Dan Grant takes an in-depth look at his favourite book, Stephen King’s IT, to discuss how the box office smash hit film version differs from the source and why Andy Muschietti’s movie, as good as it is, can never truly do the epic novel justice.
Spoiler note: Before I start, this top ten will be very, very spoiler heavy, both in terms of the film, the novel and potential sequel. So if you don’t really want to know what’s in the novel and the films, I suggest you stop reading right now.
The film adaptation of Stephen King’s opus, IT, has set the box office on fire all over the world. I personally had no idea there would be this kind of interest in the film. The novel is my favourite book. It’s the best book ever written. One of the reasons why is the way it explores good vs evil in both mystical terms and in the real life situations the kids face every day. The characters are incredibly well written and the detail that is given to each one of them is unlike anything I’ve ever been privy to, both in print or on the silver screen.
I enjoyed the film immensely although it took me two viewings to really appreciate what director Andy Muschietti and a trio of writers were going for. Because it’s a novel I’ve read six times in 25 years, it’s something I naturally feel very protective of and perhaps no adaptation could ever truly do it justice. I always thought that the novel should have been made into three separate films, each in excess of three hours (like New Line did with Lord of the Rings). But seeing as this is a horror film and not fantasy, there was no way New Line/Warner Bros was going to sink that kind of money and that kind of commitment into this project. However, now, after the film has gone on to make about 700 million dollars worldwide, maybe the sequel might be a bit different.
As much as I loved Andy Muschietti’s film and as much as I think he captured the ethos of the novel, there is still a lot he and the writers changed and a lot they left out to the detriment of the story. Here are the ten pieces of plot from the book I wish they would have had in the film.
10. The parents
In the movie, the only parent that is true to the book is Mrs. Kasperak. Bill’s dad has one scene, Ben’s mom is never mentioned and Bev’s mom is not even in the film at all (in the book she works at a local diner and often brings home cake and pie…yummm). I get why the parents were kept out of the film but Ben’s mom is a widow and she works very long hours to provide for her and Ben. She absolutely loves Ben and tries to keep him safe. She also talks to him about “sex crimes” and other uncomfortable topics. Richie’s parents are fun. Richie comes from wealth as his dad is a dentist. There’s one really light and funny scene where Richie’s dad knows he needs money to go to the theatre and he makes him cut the yard, front and back, and then gives him $2.00. This is also the prelude to how Beverly becomes part of the group. Mike’s parents are both alive in the book and Mike and his dad have a lot of scenes together. One in particular was so vividly described that it felt like you were there inside their home made truck with the missing windshield.
9. The true story of the Black Spot
In the film, Mike Hanlon tells the group of kids that his parents died in the Black Spot when it burned down because of some racist Klan members. But this is not what happens in the book. In fact, the story of the Black Spot burning down gave us Stephen King fans one of the truly awesome Easter Eggs. Mike’s dad managed to escape the Black Spot with the help of his friend Dick Hallorann. Hallorann, as you might remember from the movie The Shining, was the character who communicates with Danny. They both have the Shine. Hallorann’s shine is mentioned in the book IT as well. Mike’s father gets cancer when Mike is 15 and dies soon after. Hallorann obviously goes on to show up at the Overlook Hotel where Jack kills him with an axe (in the movie).
8. The Smoke-hole
The book goes into much greater detail as to how the kids come up with a way to kill Pennywise. The seven of them make an underground club house in the Barrens. This helps them hide from the bullies who make their life miserable. But then one of the boys researches what the natives did 100 years ago and this is how they devise with the smoke-hole ritual. They basically sit in the underground clubhouse and burn branches and leaves so that the small area fills with smoke. One by one, each of the Losers leave the smoke-hole until only Richie and Mike are left. Together they have the same vision and they travel to AGO….time before man where they see a spacecraft land on Earth and it waits for man to arrive. This gives them a lot more insight into what they are dealing with. This is a much better catalyst into the last act of the book than what the movie offers.
7. Beverly was never and should have never been captured by Pennywise
This is one of the parts of the film that really angered me and many other IT fans I’ve spoken with. Beverly was a strong character in the movie but she was even stronger in the book. Having her get rescued by the boys just rings false in every sense. She has the best shot of the group and she is the one who yields the slingshot with the silver bullet. She’s the one who does most of the damage to IT. There is strength in numbers and that is just briefly touched upon in the movie. In the novel, the seven of them are much stronger together and not once was one of them, especially Beverly, ever get kidnapped by Pennywise.
