|Stupid kid. Don't you know that there's an ancient extra-terrestrial creature with a child fear fetish, who drags in clown gear down there?|
"It's Summer! We're supposed to be having fun!"
My first introduction to Stephen King's It came in the form of an intriguing book cover. As a nine year old boy (1986-87), my interest was instantly grabbed when first seeing my Mother's hardback copy with the illustration of a paper sailboat next to a sewer grate, and those green claws coming up through them. But because there were no following pictures (just eleven hundred pages of boring words), I soon lost interest and went back to doing whatever nine year olds do. I eventually read the (disturbing yet excellent) novel much later on, yet before that I had only that book cover and the two-part 1990 miniseries on the ABC network to go off of. I also always picture the actors from that miniseries in my head when reading or thinking about the book. From a young perspective, the TV movie was a decent version that left a nostalgic sense of fondness that led into my adulthood. However time has not been very kind to that film. The music is dated and cheesy, the horror is watered down and safe, and the whole thing now feels like a schoolhouse play. There are some saving graces like Harry Anderson (Night Court) as grown up Richie, Jonathan Brandis (Sidekicks) as a young Bill, and of course Tim Curry's (Legend) always fun performance as Pennywise ("Kiss me, fat boy!"). When looking back, I find myself enduring the film's mediocre parts just to get to Curry's scenes that are scattered throughout. And in true honesty, that makes the whole thing still worth it.
|simple yet effective|
What I noticed about this first part of the planned two-parter, is that Pennywise (It) is merely an added bonus, and that this film successfully separates itself from the miniseries by purposely not relying on copying that previous series's most memorable moments. Instead, those moments here look fresh and stand on their own. I never found myself comparing both films to each other while watching this one (which I have a habit of doing). What's also apparent, is how much respect and effort went into telling this story. Warner Brothers may not have the best track record lately when it comes to honoring source material (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Clash of the Titans 2010, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), but when they (studio execs) get out of the way of themselves and let those properties get handled by capable directors who hate to tamper with a winning formula, the results can be awesome (The Harry Potter series, The Dark Knight trilogy). It: Chapter One is a success story because of the many hurdles that it took to get here, and because of how well this finished product turns out.
The changing of the timeline from the book to the movie (late 1950's to late 1980's) works well in the confines of the story's setting. Nearly everything that gets changed or omitted from the novel, gets some reasonable form of update or nod of acknowledgment. The horror element is shrouded over the entire length of It: Chapter One, often by a combination of music, camera angles, character performances, and good old fashioned scare tactics. There are more than a few jump scares that might have played off as cheap in some other movies, while here there seems to be an actual purpose for them. Every location and every set has the evidence of the detailed interest that went into making this, which feels like this secluded world is imaginable. And boy, the imagery; The imagery of Pennywise doing the things that were watered down, or never shown in the miniseries, is here in uninhibited glory. With a little help from expert makeup and visual effects, of course.
Since I'm not somebody who scares easily, my focus wasn't on the actual scare factor of the film. Instead, I focused on the presentation of those scares and how well the characters played in and out of them. Even though this is a "scary" movie, It: Chapter One is actually a movie about the struggles of being young in a world that doesn't seem to care. The alienation between the kids and adults in this is tangible. Every single adult is purposely distanced from the children, by either being a creepy pervert or emotionally damaged. There's not much wiggle room between the two. Outside of The Loser's Club, even other children shun these characters like they're irreparably faulty. These kids are on their own and the film makes sure that you notice that as well. Regardless if you're somebody who is easily offended and/or is a religious zealot, you still have to acknowledge that most normal kids talk dirty and swear. These kids are no exception to that, and their performances are more honest because of it. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) as young Richie, works off of those bits of honesty to become the film's funniest and most refreshing character. The rest of The Loser's Club is a bit more restrained, yet each effective in their own ways. Like the secondary crew members on a Star Trek show, there's only two others in the group that get the most attention. Jaden Lieberher (St. Vincent) strongly portrays young Bill as a kid who tries to come to terms with his little brother's disappearance. And the relatively newcomer Sophia Lillis, has the composure and screen presence of a full grown actress as a young Beverly. The young versions of Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor, Ant-Man), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer, Tales of Halloween), Mike (Chosen Jacobs, Cops and Robbers), and Stan (Wyatt Oleff, Guardians of the Galaxy), each get some of their own portions too. Just not to the degree as the others. The group's dynamic works so well, that you might be reminded of Stephen King's other tale "The Body" (Stand by Me). Similar to how different Heath Ledger captured the Joker in The Dark Knight compared to Jack Nicholson's in Tim Burton's Batman, Bill Skarsgard (Hemlock Grove) flips Tim Curry's version of Pennywise over and gives a less playful performance. His evil clown has dead eyes and plays with Its "food" in a much creepier way. This creature is so interesting, that It deserves Its own spin off. Just as long as Skarsgard's the one doing It.
|Why so down, everybody?|
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of, It: Chapter One
The Good- Poor little Georgie being used to taunt Bill, New Kids on the Block jokes between Ben and Bevvie, Richie's "WTF!?" at the quarry, "Rock Wars!", Pennywise's taunts, and the "final" battle.
The Bad- Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton, The Dark Tower) and his gang of sadistic bullies, were never given their proper amount of time to wreak as much havoc as the did in previous incarnations. Their appearances here are almost like afterthoughts to the whole thing.
The Ugly- Imagining what original director Cary Fukunaga's (Beasts of No Nation) version of this film would have looked like if he had stayed on the project. For whatever reason that still defies rational thought, his script for It was to have some character's combined and/or have their names pointlessly changed, omissions of major events from the novel, and changing some other events into completely different things. Why Cary, why? Some things are better left alone.
Final ThoughtsDirector Andy Muschietti (Mama) came aboard and fought to have this film resemble the book more than the average studio "yes man" would ever do. Because of that, we (the fans) are given a worthy cinematic companion piece to King's classic, that will have strong staying power over the years. And that's only Chapter One! I truly hope that this franchise stays afloat by having Muschietti return and stick to his guns about doing It right. You have to see this in the theaters, and I strongly suggest that you brush up on your It knowledge before doing so if you haven't already. Now let's pray that the second part won't take twenty seven damn years to get here.
Rating- 8 out of 10
R | 2h 15min | Adventure, Drama, Horror | 8 September 2017 (USA)
A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of clown, begins hunting children.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Writers: Chase Palmer (screenplay), Cary Fukunaga (screenplay) | 2 more credits
Stars: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard