The 1990 miniseries of Stephen King’s It took on the daunting task of adapting the massive (>1100 pages in my paperback edition) and massively popular (14 weeks at the top of The New York Times Best Sellers list in 1986 and 1987) novel into a two episode miniseries. It was a ratings success at the time, and Tim Curry’s interpretation of Pennywise the Clown has been haunting the nightmares of anyone who saw it for 26 years and counting.
The Production: 3/5
Stephen King’s It
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: Tim Curry, Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Olivia Hussey, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Seth Green, Adam Faraizl, Ben Heller, Jarred Blancard, & Tony Dakota
I recall being very excited to see this series when it first aired in the fall of 1990. The first installment exceeded my expectations with a tight structure that balanced introductions of the large cast of characters with plot advancement that felt perfectly paced. The screenwriter had taken the structure of Stephen King’s novel, which interlaced parallel stories of a group of children and their adult selves three decades later, and split it in a way that made perfect sense for a two night miniseries event. Needless to say I was excited to see the concluding installment. Unfortunately, night two proved to be a disappointment. The tight structure was abandoned, too much screen time was devoted to sequences that did not pay off, and story and character beats that were iconic in the novel seemed shoehorned in and unearned. It did not help that it led to a climax with the protagonists battling a terrible special effect.
As disappointing as part 2 of the series is, it does not completely undermine the good will earned during part 1. First among the series’ virtues is the scenery (and limb) chewing magnificence of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. Even viewers without a hint of coulrophobia going into the TV series will find themselves getting nervous around children interacting with clowns after seeing it. The juvenile and adult versions of the “Losers Club” are also well cast and make a believable band of outcasts and friends. The empathy they create with viewers is critical for the suspense and horror to work when Pennywise’s threats begin to escalate.
Note to viewers: When this miniseries first aired, the second part began with a credit sequence playing over scenes of Richard Thomas’ Bill Denbrough returning to Derry, Maine, checking into his hotel, and having a conversation with the woman working behind the desk. In this version, the part two credits as well as the scenes over which they played have been excised. The final shot of part one is followed by a quick cut to Bill arriving at a cemetery.
3D Rating: NA
The film is rendered to disc as an AVC encoded 1080p presentation that is pillarboxed to the original 4:3 broadcast television ratio. Previous DVD releases were in a matted widescreen ratio, but I was happy to see it back to the way I remember originally watching it in 1990. Director Tommy Lee Wallace even comments on the efforts needed to compose for the 4:3 aspect ratio on the included commentary which was, ironically, recorded circa 2002 for the original 16:9 cropped DVD release.
I was not happy to see the lackluster transfer and encoding afforded this release. The overall look is soft and inconsistent throughout with grain that sometimes looks more like video noise than actual film. Certain sequences look less like a Blu-ray than a good upconversion. It certainly does not look like anyone recently went back to the original film elements in order to create this high definition transfer.
The primary audio is presented via a DTS-HD MA 2.0 encoding of the miniseries’ original stereo audio. There are some nice matrixed surround effects during the climactic sequences which take place underground, but for the most part, the track presents serviceable sound with most of the dialog and sound effects concentrated in the center of the stereo image and music spread more widely across the stereo channels. Fidelity is solid, primarily benefiting the music score which is not quite as full range and dynamic as one might hope, likely due to its broadcast television origins.
Special Features: 2.5/5
There is only one special feature, but it is a pretty good one.
The disc features a full length screen specific audio commentary from Director Tommy Lee Wallace and cast members Dennis Christopher (Eddie), Tim Reid (Mike), John Ritter (Ben), and Richard Thomas (Bill). Christopher, Reid, and Ritter were recorded together and play off of each other during the commentary. Wallace and Thomas were recorded individually. As one might expect, Wallace provides the most information about the series’ inception and production, while the cast members focus more on the their characters and on set experiences. Christopher, Reid, and Ritter inspire each other to go off on some tangents, but they seem to be enjoying their reunion, which makes it a fun listen despite the occasional loss of focus.
Stephen King’s It is half of a great miniseries with a likable cast and an exceptional and iconic performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with a disappointing and inconsistent video transfer and solid if not spectacular stereo audio. A commentary recorded for the 2002 DVD release is the only extra on the disc.