With more and more “page to screen” (or “books to film”) being churned out from Hollywood, many authors famous and / or beloved books are being adapted for both the big and small screen. Bestselling author Stephen King is probably the best example of this, seeing many of literary work (books, short stories, and novellas) being adapted numerous in various media mediums, including fan-favorite feature films like Stand by Me, Carrie, Shawshank Redemption, Children of the Corn, and many others. In August 2017, the moviegoers were introduced to the film adaptation of King’s beloved Dark Tower series with the film The Dark Tower. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, The Dark Tower, which starred Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, told the story of Jake Chambers and how he became entangled in eternal struggle between the last Gunslinger and the infamous Man in Black, While the movie was very much anticipated by fans and casual moviegoers, the movie, unfortunately, was a messy disappoint, finding the story and lore of King’s Dark Tower source material too complex for the film’s streamlined 90-minute runtime. Critically panned by most viewers and critics, The Dark Tower only grossed roughly $107 million worldwide at the box office; making enough to cover its $60 million production budget, but not ideal for what the studio forecasted the film to be. Now, with the box office failure of The Dark Tower still fresh on everyone’s mind, Warner Bros. Picture (and New Line Cinema) and director Andy Muschietti presents another one of Stephen King’s beloved novels with the movie adaptation of IT. Does this latest page to screen film of King’s work stand tall and proud or does it follow the similar path that The Dark Tower went down?
In 1989, the sleepy town of Derry, Maine is experiencing a large number of children that have gone missing (believed to be murdered), though the locals don’t speak of the disappearance, despite the alarming rate of the missing individuals. With summer vacation beginning, Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), who’s part of group of kids called “The Losers Club”, with these bullied social rejects dealing with neglect and abuse, often at the hands of the town’s psychotic bully, Henry (Nicholas Hamilton) and his fellow teen thugs. The year before, Bill’s younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) suddenly vanished under mysterious circumstance. In truth, however, Georgie disappears after his deadly encounter with Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard), an enigmatic and supernatural monster entity who takes the form of a friendly, painted children’s entertainer to lure children into his grasp. Refusing to accept the blind truth of his brother’s disappearance and looking for answers, Bill teams with band of misfits, including abused Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), loudmouth Ritchie Tozier (Finn Woldhard), haunted Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), nervous Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), and new kid / historian Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor, to find out the truth, forced to confront their worst fears as they journey into Pennywise’s lair and disrupt the demonic clown’s efforts of extracting fear and feasting on children.
As I’ve stated above, there’s been so many adaptations of Stephen King’s works that it’s almost commonplace for one or two to come out every year or so. However, much like a lot of adaptations for the big (or small) screen, most of them only reach a mediocre / adequate status level, with a handful of exceptions that standout. Unfortunately, most of the ones that mentioned above (memorable and well-known Stephen King adaptations) were released many years ago, with not much to rave about of the current endeavors of late. A prime example of that is with the film The Dark Tower, which was very much anticipated by many (being in development for almost a decade by various directors), but was a flat-out dud of feature film. Despite the star power of having Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, the movie failed to impress on almost all level, with “bare-boned” narrative of King’s source material, clunky dialogue, and uninteresting presentation. Basically, it had great potential, especially since the movie derive from one of the King’s most beloved stories, but The Dark Tower was just a big disappointment.
With such negative criticism come from The Dark Tower, many were hoping that It would succeed where that film failed. To those who didn’t know, Stephen King’s It was original published 1986 and became one of the most famous books (besides The Dark Tower series) in King’s literary catalogue. Eventually, the story of It was adapted for the small screen, becoming a TV mini-series in 1990 and gained positive reviews, with many praising actor Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise. Fast-forward to 2009 as Warner Bros. Pictures was looking into making It into a feature film. As one could guess, the road to getting It filmed was a long, especially with the changing of directors and getting the project “officially” off the ground.
I remember hearing stuff about an IT movie being in development (over the years), but never really paid much attention it. As I’ve stated in several of my other reviews, I’m not really much a fan of horror movies (too scary for me). I don’t discredit the genre or anything like that, but it’s just not my personal cup of tea. I kept seeing the trailers for IT when I went to the movies for most of the summertime (especially when I saw a PG-13 or R-rated movie) and, after a while, I was somewhat vaguely intrigued to see it. The several images that were shown of Pennywise (creepy as hell) in this movie caught my attention and the story itself (after a little web browser searching) was intriguing. However, they were some, including myself, that it would be another Stephen King adaptation “dud”, especially after the end result with The Dark Tower. So, what did I think of this 2017 version of IT? Well, surprisingly…. I loved It. Despite me taking a personal shine to horror movies (or for the most part the genre itself), I was completely enthralled by this adaptation, which provided the right amount of terrifying imagery and emotional resonating with its context. In short, this 2017 version of IT was fantastic and horrifyingly entertaining.
