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Over three decades ago, a masterpiece of a mini-series was unleashed on an unsuspecting world, changing the face of the TV movie forever. Adapted from a very long Stephen King novel, the surprise smash in question was IT, with the dreaded Pennywise doing for clowns what Jaws did for sharks.
Pennywise: The Story of IT, attempts to bring together everything that made the small-screen flick so successful, and it’s essential viewing for anyone with even a flicker of interest in filmmaking.
Which is pretty handy seeing as the running time clocks in at just over two hours. Seriously, even if you’re not a fan of rogue clowns, King, or even horror in general, this is still well worth a watch. We’ll get the one big criticism out of the way first, as it’s really what stops Pennywise short of receiving the full five stars. Two aspects of the making of IT – the children and their adult counterparts, along with the special effects – are overly-dominant. Granted, they’re both utterly integral, but there’s too much focus and it’s at the expense of other, arguably more enjoyable themes (which we’ll come to in due course). Here, this otherwise wonderful documentary ends up being more self-indulgent rather than educational.
But that is about the only negative you can say, plus there’s not one mention of the vastly inferior 2017 remake. Normally the words ‘spoiler alert’ would’ve cropped up there, but it’s surely something to rejoice in. Anyway, back to the plus points, one of which is how we really get a sense of the human, coming-of-age element that’s so important to the piece; this documentary really breaks it down and provides clarity.
In terms of Pennywise himself, it shows the importance of recruiting Tim Curry. Not everyone, especially in a 21st-century audience, is aware of just how good an actor he is, and he’s therefore somewhat underrated. Even with such a novel idea for a villain and story, without his portrayal of a clown we may still be wondering today whose terrible idea it was to turn the book into a movie. Worse still perhaps, the ground that was broken by IT for TV movies and mini-series may still lay untouched – seven acts should never have worked, but it did.
Pennywise is a stark reminder of how King’s novels are so much more than just scary stories, but at the same time how difficult they are to translate to screen. Maybe that’s why not every single adaptation has been that great, but that’s an argument for another day. As touched on previously, you don’t necessarily need to be a fan of IT to enjoy Pennywise, as it delves into the history and tradition of clowns (heck, even Ronald McDonald gets a mention), as well as colourophobia, the fear of clowns.
Above all, Pennywise: The Story of IT should be applauded for its honesty, as the various talking heads aren’t afraid to criticise the movie even though it’s gone on to do them very proud in the ensuing years. There’s so much more to this documentary that it’s liable to convert more than the odd cynic.