying much further from the material might lead the audience into the Deadlights and lose many of us.