Another Disappointing Stephen King Adaptation

When it comes to watching movie adaptations of beloved novels, I’m sure I’m not the first nor the last bookworm who’s learnt to have low expectations… the hard way.

I have come to conclude that it’s by definition impossible to fit a whole book into a movie. To fit the narrative depth, the character development and the complex themes that unfold through hundreds of pages of a novel into a 2-hour film. Leaving out secondary characters, flashbacks and side-stories that are not essential to the plot is practically unavoidable, when transitioning from a book to a film. And that makes the experience way shallower from the get-go. Let alone everything else that can and often does go wrong when rushing though a complex narrative.

I believe a proper TV-series is the only way to do justice to such source material, a great example being the first 7 seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones — let’s forget the 8th. Despite all that, I do enjoy watching movies based on books I’ve read. I’m just aware that their strength will likely be the audiovisuals and special effects rather than the actual plot. At least in comparison with the book.

I could write a whole post about this, but what I’m trying to say here is that I know how sub-par most book-to-movie adaptations are. I really do.

Yet, I’ve recently been fooled and deeply disappointed by a very promising sequel.

In 2017, I went into the new big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s It with the same low expectations I usually reserve for such movies. But I was positively surprised. The movie nailed the depiction not only of the young characters of Stephen King’s popular novel, but also of the horror that has made readers’ skin crawl, coupled with the growing-up themes that so often permeate King’s stories. Even the plot was more than acceptable, the cheap first win against Derry’s monster clown notwithstanding.

So without giving it much thought, I eagerly awaited for It Chapter 2 to make its way to Netflix. Bit careful and unwilling to spend money there, you see. Yet somehow, even though I was aware of the significantly worse reviews compared to those for the first part, I did not expect part 2 to get so much of the book laughably wrong.

Warning: If you are not familiar with the plot of King’s story — first of all, what are you doing clicking on this title?? — a clear spoiler alert is issued here. I have to go into details to illustrate my point. You have been warned.

Pennwise, The Dancing Clown, Stephen King’s It
Image by Franck Barske from Pixabay

Not all bad, but definitely rotten in important places

I’m not going to shit all over this sequel, since it absolutely had its strengths. The casting for example was incredible. Matching the adult actors with their younger versions in a way that retained their personality but showed how they’ve grown, must have been insanely difficult. Yet I undoubtedly see little Richie in Bill Hader’s performance, for instance, with a matured version of the loud mouthed, sharp humor his younger self possessed. Something similar could be said for every one of the “Losers’ Club”, so I have no complaints there. Even that damned Henry Bowers felt right in his complete madness.

Some of the most iconic horror scenes from the novel are also brought to life brilliantly, courtesy of Bill Skarsgard’s terrifying performance coupled with some great visual effects, thankfully not PG-restricted in this modern adaptation. The opening scene where a poor gay couple gets harassed, Pennywise making quick work of one of them, was probably the highlight. Paradoxically, even the humor felt on the spot and made me laugh again and again, giving another dimension, plus a well-needed — if at times too light-hearted — tone variation to the film.

And the compliments end here. This movie may not have gotten everything wrong from Stephen King’s iconic novel, but it misfired on such important points that it almost hurt watching most of the second part of the movie, leaving only a sour taste of disappointment in my mouth. I’ll outline the three most important of those points for me.

Eddie’s last words

What Eddie says before his death in the hands of his dear friend Richie, right when the Losers are about to beat the damned monster once and for all, is certainly not central to the plot. Yet, Eddie’s last words where important nonetheless.

In changing them, along with the buildup that leads to them having an impact on the reader, a significant shift in tone occurs. Sure, the original quote has no inherent deep meaning unless you have followed Eddie’s and Richie’s relationship through the novel. Still, I found myself crying when reading his seemingly very important last phrase: “Don’t call me Eds. You know I… I…”. Unaware that these would be his last words, Eddie dies while trying to figure out what to say next. And my heart is in pieces.

