Much like Pennywise himself, the movie adaptation of IT has shifted shape more than once in the transition from page to screen, enduring a few nightmare scenarios along the way. Sure, director Andrés Muschietti may have finally released his version of Stephen King's story to rave reviews this year, but the 31 years it took to adapt IT didn't float on by as easily as fans might think.
Back in 2009, David Kajganich was the first director to tackle the story since Tim Curry took on the role of Pennywise in the 1990 TV adaptation. However, by 2012, Kajganich was replaced by filmmaker Cary Fukunaga. Selected following his critically lauded work on True Detective's first season, Fukunaga developed a new script and dove headfirst into pre-production until he suddenly left the project in 2015. Andrés Muschietti stepped in to direct IT and reworked the original script to great success, but what became of Fukunaga's original screenplay and why does controversy surround it still?
Why Did Cary Fukunaga Leave IT?
When Fukunaga first cartwheeled away from IT, a number of rumors immediately floated online, claiming that the "creative differences" cited by him and the studio stemmed from disagreements over the budget and his controversial script.
It was agreed that Fukunaga would direct the story in two parts, co-writing the script with the help of screenwriter Chase Palmer. However, concerns over the sexuality written into the film reportedly left the studio feeling rather uncomfortable, despite it featuring prominently in Stephen King's original text. To make matters worse, Warner Bros. migrated IT over to New Line Cinema, their sister studio, and the budget was subsequently cut as a result.
Reports vary at this point; some say that Fukunaga left the project for fear that the budget cuts would compromise his vision, while others suggest that Warner Bros. fired the director after he refused to make the changes that the script required. Either way though, it's clear that Fukunaga and New Line Cinema didn't share the same vision of Pennywise, much like the residents of Derry who also perceived the entity in different ways.
Speaking to Variety, Fukunaga shed some light on his departure from the project, explaining that:
"In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive."
While it seems as though the studio was focused on developing the scares, Fukunaga recognized that scares only work if you're invested in the characters first. The director went on to explain that:
"The main difference was making Pennywise more than just the clown. After 30 years of villains that could read the emotional minds of characters and scare them, trying to find really sadistic and intelligent ways he scares children, and also the children had real lives prior to being scared. And all that character work takes time. It’s a slow build, but it’s worth it, especially by the second film. But definitely even in the first film, it pays off."
While it's unfortunate that IT fans will never see Fukunaga's darker vision come to light, the fact that he's still officially co-credited as one of the film's screenwriters suggests that Cary's original script will still leave some impact on the final cut.
What Was So Controversial About Cary Fukunaga's Script In The First Place?
Any film that opens with a demonic clown ripping off a small boy's arm is likely to court at least some controversy and it sure does help that Andrés Muschietti was given free reign to play around with the R rating. However, a leaked draft of Fukunaga and Palmer’s script dated 03/14/14 suggests that earlier versions of the film would have leaned even harder into the book's more disturbing chapters.
Birth, Movies, Death reported on Fukunaga's script before the studio subsequently pulled it from the internet, and from their analysis, it's easy to see why this draft may have spread some fear among executives. Oh, and before you ask, no, that famous sex scene isn't even what makes it so controversial!
The script opens with the death of Georgie Denbrough, but unlike previous versions of the story, here we see the gruesome murder in full from the window of an old woman across the road. Instead of just ripping his arm off, “Georgie’s rag doll body [is] flung left and right as Pennywise feeds on him and tries to pull him through the metal grate into the sewer.” That's pretty tame however compared to what the Dancing Clown does next.
Stanley Uris is the first member of the Losers' Club to encounter Pennywise in this version of the script. However, instead of taking the form of dead children, this entity adopts a far fouler shape that makes a mockery of Stan's religion while he rehearses for his forthcoming Bar Mitzvah. At some point, Stan sneaks away to urinate, only to discover a naked woman rising from a pool of menstrual blood. In this sacrilegious form, IT tries to tempt Stan sexually, even masturbating in front of him, only for audiences to then discover that she's bleeding and rotting from behind. The closest parallel to this scene that can be found in the book comes when Pennywise takes on the form of a leper and offers to give Eddie Kaspbrak oral sex, but Fukunaga's version of this moment is far more visceral.
Didn't think it could get any worse? Fukunaga's draft takes an even darker turn soon after this when Pennywise's influence reaches the home of Beverley Marsh. In Stephen King's book, it's heavily implied that the girl's father is sexually attracted to her and that's partly why he abuses Beverley. Fukunaga doesn't hold back here though, explicitly depicting a scene where Beverley's father tries to rape her while she's dressing up for Stan’s Bar Mitzvah.
In contrast, the controversial sex scene that takes place at the end of the book is actually toned down here quite considerably. Instead of asking each member of the Losers' Club to have sex with her in the sewers, Beverley instead just takes each of the boy's faces in hand, strengthening their bond through a surprisingly PG act of love.
What Did Andrés Muschietti Change In His IT Movie Script?
At first glance, it seems as though much of Fukunaga and Palmer’s original script for IT remained intact in the final cut. Structural elements such as the shift to the '80s and the idea of splitting Stephen King's book into two separate movies are still key to Andrés Muschietti's version. However, the devil is quite literally in the details here, many of which Muschietti changed to skew the script in a different direction.
Andrés clarified what influence Fukunaga and Palmer’s script had on his version of the film during an interview with Collider, explaining how they had altered a core aspect of Pennywise:
"It was a good script, in terms of characters and the depth of characters and such, but it didn’t really tap into one of the most attractive traits of the character, which was the shape-shifting qualities. So that’s one of the things that I started talking about."
Producer Barbara Muschietti explained how the new script hones in on the emotions of King's characters and themes of unity:
“... I think those are two aspects, emotions and fear were imprinted in the script that was developed with us with Gary Dauberman, much more to our taste. And then the notion of the power of belief as a resolution, and power in unity. These guys need each other to face Pennywise and to fight him, and they’re alone, they’re losers and they never really — in our movie, there are no resolutions with the outside world, so they don’t necessarily solve the conflicts with their parents. That’s what their real lives are and continue to be, all they have is each other. That’s very much our movie."
Fukunaga’s original choice for #Pennywise was actor Will Poulter, who initially remained attached to the role under Muschietti's supervision until scheduling conflicts ultimately forced him away. While Tilda Swinton first came to mind as a potential replacement, the Muschiettis soon settled on #BillSkarsgård, whose dedication to the role and unusual eye condition ultimately helped him to demolish the competition — a feat rather befitting for the self-proclaimed Devourer of Worlds.
Whether you prefer Fukunaga's approach or what Andrés Muschietti ultimately delivered in the final cut of IT, it's hard to objectively decide which is better. After all, a screenplay is just that, a screenplay, something that only outlines how a film could potentially turn out. Sure, the way in which Fukunaga's script delves into the history of Derry could have lent his version a more epic feel, but Muschietti's film has strengths of its own.
At the end of the day, #IT fans are lucky to have been given such a faithful adaptation of #StephenKing's book in the first place. We just can't help but wonder whether we've lost something that could have perhaps been even greater. Would Fukunaga's movie have ended up in the Losers' Club of Stephen King adaptations or would it have floated to the top and become the best one yet?
Do you think Cary Fukunaga's script could be better than the one developed by Andrés Muschietti? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!