Critics have been falling over themselves to praise Andres Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 horror novel It, which released in cinemas over the weekend. For Muschietti, the most important critic of all has already spoken. King himself posted a clip on YouTube, in which he stated: "I had hopes, but I was not prepared for how good it really was.
"It's something that's different, and at the same time, it's something that audiences are going to relate to. They're going to like the characters," the author said. "It's all about character. If you like the characters – if you care – the scares generally work. I'm sure my fans will enjoy the movie. I think they're gonna really enjoy the movie."
High praise indeed from one of the best-selling novelists of our times, and a man whose work has been adapted for cinema countless times.
Muschietti seems pleased. "It was kind of weird, because he didn't need to do that, but I was there adapting his work and he's like this person on the sidelines," he tells me. "But I could see that he really got it, even though I'd taken some artistic liberties. I really wanted to stay true to the spirit of the heart and soul of the story despite that, and I think he appreciated that as well."
The pressure is certainly on for Muschietti – not only does his movie come hot on the heels of Nikolai Arcel's adaptation of King's The Dark Tower, which released in July to wide-
spread indifference, but it also follows a much-loved 1990 mini-series starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, the story's terrifying killer clown.
Curry made the character his own and his performance was highly praised. The show's premiere on ABC attracted an impressive 30 million viewers, while Richard Bellis' score won the show a Primetime Emmy. It has also gone on to achieve a degree of longevity thanks to video, Laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray releases, with the initial VHS video release taking place in 1991.
Muschietti, however, insists that he was adapting a book. "I tried not to think about the Tim Curry version," he says. "In my mind I was making an adaptation of the book, which I love. I was trying to make reference to a work that I love, which is the book. I really don't need to reference the TV series."
Muschietti certainly created his own unique take on the story. This was perhaps to be expected – he is a notoriously visual director, whose previous film Mama was an aesthetically stunning masterpiece that possessed a visual quality often absent from traditional "jump and scream" horror movies.
Elements of the director's aesthetic have certainly carried over to It too, though Muschietti says he was conscious of making sure that It was a different picture.
“Of course there may be similarities, but each time you make a movie you have a different vision, so even though some details may carry over, there's still a different vision. Mama was kind of more narrow in terms of flavour and tone,” he says. “There's so much more to go at with It, in terms of characters, location, the whole back story.”
Muschietti has a point – while Mama focused on one couple, their adoptive nieces following a family tragedy, and the ubiquitous scary monster, It brings a whole town into play. The fictional location of Derry, Maine, is a strange place full of strange inhabitants. The cast consists not just of a single family, but a whole "Losers Club" of teenagers, along with their attendant families, friends, school bullies, would-be romantic interests and pets. It's a lot to cram into a two-hour film, even when the world knows that, failing a box office disaster, a sequel is guaranteed (the movie is even subtitled Chapter One in the opening credits).
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Muschietti admits that the novel is dense, but he still feels the movie treatment is an appropriate platform to tell the story. "I'd love to have longer. The whole serialisation, 10-hour storytelling thing is great, but the truth is that I'm really attached to films, to feature films," he says.
"I think the story can totally be condensed into two two-hour movies.
"As much as we loved the characters in the book, you can identify the big story moments and the beat, and the emotional journey of The Losers. It's just something that you have to feel when you try to tell a story."