Because this was in fact a common point of friction between the two members of the Losers club, Eddie expressing again and again his dislike of the nickname and Richie continuously teasing him. This is what gives Eddie’s unknowingly last words their weight. The creators of the second movie chose to replace the build-up of the book with a frequent exchange of f-bombs between Eddie and Richie, partly to help justify the movie’s R-rating, I suppose. So, it was only logical for Eddie to go also out with an f-bomb. An “I f***ed yo momma” to be exact.

This feels cheap and shallow. Weightless. Completely disappointing to me.

The central allegory of the novel

Like many of Stephen King’s stories, It’s central themes are not horror or fantasy-related, no matter what the plot summary says. While the fights between monsters and unsuspecting heroes seem to drive the plot, it is human problems and real-world “monsters” that typically end up being central to Stephen King’s messages. That is part of what I like about his novels and why I strongly recommend reading his works.

So, what are the novel’s themes? I’ll give you a few quotes and let you figure them out by yourselves.

“The energy you drew on so extravagantly when you were a kid, the energy you thought would never exhaust itself — that slipped away somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four, to be replaced by something much duller, something as bogus as a coke high: purpose, maybe, or goals, or whatever rah-rah Junior Chamber of Commerce word you wanted to use. It was no big deal; it didn’t go all at once, with a bang. And maybe, Richie thought, that’s the scary part. How you didn’t stop being a kid all at once, with a big explosive bang, like one of that clown’s trick balloons. The kid in you just leaked out, like the air of a tire. And one day you looked in the mirror and there was a grownup looking back at you.”

“If there are ten thousand medieval peasants who create vampires by believing them real, there may be one–probably a child–who will imagine the stake necessary to kill it. But a stake is only stupid wood; the mind is the mallet which drives it home.”

“These were his friends, and his mother was wrong: they weren’t bad friends. Maybe, he thought, there aren’t any such things as good or bad friends — maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

“And she feels the thing begin to happen — something of which the girls who whisper and giggle about sex in the girls’ room have no idea, at least as far as she knows; they only marvel at how gooshy sex must be, and now she realizes that for many of them sex must be some unrealized undefined monster; they refer to the act as It.”

One of these quotes makes a cameo towards the end of the movie, as part of something Bill is writing in his computer. It is such a short cameo, that you won’t be able to read the quote even once, unless you hit pause. These are also lightly touched upon, when the Losers finally kill Pennywise once and for all, by finally beating their fears. By literally screaming in the face of fear. This felt cheesy instead of meaningful and sadly, not much else out of these themes made its way into the movie. In other words?

The novel is about growing up, about the innocence and hardships of childhood, about true friendship. All that portrayed through the allegory of fighting a world-eating monster. The movie is about childhood friends killing the monster that haunted them as children. And about growing up/beating your fears. Maybe I’m being too harsh on the movie, but that is what it felt like watching it.

The ending

The biggest offense for me was the cop-out ending the moviemakers chose. I know that Hollywood loves happy endings, but Stephen King likes meaningful ones. And in this case, I do too, even if — or precisely because — I have to accept a strong dose of melancholy, instead of a vague warm fuzzy feeling.

Because while the movie references the characters forgetting part of what happened in the end, Stephen King’s ending is solely about forgetting. After all the adventures they lived through, after beating It for good, the Losers start forgetting everything all over again. This time, even each other.

“Or so Bill Denbrough sometimes thinks on those early mornings after dreaming, when he almost remembers his childhood, and the friends with whom he shared it.”

The movie jokes about Stephen King’s tendency to write sub-par endings. In fact, many fans of his books are not fans of his endings. One could find them to be… not bad, but a bit disappointing. At least by measure of the epicness of the stories they conclude.

The novel’s ending might technically fit this description, but I still appreciate it immensely. Yes, it is heartbreaking. But it reflects how the memories of our childhoods tend to fade out, leaving behind mostly reflexes, intuitions, feelings, dreams.

“So drive away quick, drive away while the last of the light slips away, drive away from Derry, from memory…but not from desire. That stays, the bright cameo of all we were and all we believed as children, all that shone in our eyes even when we were lost and the wind blew in the night.

Drive away and try to keep smiling. Get a little rock-and-roll on the radio and go toward all the life there is, with all the courage you can and all the belief you can muster. Be true, be brave, stand.

All the rest, is darkness.”



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