The Big Picture
- Director Andy Muschietti’s two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s It is a terrifying portrayal of childhood trauma and the essence of Pennywise the Clown.
- The film had to make cuts and changes from the original text due to its dense and detailed nature, and Chapter Two features a different ending than the novel.
- Muschietti chose not to include Pennywise’s origin story in order to maintain the character’s mysterious and evil qualities and to preserve the sense of horror.
While the 1980s miniseries starring Tim Curry certainly gave nightmares to a generation of younger viewers, the now comical television adaptation is not nearly as terrifying as the madness that director Andy Muschietti brought to life with his two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s epic horror novel It. Muschietti understood that the terror of It wasn’t just the literal threat of Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard), but what he represented. Pennywise captures the essence of childhood trauma. He transforms himself into various shocking presences in order to individually terrify each member of the Losers’ Club, and preys on their respective anxieties. Even though both of the films in the series utilize a similar sense of 1980s coming-of-age nostalgia as the Stranger Things franchise does, they certainly aren’t a watered-down version of King’s story. In fact, Muschietti even shot one sequence for the series that was so disturbing that it’s never even been released within the extended cut.
This ‘It’ Deleted Scene Showed Pennywise’s Backstory
While it may have initially seemed odd to see that a film adapting a novel about a creepy clown needed two installments, it makes sense considering the density of King’s original text. King’s work tends to be shorter and more visceral, but in It, there’s more detail placed into establishing the town of Derry and the lurking threats that it hides beneath the surface. Any horror fans interested in reading a fast-paced thriller about a demented clown stalking a group of children will have to read through a considerable amount of exposition regarding the historical development of a corrupt town and its history of violence. At nearly 1,200 words, It is King’s longest novel to date; It also has great importance within King’s loosely connected universe of novels and short stories that take place within the same canon.
This meant that even in two films with even longer extended editions, there was no way that Muschietti would be able to capture every single event from the original text. In some cases, the cuts and changes that he made were necessary. This is particularly clear in It: Chapter Two, which features a completely different ending than the original text that many fans preferred over what was perceived to be a lackluster conclusion to the novel. Many of the scenes that didn’t make the theatrical cut were actually shot and saved for the Blu-Ray’s behind-the-scenes features, but one sequence inspired by the original text has yet to be seen by fans. While little is known about Pennywise’s origins in both the original novel and the new adaptation, Muschietti and Skarsgard revealed that the original intention was to show a younger version of the character before he donned his iconic makeup.
According to Skarsgard, a sequence had been shot that took place in the 17th century and featured a youthful Pennywise. Skarsgard explained that Pennywise was “this thing that can take any shape or form, and it’s taken this shape of a clown,” and suggested that “the idea is the It entity was dormant for thousands and thousands of years.” Based on his familiarity with the original source material and Pennywise’s vague history, Skarsgard perceived the character to be an “entity, who lives in this other sort of dimension, tapping in and out of these spaces.” The origin scene would have confirmed Skarsgard’s interpretation to be accurate.
An early version of the It script by Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga hinted at some of the depraved moments that this potentially horrifying scene could have incorporated. During a sequence set in 1637, Pennywise appears before a timid teenage mother and engulfs her infant child. While Muschietti’s version of It managed to pack in some surprisingly graphic moments for a mainstream R-rated film, the suggestion of “baby eating” may have been a line that Warner Bros. would have been cagey about crossing. There’s a point where visceral horror moments are no longer in good taste.
Why Was Pennywise’s Origin Story Cut?
While providing a more definitive explanation for why Pennywise takes on the essence of this particular clown, Muschietti felt that providing an origin tale for such an otherworldly figure of evil would have robbed the audience of the character’s mysterious quality. Muschietti revealed that while “something similar” takes place within the novel, viewers may have felt cheated of Pennywise’s ambiguities. Muschietti said that “King remains very cryptic about the other side, the origin of Pennywise, and he teases you with Robert Gray,” and that he learned “that sometimes it’s better to keep things cryptic and generate mystery.” However, he did indicate that a potential extended edition that combined both It films together could include this Pennywise origin scene, and other deleted moments, such as a cameo by the Maturin turtle that is so essential to the larger King universe.
Muschietti’s explanation makes sense. While some fans may prefer a more straightforward explanation as to what exactly Pennywise is and the specific powers that he has, Muschietti and Skarsgard both seem to interpret his presence as being disconnected from reality. Pennywise represents a metaphorical sense of evil that the Losers’ Club must overcome; as each of the children grows up and wrestles with their childhood anxieties, Pennywise becomes less powerful. One of the most powerful moments in the first It film is when Bill (Jaeden Martell) declares to the evil clown that he is no longer afraid of him. In many ways, the older Bill (James McAvoy) and his friends are able to save Derry by amending its structural issues, which Pennywise represents.
There’s a value in not giving a firm explanation of a horror character’s backstory, as learning where they came from may detract from their terrifying presence. Freddy Krueger is somehow more human in A Nightmare on Elm Street for anyone who witnessed his tragic childhood in A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: Dream Child, and that makes him less scary. Similarly, horror prequels like 2011’s The Thing, Hannibal Rising, Exorcist: The Beginning, Leprechaun: Origins, Alien: Covenant, and The Nun have featured overcomplicated backstories for their iconic killers that simply make the mythology too convoluted. Good horror prequel stories are few and far between.
While fans may have been disappointed that there is footage from It’s cutting room floor that has yet to be unearthed, the Blu-Ray releases of both films feature more than a few interesting moments; deleted scenes include Stanley Uris’s (Wyatt Oleff) extended bar mitzvah speech, a more developed backstory for Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and a longer version of adult Bevereley’s (Jessica Chastain) encounter with the elderly woman Mrs. Kersh (Joan Gregson). Perhaps it’s best that the mysterious flashback sequence, like Pennywise himself, remains buried in secret.
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