In 1991, with little fanfare, the world was introduced to one of the best adaptations of a horror fiction ever. Stephen King's IT was shown in mini-series format over two nights and gained monster ratings.
With an excellent older cast anchoring some raw young talents like Jonathan Brandis, Seth Green & Emily Perkins, IT was one of the TV events of the '90s. What REALLY set it apart however, was Tim Curry's legendary turn as Pennywise The Dancing Clown. Equal parts malice, menace and hilarity formed one of the most remembered movie monsters in history. "They Float" became a part of popular culture and many who never had a phobia of clowns, did so afterwards.
What was impressive was that the book, (King's longest) had long been considered "unfilmable" due to lurid subject matter and themes. A lot of cuts were made for pacing as much as to appease the network but the trick that made IT such a good watch was the two cast approach.
The first half was almost a sequel to Stand By Me with a sense of fun and adventure, mixed in with the sheer terror Pennywise was unleashing. The second half played more to our adult fears, as we have things to lose as grownups we didn't have as children.
To many, the ending was a major let down, but FX of the time and budget meant this was always going to be the case.
For years a remake has been mooted, most recently with True Detective's Cary Fukinagwa at the helm. He went as far as to cast Will Poulter as Pennywise in what could have been a Heath Ledger style career making role. It was going to be two movies, then it was all off. Cary left the project - seemingly over budget issues and a lack of studio confidence as the Poltergeist remake had bombed.
As promising as this all sounded, I am a firm believer that IT should never be a movie. The only way it can EVER work as a remake is in a long form show, be it on HBO or Netflix.
First of all, for an adaption to be worth doing, it needs to cover ground that wasn't covered in the original series, that means some rather dark places will be visited, such as the persecution and murder of a homosexual and the most awkward and audience unfriendly part of the book, when the boys 'run a train' on Beverley after they think they have killed Pennywise.
It's a crucial part of the story, as it's how they get the magical bond they have but it was skated over before or downgraded to them all "having a crush" on her and a more metaphorical scene of them cleaning the blood in her bathroom.
It would be a brave studio/director who actually put this into the film. Sure we don't have to SEE it, (and nor should we), but we need to know it happened. When box office is on the line, compromises will always be made.
HBO are quite happy to show incest in Game of Thrones, so this wouldn't be too beyond the pale for them to imply for IT. Thrones has also shown that long novels CAN work over seasons of TV, and IT is King's heftiest novel.
The ideal format would be two seasons, with minimal time jumping between them.
Each season of thirteen episodes would focus on a time period and have an episode to set up the murders, one each for the members of The Loser's Club, for Henry Bowers and his crew, leading up to a confrontation.
Season one would end with the defeat of Pennywise and like the 1991 series, we then see a different cast in Season 2, as the characters have aged but with the same format of episodes.
Some aspects of the novel are still unfilmable - the giant turtle for example wouldn't translate well but with 26 episodes the whole story could be told in the depth it needs without over-doing it or dragging it out. By devoting an episode to each member of the Losers Club, we would become highly invested in these characters.
It would be a guaranteed ratings winner for HBO or Netflix. Indeed releasing season one as a binge with two following a couple of weeks later could be the right way to get this done, as the two cast approach would allow concurrent filming. The biggest thing however, is like Thrones taught us, it doesn't HAVE to go the same as the book exactly. Deaths might not happen the same or at all, different victims might happen, except for one.
It'd be difficult to cast them as the same 11/12-year-olds, so I'd advocate making them a little older, 13-14. Maisie Williams could JUST get away with playing Beverley Marsh at that age, but I'd avoid casting the others here at that age.
For the adult versions though, it's quite easy to cast - this is based on an HBO production.
Tom Hiddlestone is the perfect guy for this, intelligent but with the tortured quality that would come from Georgie's death and the quiet leadership that emerges. He'd get viewers interested to see him do something major outside of Marvel and he could also make Bill's awful ponytail fly.
Arguably the best performance of the original series was John Ritter as Ben and a strong actor is needed for the role who can live up to the 'Haystack' nickname and also the "oddball but nice" rich guy that the book's character is. Jason Segel is the right guy to play this role - he has the physical size and the acting ability to play scared, brave & lovelorn.
