Stephen King’s horror novel, IT, was the best-selling book in the United States in 1986, and the 2017 movie adaptation is the highest grossing horror film in history. In isolation, the novel is exceptional, and the movie is exceptional. But in properly translating the intricacies of the novel onto the big screen, the film falls short. I still exalt the remake (creating any of Stephen King’s universes in film is a near impossible task), but nothing can replace the subtleties of the original novel.
Stephen King’s IT tells the story of seven children, known as “The Loser’s Club,” who are terrorized by a being that exploits the fears of its victims, typically children, by shape-shifting into a physical manifestation of their phobias. The being’s favorite morph-shape is Pennywise the Dancing Clown due to its ability to scare children (and most adults in the movie theatre). The novel also frequently moves to the future and presents the adult lives of the seven children. The adults re-unite to destroy the being that terrorized them 27 years earlier.
The novel was adapted into a 1990 miniseries, which featured the narrative from both time periods. However, the 2017 remake only featured the narrative involving the children, hence the lesser known title It: Chapter One. The major highlights of the film include the incredible visual effects and the entertaining, ingenious dialogue amongst the children. Yet it still managed to make the audience jump and scream twice as much as it made them giggle.
Despite its impressive cinematography, clever writing, and pure creepiness, the symbolism that pervades Stephen King’s novel does not shine through in the remake. The novel touches on the complexity of human nature and covers a large array of themes—including the truth of reality, purity, and even sex. That’s what makes IT such an ambitious book. It creates an entire universe that any movie adaptation simply does not have the room to contain. In the novel, for instance, It’s (the monster’s) true form has never actually been seen by anyone. It’s true form only exists in a realm known as “Deadlights,” which is beyond human comprehension. Yeah, so that’s a thing. Further, the novel raises questions about the human comprehension of fear—and tests how we understand reality and truth.
It is impossible for the film to reach the level of achievement of the book, the most pressing reason being the time constraints. And arguably, King’s captivating narratives simply cannot be replicated on the big screen. Any reader of King’s IT cannot escape the array of symbolism and existential questions throughout, which may be the most eerie element of the novel.