When the most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel It opened in theaters in September of 2017, it caused a big stir, and received mostly positive reviews.
While I enjoyed watching It, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something about it that wasn’t working for me. I was a little surprised at the lack of the adult narrative that’s present in both the book and the 1990 miniseries, but assumed that, because of the time constraints of making a movie, they’d trimmed down what they could. It wasn’t until the end of the film that I realized that I’d just watched the first part of a two-part film series, and that the adult narrative that I’d been waiting for would be the content for the second film.
Though I enjoyed watching the movie, I feel like this is a story that simply can’t function as a two-part film.
Like the book, the “real” story of the 1990 miniseries version is that of the adult versions of the kids who were once terrorized by the creature they call It. The story follows the adults as they start to realize that the creature they thought they’d defeated in their childhoods has returned. Everything we learn about the first adventure of these characters is done through flashbacks.
Frame stories like these aren’t a terribly innovative narrative style or anything, but it’s certainly effective in this case.
In the ‘90s version, each of the adults gets a call from the character Mike, who informs them that “It” is back. These phone calls trigger flashbacks to each of the characters’ childhood encounters with the monster.
Both adaptations have the children defeating It in a sewer, and thinking that they’re finally safe. The miniseries has already indicated that the creature will eventually return, thanks to the ongoing adult narrative. The movie, on the other hand, ends at this plot point with an indication that there will be a part two.
It’s important to note that, for audiences who have no exposure to either the original miniseries, or the book, the film’s format has the potential to leave them completely confused and irritated.
Most people go to the movie theater in order to lose themselves in a story, and, in the case of a horror movie, get a thrill out of being scared. They don’t necessarily want to have to do homework, first.
It shouldn’t be a requirement to know the source material when consuming an adaptation.
Therefore, audiences with no context might have thought this was going to be a contained story about a few kids taking on a monster. That’s why, at the end, it comes off as one of those annoying horror movies from the late 90s that ends with a title card saying, “The End,” only to have it dissolve into a question mark a moment later. This is usually a silly cop-out intended to leave open in people’s minds that there could be a sequel, in case the production company decides the first film made enough money to warrant another.
In this case, however, they had always planned that there would be a sequel.
This leaves me questioning why the first film was framed as a standalone movie.
Unlike part one, part two can’t function as a standalone movie. The entire plot of the second half of the story is dependent on the fact that these kids made a vow to return and fight against It should he ever resurface.
If Hollywood intends for the sequel to truly follow the book, which it seems like it does at this point, a big theme in the next movie is going to be the effects the adult characters suffer from the trauma they experienced as children.
That means, in order for this film to have any true resonance with the audience, we’re going to have to remember a lot of details about the previous movie.
That task is going to be much harder when we’ll be dealing with a completely new set of actors, and at least a year or two of distance between the release dates of the movies. (While It is now available for purchase or rental, as of right now it isn’t streaming anywhere. That could, of course, change before the sequel comes out.)
Unlike most sequels, where we can recognize that we’re seeing the same character from the first film, when It: Chapter Two comes out, we’re going to be dependent on dialogue to know who is who.
It’s possible that part two will have plenty of flashbacks to the events of part one, but, for people who want to watch the two films back to back, that’s going to slow down the second film considerably, because they’ll be re-watching scenes. It’s also going to take away time from the adult narrative to remind the audience of what happened in the first film.
Perhaps Chapter One could have made this transition to part two easier on the audience by adding in the adult narrative in the first place, but that would have been incredibly difficult to pull off, since it would have made an already long movie even longer. It also would make seeing part two a requirement in order to get a full conclusion to the story. Of course, that can be done, (see films like Back to the Future), but the creators of It: Chapter One chose, for some odd reason, to create part one as if it were a standalone.
Let’s say that part two of this film won’t be full of flashbacks, and won’t address these characters’ childhood demons at all. Then, what are we left with? The creators could add in a bunch of original, non-canon material, as Hollywood often does to film adaptations of novels. However, it simply wouldn’t make sense for a sequel to completely ignore all the setup it did in the first movie regarding the many characters’ various traumas.
IT: Chapter One could have functioned perfectly well as a self-contained story, and it really didn’t warrant a sequel in my opinion. Now that the creators have backed themselves into some extremely tough corners, they’ve got a tough job on their hands.
Regardless of whether my concerns are well-founded or not, I look forward to seeing Chapter Two. It will be interesting to see how the writers handle the various challenges of adapting It into a two-part film.