SEPTEMBER 8 — If anyone were to ask about my favourite fiction author of all time, they may be utterly surprised.
Names like Salman Rushdie or Jean Paul Sartre or Milan Kundera would not pop up at all.
The answer to that question would no none other than the master of the macabre, Stephen King himself.
At the risk of being labelled derisively by the English as “common”, I’m afraid that’s the brutal truth.
No one does it like Mr King. Sadly, his film adaptations have not been as successful as his books. After the big budget Dark Tower, based on his set of novels, failed miserably, (16 per cent in Rotten Tomatoes!), what will happen to his next film It?
It is based on King’s novel of the same name. I still have my first copy from the early 90s, looking like half a brick on my bookshelf. Yes, it is in fact that thick.
But there is nothing superfluous in it. It has a glorious level of detail not only about the evil monster and the protagonists, but also about the monster’s human help and about the town itself.
This is Stephen King’s secret — an unparalleled eye for detail. This comes from writing about what he knows. Immersion is his trade secret.
It is about seven children on the brink of adolescence, called the “Loser’s Club.” They discover a hidden evil in their town as slowly, kids are being killed.
The evil manifests itself as the iconic clown called Pennywise and comes after them one by one. Of course the back story is far richer than that basic premise.
However, fitting in a story into a book the size of half a brick and into even a three- hour movie is not quite the same thing, not even if only half the movie is told as in the case of 2017’s It.
This is why Stephen King adaptations can never reach the box office supremacy of Conjuring or Paranormal Activity. These two did not have prior novels to worry about whereas with King’s works, there is simply too much information to cram in.
How does the screenplay ensure that it fits in the relevant details, never mind all of it? It would simply be impossible so some sacrifices would have to be made and when that happens, you better hope there are no unanswered questions.
For those who do not know, there has already been a TV movie adaptation of It way back from 1990. It starred Richard Thomas (John Boy to whom we shall forever say “good night” on The Waltons!), the late John Ritter (Three’s Company), Tim Reid (WKRP In Cincinnati) and Seth Green (where to start!).
That was a two-part affair with each part stretching over a long two hours. Even so, it was not enough to capture the depth of the book.
The reason is simple: there are long back stories to each of the principal characters. It was their histories which made them and without knowing these histories, our relatability to these characters cannot be as deep.
One particular TV adaptation of King’s which disappointed me after I read the book was Salem’s Lot. Don’t get me wrong, the TV adaptation terrorised my childhood.
I still get nightmares about the little boy who comes knocking at the window scene. And to this day, I have the DVD, novel, short story and even audiobook. It will be on my all-time favourites list till the end, I think.
However, although the TV adaptation captured the poignancy and innocent Americana of the 70s, it simply could not match the richness of the book.
As with It, the characters were so well developed. Even the town itself, Salem’s Lot, was well detailed. There is a reason it is the eponym.
What will happen to 2017’s It? Will it deliver the goods or will the big budget bring us such a CGI-filled experience that we forget the simplicity of a simple scare comes from the fact that the characters have immersed us in the tale? Time will tell
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.