6. The Irish CopWhen the boys are in the Barrens, they make a dam. This dam is designed by Ben (who later goes on to be one of the world’s great architects) and it ends up flooding parts of Derry. Officer Nell, an Irish beat cop, confronts them and tells them to take the dam down but before he does all of this, he tells them that they did one hell of a job making a good dam. He also asks Ben how he learned how to do it and Ben tells him that he just figured it out…giving us some insight into what lies ahead for him and his future. The Irish Cop voice is something Richie uses on Pennywise on Neibolt street, as well.
5. There’s a reason why Henry wanted to carve his name into Ben’s stomach
In the movie, Henry, Belch, Patrick and the blond kid catch Ben and in a violent rage, Henry tells the others to hold Ben still while he cuts his name into Ben’s belly. There’s no reason given as to why Henry wants to do this except that he is a violent psychopath. But in the book, during the final exams, Henry tells Ben to let him copy off of him. Ben refuses and because of this Henry fails his final exam and is thus forced to do summer school. This will cause Henry to not be able to help his dad on the farm for the summer and because of this, Henry is afraid that his dad might beat him close to death. So he takes all of his rage out on Ben. It makes the scene make that much more sense.
4. The book gives greater importance to the mystical realm that the seven kids create
The novel states numerous times that the seven of them are brought together by some kind of force that isn’t physical. It’s like they were being drawn together, assembled to fight the evil that is IT. There’s a crucial scene in the novel where Bill brings Bradley-what’s-his-name (his last name is Donovan but Richie doesn’t remember his name because he’s not part of the group) down to the Barrens. He’s a kid from his speech class and right away Richie remarks to himself that he just knows he won’t stay. He’s not part of the group. This was before the final member showed up (which I’ll get to in a minute). The seven of them meeting and forming a bond was not by accident. It was a bond that was formed by forces outside of their understanding. The movie doesn’t mention this at all.
3. The epic Rock FightThis was another massively disappointing part in the film. The Rock Fight goes on for about 30 seconds. But in the novel, it’s much, much longer and it ends with a verbal exchange between the Losers and Henry. Why they kept this exchange out of the film is very perplexing. The genesis of the Rock Fight results from Henry and his goons chasing Mike though the Barrens. The rest of the Losers are down there and they defend Mike, taking him into their group and creating the seventh seal or sign. This is when the group becomes whole. The rock fight does a lot of damage to both groups and when the rest of Henry’s group leaves because they are outnumbered, Henry, now alone, still acts tough and brave. This causes the Losers to fire off a barrage of rocks, all hitting him and causing him to flee in shame. The Rock Fight was almost an after-thought in the film but it was much more important and fleshed out in the book.
2. This one is a bit of speculation
In the movie, it looks like Henry dies when Mike pushes him down the well in the Neibolt house. If Henry is dead, then it changes the adult part of the story where Henry, with help from Pennywise, escapes from Juniper Hill, a mental institution, and comes back to Derry to try and finish the adults off. What was so great about Henry breaking out of Juniper Hill is that his get away car is a 1958 red and white Plymouth Fury. Christine is his getaway car. Christine is the 1983 Stephen King novel and this is another Easter Egg the writer dropped into the story for all his faithful readers. It’s a shame that Christine and Dick Hallorann more than likely will not be making an appearance in the film(s).
1. The movie just grazes upon the notion that the kids can hurt Pennywise because they are innocent
They haven’t allowed adulthood to corrupt them yet. But the book goes into much greater detail as to how their strength is their belief. The movie is much more like A Nightmare on Elm Street where it concludes that because the Losers weren’t afraid of IT, they can defeat and overcome the evil force. But the book goes much deeper than that. Richie uses his sneezing powder on the wolf at Neibolt Street. They use a slingshot with a silver bullet to inflict pain in IT during one of the final battles. Richie also uses his Irish cop voice to admonish the werewolf and this too inflicts temporary pain on the wolf. These things were not covered well in the film and they could have or should have been. It’s perhaps the most important part of the book.
There’s other areas they could have covered like Eddie Corcoran’s disappearance, Mike’s encounter with the bird, and the turtle. Now, for those of you who have read the book and you’re wondering why I didn’t mention the scene in the tunnels where the kids “become adults”. Well, there’s no way they could have filmed that scene. People would lose their minds over it, even though, in the context of the story in the book, it made sense. But it was never going to make the movie.
As mentioned, I liked the movie immensely and I understand why they couldn’t film all of the 1100 pages but it would have been nice to at least be a little more detailed.
Written & Compiled by Dan Grant
Your turn? Have you read the novel? How does the film compare? Let us know…
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