Of course, working in a bookstore, I do remember seeing the Stephen King’s novel IT (many times over the years working there), but the book somewhat intimidated for being such a lengthy and thick book. Thus, I never read King’s It and I kind of went into the movie with a vague concept of the story (and what was shown during the film’s teaser and theatrical trailer). So, I really can’t compare the difference between the book and film. However, I did see the original 1990 TV mini-series (after seeing the 2017 version), so the difference between those two I might talk about below.
IT is directed by Andy Muschietti, whose previous directorial work includes the movie Mama. While he doesn’t have a long and illustrious directorial catalogue, Muschietti does exceptional work while directing (and crafting) this beloved Stephen King novel. Perhaps, in terms of storytelling / narrative structure, Muschietti makes his interpretation of IT feel like a creepy fantasy allerogy-ish (similar to his work on Mama) rather than just a “scary” film. While many horror movies of late have been mediocre endeavors and are mostly engineered (by design) to produce scare tactics (i.e. the classic jump scares), IT has the backing of King’s novel source material to create a more substantial narrative substance than its horror movie based genre competition. That’s not to say that IT’s dark moments are scary and / or disturbing, but Muschietti finds a right a balance between those disturbing imagery and working through King’s original story. Additionally, Muschietti utilizes the common (and almost universal) themes in IT, with some popping up from the original novel like troubled childhood woes and traumas, facing your fears, and standing up (united) in the face of evil.
Of course, this leads to the comparison of the two adaptations of IT (the 1990 TV miniseries and the 2017 version). While both have their own merits, and stand tall and proud, the 2017 version, in my opinion, is my favorite of the two. Granted, the miniseries was done for TV and originally aired in 1990, which is a far cry from television shows are allowed to show today (i.e. more graphic and mature content in comparison). This is in contrast to the 2017 film, which is allowed to be more explicit in its horror imagery of blood, Pennywise’s ghoulish appearances, and his nightmare-ish terrors from which (I heard) is in more in line with how King originally wrote them in his novel. The biggest difference between the two was that the 1990 miniseries, with a runtime of three hours long, was allowed to tell King’s IT story from start to finish, while the 2017 film version only tells half of IT’s narrative. This is sort of a double-edge sword when comparing this aspect as the positive outlook (for the 2017 version) means that it allows the feature film to “breathe” rather than trying to cram a lot of information (story, plot, characters, etc.) into its runtime, which is two hours and fifteen minutes long. This means that Muschietti and his screenplay writers (Chase Palmers, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman) are allowed to explore more of the lives of The Loser Clubs (when they were kids) as well as their various encounters and dealings with Pennywise in a more structure narration rather than small flashback sequences that the miniseries. The flip side to this is that the 2017 version is only tells half of the IT tale. For those who don’t know, the first half of IT is when The Loser Club are kids and the second half is when their adults. This means that the 2017 film version seems a bit incomplete when the end credits begin to role. There’s enough substance to make the ending of the film satisfying, but when I watched the movie (I knew nothing about the book or the miniseries), I felt a bit cheated that I have wait for a few years for the second half of the narrative, while the 1990 miniseries was able to tell the whole story. So, I like I said, it’s kind of a double-edge sword that both works as a positive and negative for the 2017 version. That was the only minor complaint I had about Muschietti’s IT.
Given the fact that the movie was only made for $35 million, Muschietti smartly uses his film budget when crafting IT, utilizing the best possible way to keep the feature within its somewhat low budget. More to the point, the movie never feels cheaply made. Sure, the movie doesn’t have a huge, A-lister stars cast (more on the cast below), but the movie never feels hokey and works within the parameters of its production budget; driving home the point that a feature film doesn’t need to have exorbitant film budget to be effectively good / great. One of the biggest challenges that Muschietti does when translating King’s novel to the big screen is updating the time period in which the adolescent teens of The Losers Club grew up from the 1950s to the 1980s. While this doesn’t alter the story that much, it is a changed the setting’s time period (meaning that the second movie will most likely take place in present day rather than in the 1980s). However, Muschietti, along with the film’s art direction Peter Grundy and production designer Claude Pare make the sleepy town of Derry, Maine quaint and believe, despite the sinister evil that lurks within. Also, the film’s editor Jason Ballantine and the movie’s cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung do great work in their respective roles with some nifty editing of sequences together as well as some sweeping camera angles and movements during the film’s quieter moments and horror-filled scenes. Lastly, composer Benjamin Wallfisch does a good job in creating the music for IT (definitely adds to the film’s tension-filled sequences).
