“… not a bad movie, but it does make me realize that we’ll probably never get a good adaptation of the original Stephen King story.”
So it all comes down to this: last night, after reading the book and watching the old miniseries, I finally got to see the new It movie.
Since this review is going to be a kind of continuation of my thoughts on the other two versions of the story, it will be full of spoilers for the new film (and the old works as well).
With that out of the way, I guess there is no reason to give you a rundown of the plot because I did all of that last time. So let’s jump into this.
It (the new movie) is essentially a complete rewrite of the original story. This, while a little sad for me, is understandable. It is a story that is beloved by many, and as the 1990’s miniseries showed it’s not that easy to create a faithful adaptation that also pleases fans. So what the new film did was take the characters that we know and love, thrust them into a different time period (the 80’s), and change pretty much everything else about the story. With that in mind I’m not going to really compare the new film to the original book, or even the miniseries. When I say that it is different, I’m not exaggerating in any way; for me to go over all of the changes and discuss them would take a very long time. What I will do (as I always do) is talk about what I liked and didn’t like about the film. First of all, with these rewrites came some story issues that I wasn’t a fan of. To be more specific, the beginning of the film felt more like a series of loosely connected horror short films than it did one continuous story. You had Mike seeing burnt hands, Ben hanging out in the library, Bev and her bloody bathroom, Eddie and his (non-sexual) leper, and Bill with some visions of his brother. I understand that at its core, this is essentially the same way the book was structured. Each character has an encounter with It, then they come together and discuss. The difference is that the book laid this out in a way that actually had a story about being kids weaved into these glimpses of the true horror of Derry. Why did we hear about Eddie’s leper? Because the group was hanging out and talking about weird shit that’s going on. Where as in the film it just kind of happened. I understand that this isn’t a very strong argument, but that is going to be a recurring theme in this review. I have very strong opinions about this film, but the problem is that getting them into words is proving difficult. Anyway the way the story was structured (especially for the first half of the film) felt very disjointed, and it really fucked with the pacing. An hour into It, I felt like I had aged a year since I had first walked into the theatre.
Now I know that I said I wasn’t going to talk about changes, but I will talk about differences in the things that weren’t changed; namely the characters. Now It, being only two hours long, had to condense a lot of the story that was presented in the original book. And with this comes some changes to the characters that we all know and love; and some of these changes were really puzzling to me. First of all, Eddie barely used his aspirator. I know it sounds like a small thing to pick up on, but in the original story that was a huge part of his character. In the movie he even goes so far as to toss it away right before the big fight, as if it means nothing to him. This reduced his character to an almost vague “kid” character, who would blend in with everyone else had he not been given a name. Another puzzling change was to make Beverly a rebellious, “cool girl” who got bullied but was always able to return a quick comeback that won over the audience. This is one of the strangest changes that I found because it is almost the complete opposite of her character. Bev is supposed to be timid and reserved, only coming out of her shell when she is with the rest of the Loser’s Club. And what was with changing Bev’s dad from an abuser to a (suspected) pedophile? It’s just another change that seems so fucking out of place. Is there a statistic I’m missing that says by the 80’s parents stopped hitting their children and started molesting them instead? And much like in the miniseries, Stan was made into a hardcore jew. This is still strange to me, but if you want to here me complain about this point go and read my thoughts on the 1990 miniseries. One of the biggest sins in the film was the shift of focus away from Ben and Mike. These two characters, who are fucking great in the book, barely got their time on the screen. Sure they were there, but much like Eddie they were changed into such generic characters that you wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a lineup. The same thing happened to Bill, but to a lesser extent. Bill was a great character, but some of his depth was lost and at times he became the “generic leader”. Like I said this is a lesser change, but it was still something I noticed. The best part of this film in terms of character was Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier. They fucking nailed the character of Richie, making him both the funniest and most annoying thing on screen at all times. The only things that were changed with Richie were the content of some of his jokes, in the film skewing to a more adult sense of humour. I don’t think this was pandering from the writer, I think this falls more in line with time period in which the film was set. In the 50’s calling someone “banana heels” when they slipped was considered hilarious, but in the 80’s it was more fitting to make jokes about banging your friend’s mom. As time goes on things get more risqué in terms of comedy, and the character of Richie Tozier reflected that wonderfully.
