Thursday, March 12, 2009

How To Adapt "It" Properly, by Brendan M Leonard [Guest Blogger Alert!]

Welcome, Guest Blogger, Brendan M. Leonard!

Today, Brendan brings us a two-parter on the remake of "It" that Warners supposedly has in the works.

Part One below!

The Hollywood Reporter ran a story today announcing that Warner Brothers will be following up Watchmen with a remake of another hard-to-adapt pop lit classic: Stephen King's It.

Among King fans, there are The Stand people and there are It people. I am an It person, and since the list of nerd properties I wanted to adapt myself is fast dwindling (see also: Preacher, Fables, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay), I put together some thoughts on how the adaptation should be done and who should do it, after the jump...

It, released in 1986 as King's magnum opus (before he finished The Dark Tower), previously found its way into the mind of a generation through the 1990 ABC miniseries. This miniseries got a lot of play on USA through the 90s, and can be summed up with three little words:

“That fucking clown.”

Tim Curry's portrayal of Bob Grey aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown aka It sits alongside those episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark and Poltergeist as making an entire generation scared of clowns. You talk to anyone who hates clowns born after 1984, they'll usually cite one or three all three of those sources as the reason why. Curry's iconic performance aside (and a young Seth Green!), there are a lot of things wrong with the miniseries, chief among them being that the novel simply couldn't be done for broadcast tv in the 1990s.

While I've always thought that a four-part miniseries for HBO would be the best way to approach King's novel (and so did Richard Kelly, who was the last guy attached to a remake), I'm sticking to the parameters of the original article when considering a new adaptation. That means a present day setting, which does lose the 50s/80s milieu of the novel (and It is as much about the 80s as Watchmen is), and a feature film. Also, there are spoilers ahead. Obviously.

The Story: With the novel, there's a lot of stuff you can cut out, particularly in the last act. The book takes some very weird twists and turns, and the climax is literally that. The young kids, after scaring the monster, all lose their virginity together in order to get the strength to come back from the cave underneath their town. Yeah. So that's probably not going to be in the movie.

At the core of the book is a very good psychological horror story about trauma, and the aftermath of it. All of the kids, save Richie (the bespectacled smart-ass played by Seth Green in the tv movie) have some kind of trauma in their life before they see the monster. Bill Denborough, the protagonist, is a stutterer with a murdered younger brother (by Pennywise). Beverly Marsh has an abusive father, while asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrack has an overprotective mother. Stan Marsh, Mike Hanlon, and Ben Hanscom are Jewish, black, and fat, respectively, in a small town. (Derry, Maine)

So there's a lot to play with in the first act of the movie, especially if you're flashing forward to the present as the adults return to Derry, but unable to remember the events of that summer. Did they make all this up? It appears to them as a different thing, so they could easily be pretending or creating a villain they can beat, something they can kill so they don't have to deal with their shit. Are they just suffering from trauma and post-traumatic stress? Is the Loser's Club (their nickname for the group) right about Pennywise or are they just all crazy?

One of the things I like about Donnie Darko is Kelly's ability to make us wonder the same things about Donnie, which I think would work just as well here. Sad times that he's not on it. Even Richie, the most “normal” of the group, has his own trauma – he's a compulsive smart-ass. Were I making this, I'd play down that aspect and make Richie more normal, so that when Richie sees the monster, we start to think “Yeah, maybe they are right.” Then when Pennywise appears to them collectively in the creepy-as-fuck picture book scene, that's the turning point when we believe the kids. You inter-cut that with some group realization in the present (because, like Watchmen, this movie needs to be non-linear if you're going to get it right in 3 hours or less) it'd be a pretty powerful moment.

Once we start seeing It as a real monster, the movie would become more problematic, and would probably have to diverge significantly from the book. I don't have any other solutions to that, but I really think it's important you emphasize It's final form as the Lovecraftian beastie that it is in the book (the thing isn't a clown or a giant spider, but something so horrifying that to look at its true form would drive one completely mad, i.e., 'the deadlights.' The giant spider is the most primal form that the monster can appear as without driving its victims entirely mad.)

One part that seems essential from the book is the history of Derry and Mike Hanlon's investigation into that, either in a credits sequence or throughout the movie, because the idea that this monster has literally poisoned this entire town into doing some horrible things (like burning a barracks full of black soldiers alive) kicks fucking ass. It's more thematically rich than that – I like how it takes the “darkness behind suburbia” to an extreme without going to the extremes King would later go in Needful Things. The idea of Derry being destroyed via flood as the adults finally kill the monster also adds to that, and would be a suitably epic climax for the film. (I'd also take a scene from the novel Dreamcatcher and end the film with a shot of a memorial donated by the Loser's Club...with the words 'Pennywise Lives' spray painted across it in red.)

I'm excited for this adaptation. While I love the original novel, I do think this has a chance to be one of those adaptations that improves and enhances the source material. It's not a capital G Great Novel, but I do think it's a fantastic piece of pop literature, and the film could be just as fantastic in the right hands.

If they get the story right, then it's all about finding the right cast and director. I'll have a few thoughts on that later tonight, but if you have any suggestions, comment away. Seacrest out.


Anonymous said...

I think you hit most of It on the head. Since our last 2 Lovecraftian beasties have been edited out (Midnight Meat Train, The Watchmen), it just can't happen again. You're right about the shapeshifting nature of the monster, and the transfer of tension in a movie from a human entity to something with almost unlimited power. Flash-forwards are the right way to go so we can f-up normal perceptions of time. I had forgotten about the clever tie-in from the Dreamcatcher novel, but in reality I think that would jeopardize this adaptation.

Anonymous said...

The famous movie of the crazy and creepy clown. I saw this movie years ago and I have to admit that I get scare with his face but hey now I see this movie and the unique effect on me it's like a laughter effect.

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