As I said, the while the film was made on a budget, the cast of IT is, more or less, unknown actors / actresses, especially the younger cast. However, this doesn’t mean that the quality of their performances are diminished in anyway, with each cast member get their moment to shine and give great performances within their respective roles. Much like the original 1990 miniseries (and I assume in King’s novel), the characters of Bill Denbrough, Ben Hanscom, and Beverly Marsh are the main leads of the seven Losers’ members, finding Jaeden Lieberher (Masters of Sex and Midnight Special), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Ant-Man and 42), and Sophia Lillis (The Garden and 37) doing some memorable within these three characters, carrying a lot of the film’s plot on their shoulders. Beyond those three, probably the most memorable one of the seven Losers’ (in this 2017 version) is the character of Eddie Kaspbrak. Played by Jack Dylan Grazer (Scales: Mermaids are Real and Me, Myself, and I), the fast-talking Eddie has some of the best (and humorous lines) of the entire move, with Grazer perfectly capable of dishing them out with perfect timing. The other members, including Wyatt Oleff (Guardians of the Galaxy and Someone Marry Barry) as Stanley Uris, Chosen Jacobs (Hawaii Five-0 and Cops and Robbers) as Mike Hanlon, and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things and Supernatural) as Richard Tozier are not as highlight as much as the others, but they do get their moments in the spotlight here and there throughout the film. To be truthfully, these seven kid actors are fantastic in their roles, bringing to life these characters, while director Muschietti keeps the focus on them (showing this pre-teen group acting like kids) rather than just going full-throttle horror for most of the picture. Also, even though he’s only in it for a little bit, actor Jackson Robert Scott (Criminal Minds and Fear the Walking Dead)) does a good job as the young Georgie Denbrough.
This, of course, leads us to the main antagonist of the film, with the character of Pennywise the Dancing Clown terrorizing the Losers’ throughout the feature. Let’s be honest, clown can very scary to begin with (make-up and all and their goofy / exaggerate personas), so to make it a horror-based villain is definitely a creepy thing, especially one that is trying to kill children for its feeding. So, who plays the role of Pennywise, a character that has become a popular / iconic character for years in pop-culture, in this 2017 film? Well, Swedish actor Bill Skarsgard, son to actor Stellan Skarsgard and sibling to Alexander and Gustaf Skarsgard (as well as to three other Skarsgard brothers), plays the nightmare-ish character of Pennywise in Muschietti’s IT. Known for his roles in Atomic Blonde, Hemlock Grove, and Allegiant, Skarsgard definitely fits the part of the “Dancing Clown”, playing up its wild and unpredictable nature of the character as well as being hauntingly striking figure that will surely freak out anyone who has a phobia of clowns and a villainous supernatural one at that. Perhaps the best sequences with Skarsgard is found in his first appearance (the famous sewer drain scene) and the film’s climatic ending where the Losers Club faces off against the monstrous Pennywise. So how does Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise hold up against Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the 1990 miniseries. Well, while Curry’s performance is indeed a memorable one (he gets more screen-time than Skarsgard does), I would have to say that Skarsgard’s performance of Pennywise was definitely creepier and more memorable. Additionally, the make-up and costume for Pennywise was great, playing up the creep factor and adds to the disturbing imagery of Pennywise’s physically appearance (thanks to costume designer Janie Bryant). All in all, Skarsgard’s Pennywise is haunting, scary, and indeed a memorable horror villain. Also, in the villain category, actor Nicholas Hamilton (The Dark Tower and Captain Fantastic) plays the school town bully Henry Bowers, who terrorizes the Losers’ frequently. His maniac and unhinged tendencies make him just as deadly as Pennywise himself, which makes him a force to be reckoned, as Hamilton plays that up beautifully.
Read the Final Thoughts from jasonsmovieblog.com