Moving on from characters, I think it is fitting that we move right into the performances in the film. Building off of my praise for Trashmouth, Finn Wolfhard knocked it out of the park playing Richie. Obviously a lot of his character was the writing, but without Wolfhard’s performance I wouldn’t have been able to praise the character so highly. Moving on I found both Bill, played by Jaeden Lieberher, and Bev, played by Sophia Lillis, to be great as well. When the character was allowed to actually shine through, Lieberher knocked it out of the park as Stutterin’ Bill. His reluctance, as well as his heroism was felt at every major decision. Lillis also did a great job as Beverly, despite the character changes that I wasn’t a fan of. On screen the two (Bill and Bev) were kind of the focus of the film and their chemistry was great. Jack Dylan Grazer did great job as Eddie, but once again the character changes weren’t the best in my opinion. That being said he made the character his own, and was one of the better parts of the film. As for Ben and Mike (played by Jeremy Ray Taylor and Chosen Jacobs respectfully), I would love to able to praise them but they were barely in the movie. I’m not talking about actually being there, but their presence was very lacking. I don’t blame this on their performances, I think this is more of a writing issue. Now let’s get onto the main event, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Now something I’ve been hearing over and over again recently is that Bill Skarsgård not only nailed the role of Pennywise, but he rivalled Tim Curry’s iconic performance in the 1990 miniseries. Now I don’t agree that he was better than Curry, but I do agree that he did a phenomenal job. Once again we have to remember that the story was changed drastically for the movie, so this is partially a different character than the one we are familiar with. Pennywise in this film is a lot more cartoony than I was expecting. In the book (and the miniseries) he had jokes, which were also in this film, but apart form that things were pretty sinister. That’s not the case in the film however, because there is heavy reliance on the absurd; most of this coming from Pennywise himself. One thing I will criticize Skarsgård on was the sound of Pennywise, I found the character to be rather hard to hear at times which was a combination of both his accent and the fact that he delivered all of his lines in a harsh whisper. But apart from that, I would say that it is a pretty fucking good interpretation of the character.
To continue this thread, let’s move on to the feel of the movie. Much like that character of Pennywise, It had a very unique feel to it. This manifested itself in many ways, but since we’re already on the topic let’s continue talking about Pennywise. Instead of leaving things to your imagination, It opts to show you everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Now this is either good or bad depending on who you ask, but I’m not going to take sides just yet. Instead I’m going to talk about how this changed the feel of the film. Things like Georgie getting his arm ripped off, which was terrifying in the book, kind of lost its magic to me because the film showed too much. Instead of keeping things to our imagination, we got to see Pennywise open his jaw, and then bite Georgie’s arm off. This is where things get strange for me because although I knew the scene was scary, I couldn’t help but laugh at how fucking ridiculous Pennywise’s face looked as he bit down. The con of showing everything is that your interpretation of a scene might not scare every single person. You may be terrified of a weird alien mouth opening and biting a kid’s arm, but I’m not. And this is a big theme in this movie. The filmmaker leaned into what he is scared of, and I give him props for that, but it didn’t always work for me. On the upside this made the movie less generic, but that is beside the point. It has so many more strange scenes like the one I described, but to go over them all would take too long. If you get anything out of what I’m saying, let it be this: It relied heavily on making you uncomfortable. Not necessarily fear (though fear was a part of it), but if you squirmed in your seat than the film felt it did a good job. And it’s not only the CGI and character that accentuated this feeling of weird, but also the direction. Dutch angles, snorricam rigs, stabilized video; It features many strange filmmaking techniques that aim to make you uncomfortable. And while this did stick out to me as strange, it accomplished its goal. I also really liked the character designs in the film, but once again they leaned toward the absurd. I can’t harp on this point enough as it seems: It wanted to make you uncomfortable. There were scares in the movie, but none that last. The book managed to make me scared to go into my bathroom, but nothing like that has come out of the film. What did stick with me was the feeling of being thoroughly creeped out. One thing It did nail was the comedy that the original book had, because it was hilarious. Both the interactions between the kids in the film, and some of Pennywise’s antics had me laughing hysterically. And just quickly: why the fuck was there another fucking montage in the movie? How do people not understand that a fucking montage with fucking upbeat music will throw the tone of your film off completely, and make the audience confused. Fuck.
Overall It was a pretty enjoyable experience. It is nothing like the book, so don’t go in expecting that, but some similarities still hold true. The beginning is a fucking wash because the story is all over the place (ironically, having read the book helped me figure out what I was watching), but the second half of the film picks up substantially. The film features great (though a little cartoony) CGI, wonderful performances, and scares that hit hard but don’t really last. It is not a bad movie, but it does make me realize that we’ll probably never get a good adaptation of the original Stephen King story.
I give It a B