Directors: John Campopiano and Chris Griffiths
Apart from 1977’s Roots, there probably isn’t a made-for-television miniseries that has had as much cultural impact as It. Based on Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel, the show was broadcast on two consecutive nights in November of 1990 and scared the bejesus out of a whole generation. In the intervening three decades the show has taken on a cult following, in no small part thanks to the design and performance of the antagonist Pennywise the clown as portrayed by Tim Curry.
This new documentary aims to explore the genesis, making and aftermath of this TV event that follows the story of a group of children (and later their adult selves) as they battle an ancient evil that feeds on fear and whose favourite form to take is an unsettling circus clown. To achieve this, the filmmakers have managed to secure new interviews with almost all of the surviving key players of the cast and crew. Although Stephen King is a notable absentee, Tim Curry thankfully makes an appearance despite suffering the after effects of a massive stroke in 2012. Curry’s involvement definitely legitimises this project, and although his contributions are limited, just like the original show, this documentary would be nothing without him.
Many documentaries have been made about specific films. Generally they are made by fans for fans, which is far from being a criticism. However, like so many previous documentaries, Pennywise: The Making of It ultimately raises the question: is there any point if there isn’t really a story to tell? And the answer here comes back as “not really” despite all of the contributors seeming to be nice people who have fond memories about the making of the show.
The problem comes from a few different sources. Firstly, the actual making of It seems to have been almost entirely uneventful, which does not offer much fuel to power a documentary. Secondly, in reality the miniseries isn’t actually very good. King’s source material and Curry’s performance aside, there is little to raise this above any number of made- for-TV movies of the week. Early in this film, someone suggests that why the show made such a cultural impression was that it aired on TV instead of in cinemas and so was much more accessible to a wider audience including children. The subsequent memories/nightmares of these impressionable viewers would keep It alive – very much like the actual plot of the book and show. There is a lot to be said for the idea of the 1990 show being a lot scarier than the show itself actually was. Its limited budget didn’t help either, and the director of It Tommy Lee Wallace has a wonderful quote: “We had Champagne ideas and a beer budget” which leads to the documentary’s most entertaining section, where everyone interviewed desperately tries to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the infamously terrible looking giant spider. Within this documentary, this is a rare case of the adoration for such a flawed TV show faltering, and it is extremely refreshing. A less rose-tinted overall approach would have helped enormously.
The third and perhaps biggest issue with this documentary is that the filmmakers do very little to explore anything outside of the actual making of the show. Although this is titled The Story of It, the conception and development of the story by King is given very little attention and the recent two-film big-screen remake of the book are not mentioned once, which feels somewhat churlish. Perhaps the title The Story of It – But Only the 1990 TV Miniseries, Not the Book or the 2017 and 2019 Movies seemed a bit of a mouthful. It would have also been nice to have had more attention paid to the legacy of the show, but instead we just get a few shots of Pennywise cosplayers and people wearing related T-shirts: a definite missed opportunity.
Without much drama to keep it running, and a bloated running time of over two hours, Pennywise: The Story of It dilutes any interesting nuggets in a sea of trite interviews. The result ends up feeling like something one would find as an extra feature on a DVD or Blu-ray. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising when It inevitably gets another home entertainment re-release, that this documentary finds its way on to the disc.
Pennywise: The Story of It will be available on Digital Download from 3rd October and Blu-ray & DVD from 24th October.