Stephen King’s “IT” Ads (1990)

IT is most likely my favorite book. I’ve read better books, I’ve read more meaningful and profound books, and I’ve read (one or two) longer books, but IT edges them all out as the book that meant most to me at the time I read it (I was eleven) and as the book that grew with me as I got older. It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog with any regularity that the themes in IT resonate with me; the idea that we are forced to abandon our childhoods only to find ourselves lost without them as adults could practically be Timid Futures’ mission statement. There’s a passage at the end (page 1087) that, when I read it at the age of eleven having conquered an 1100-page-dragon, made me decide to be a writer.

So given all of this I should be pretty pumped about this IT movie that’s coming out this week, right? I’m actually really anxious.  I’m not worried about whether it’ll be bad (more on that in a second), because it looks like it’ll be really faithful to the themes of the book.  It’s the fact that I’m an absolute coward when it comes to scary movies combined with the fact that there is no way I’m not going to see this movie in the theaters that gives me anxiety. And I can’t exactly afford a private screening where I can watch the movie standing up with all of the lights on as I pace around yelling “NO NO NO”.

I’ll figure it out.

So anyway, I’m not worried about IT being bad because we already had an IT miniseries that was bad, back in 1990, and I still loved it. This was eleven-year-old me’s first chance to let unbridled enthusiasm for the source material overshadow the mediocre reality that was unfolding before me, and in true IT fashion I’m somehow able to keep that enthusiasm on repeated viewings of this stale, sedate interpretation of the book as a grownup. The miniseries suffers many of the common shortcomings of King’s adaptations – there’s so much internal monologue going on in his books that any attempt to put verbal words to them comes off as saccharine garbage. There are complicated events, both symbolic and supernatural, that require detailed description but are introduced almost completely bereft of establishment (looking at you, Deadlights). IT’s got even more cards stacked against it because it’s trying to go the TV route, and the budget shows. Also it’s trying to portray two different time periods and cutting a lot of corners with its portrayal of 1955.

But I can’t be too hard on it; for all of its shortcomings you can tell that it was written by someone who actually, you know, read the whole book and genuinely wanted to get it right.  Casting then-bigger-names like Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, and the always-infallible legend Tim Curry was a great move, too.  Sadly, only Tim Curry really breaks out as a memorable performance. John Ritter comes a distant second – the script is just bad.

So the miniseries of IT may missed the mark from its source material, but that’s nothing compared to how much these promos and trailers missed the mark of the IT miniseries.  See how the miniseries is the good guy now?

First, let’s take a look at the ABC :30. It doesn’t even try; it’s a series of what would universally be considered scary images over a semi-related children’s song.  You would either have to already be on board and excited for IT or be on board with watching anything scary to want to watch what this promo is selling you, making the promo essentially useless.

The CTV promo for the finale tries a bit harder, but there’s still a disconnect here.  Excusing the laughably sedate and motherly voiceover there’s a sense that whoever made this promo doesn’t quite know what IT is about. “Now you see IT, now you don’t” isn’t the clever through-line these guys think it is.

The trailer for the videocassette release actually hits closest to its target. It unfortunately uses the ridiculous calypso cue from an awful scene in the miniseries to root the trailer, and it just as unfortunately employs the same ‘scroll through scary images’ trick that the ABC promo does, but it has a few series-specific references (“beep beep!”) and has the luxury of assuming that, as it’s selling a VHS, it’s talking to an existing fan of the miniseries.

Just so I’m not ALL sour grapes, here’s an example of how a great trailer could be done with this material – courtesy of The Popcorn Drop. This is the story, and this trailer reminds me that there’s actually a lot to love about the miniseries.  Well, maybe a lot to like.

I bag on it because I love it but this is that special instance of a bad thing that I love that is still bad and has media that promotes that is worse and all of that is something worth cherishing. Actually, maybe that’s Timid Futures’ mission statement.