Seth Green was perfectly cast in the original series as young Richie, and the only reason not to cast him here would be he is just a bit too old compared to the other two leads.
What worked in the original was that Harry Andrews wasn't a traditional actor, he was a magician. That approach would work well again by going out of usual channels, one guy who sticks in my mind is WWE's The Miz. Sure he's done some bad movies for them, but he's the right kind of annoying to play Richie and you could see a bullying/love/hate relationship with Eddie being something he could pull off well. Hell, even make his character a wrestler rather than a stand up comic this time around. If you really can't stomach that, then it's time to call Seth Rogen.
The boy known as 'Wheezy' grew to be the timid Dennis Christopher in the original. There are several guys who could play the role in a modern version and do it justice, for me it's between 2 of them. Elijah Wood has the right mix of vulnerability and hidden strength, but the role may be a little too close to aping his Frodo days. To me Matt Smith would do it equally well - he's smaller than the others, could easily dress geeky and make Eddie's awkwardness work, yet when the time comes for him to stand up and be counted, that quality he brought to the Doctor would leap out of the screen.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is older than the others, but it's OK because Mike is SUPPOSED to look older than the others. Mike stayed in Derry and thus didn't get the benefits the others got of success and good health. He has the right kind of presence to make the humble librarian role stick but be the guy who rallies the troops and sticks his nose in where it's not wanted. His physical presence would also make the fight with Henry Bowers more of an event in the show.
This is the one role where there are 3 or 4 women who could not only play the role but do it to a very high level. Natalie Dormer would be a definite possibility, Rachel McAdams would add something but her being in the poorly received 2nd season of True Detective might put her off, so to me it's between the two Queens of Marvel - Hayley Attwell or Scarlett Johansen.
Both have the acting ability to play Beverley as the outwardly confident designer who is beaten and manipulated behind closed doors by her husband. They have the physical presence to be believable when confronting Pennywise and are both as beautiful as the character is written to be. The only downside to ScarJo is that people might find it odd, her and Hiddleston being former lovers after being enemies in Avengers, but both are good enough to make it work and as good as Hayley is, Scarlett's name attached to the project would get it greenlit almost immediately.
Stan is the one character who a long-form show would benefit most. Richard Masur's version was fine, functional and his comedic skills lent themselves to the one scene where Pennywise was using him. It's also the most thankless role in the show as he is the one who doesn't even make it back to Derry, that cannot change.
That being said, the right casting here could make the show work and again, it's a chance to get a big name in there for a limited number of episodes. Seth Rogen is one way to go, but to me the only choice is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A whole episode of him as Stan, his happy life, then the phone call and his suicide rather than remember the horror would be the gutpunch the show needed to build to the final confrontation.
Bill's famous actress wife was almost an afterthought in the original series, yet is far more important to the story. Emily Blunt, Hayley Attwell or Keira Knightly would all make good choices. Knightly hasn't had a hit in a while, so this could be the start of a path back to the mainstream for her.
Beverly's abusive husband was even more of an afterthought than Audra, but he is a very important character. If they could get Tom Hardy for such a small role, he's perfect. Failing that, Jason Clarke would be a very good choice.
The vicious Henry is an older child in the early part of the story, having been held back in school for many years, so an older actor could potentially play both time periods. The only downer is that Henry ages the worst in Derry, due to his experience in the dead lights. Tom Felton would have been a good choice for the sheer malice of Bowers, but the white hair would be too close to Malfoy for comfort. Zac Efron would be a very interesting guy to try this role, especially if he put some weight on and went with the white hair. He could "just" get away with playing an 18/19-year-old in the first time period as well.
The pivotal role and as tempted as I was by Will Poulter as a casting, it won't do. This is the role HBO would go all out for, to get a name actor who wants to do something completely different. The name that keeps sticking in my mind is... Bradley Cooper.
This is a guy who can voice act, disappear into roles like in Wet Hot American Summer and has played the Elephant Man on stage. He has the skill to disappear into Pennywise and play that evil character he hasn't managed to yet. Like Tim Curry, his comedic chops would help him play the clown, while it would be a truly unsettling experience for the audience to see the much loved Cooper as the evil clown.