IT (2017) – A Review
I’m going to start with my immediate reaction to the movie, literally as I walk out of the theater. This was possibly one of my favorite adaptations of a full-length Stephen King novel. Any time you are dealing with Stephen King’s style of storytelling in particular and considering the extreme length of many of his books there is often quite a bit lost in translation when it makes the full transition to the screen. But in this case, while there certainly were plenty of changes made to the story, I thought they really nailed the heart of the book and brought IT to life.
Before I get into that I did want to acknowledge that the film isn’t perfect by any means, and there were some minor issues that I thought could have been improved upon. But for the most part these are superficial problems and in no way did I ever feel like my enjoyment of the film was reduced.
One issue which I have seen raised by other viewers that I tend to agree with is the somewhat perplexing decision to make Ben the historian of the group and the expert about the history of Derry. In the book, this was always Mike’s role in the group so I found it a little odd that they chose to do this differently. In a weird way, it was almost like they were trying to combine aspects of Ben and Mike’s personalities into one character, which is fine but then you still have Mike present in the group. As a result of this, despite the fact that he has some scenes of his own, I felt like Mike became somewhat irrelevant as he didn’t really seem to have a role to play. In the book, all of the losers have their own strengths and perspectives that they bring to this. But in this case, it often just seemed like Mike was just sort of there.
And for as good a job as the film did with the kids, I thought they could have done a little bit better with the bullies, who I think are an essential counterpoint to the emotional weight of the losers club. If there was any one area I would pick in which I thought the original miniseries surpassed this film, it would be in the portrayal of Henry Bowers who I thought comes across as much more of a frightening and developed character than he does here. It was almost like the producers couldn’t decide if they wanted Henry to be sympathetic or not and for the most part, the bullies just kind of seem to flit around the edges of the story, never really gone but never really present either. The kids were clearly scared of them but also didn’t seem to take them that seriously.
I will say that I did appreciate that the movie held a little bit more true to some of the actions that Henry takes in the book. I especially appreciated how they demonstrated Henry being manipulated by the monster towards the end of the film as Pennywise seeks a sort of ally to go after the kids on his behalf.
The last issue I had was regarding the pacing of the film at the beginning. Following an incredibly gripping opening sequence with Georgie, I thought the film sort of hit an awkward skid as most of the kids were suddenly introduced all at once. There is a bit of a jumble of walking and talking through the school hallways with all of the characters involved and I kind of wish I had had a better sense of their individual personalities. Mike is really the only one that gets a dedicated sequence introducing him while Beverly and Ben get somewhat more of set up as well. Richie, Eddie and Stan get kind of muddled together for me in a sequence that feels somewhat clunky when held against the rest of the film.
Ultimately, I thought the opening of the film could have been stronger, had the introductions of the characters been a little more staggered. But of course, I’m saying this fully aware of the fact that this is a pretty long movie so making time for something like that is easier said than done.
So how about the things I thought the film completely nailed.
To top off, I thought the kids were outstanding in their various roles. As I said, it took me a little longer to click with some of them but once they hit their strides I thought it was excellent. And kudos to the writing that despite being set in a different era than the book, they still managed to exude the essential spirit of those characters. In particular, while the impressions and voices weren’t as present, I thought the actor playing Richie did a really good job hitting that irreverent, smart-ass tone that I loved from the book. I thought Richie was going to be the hardest character to re-adapt to a new decade as he seemed the most rooted in the pop culture of the fifties. Richie felt completely at place in the eighties.
Beverly was probably my favorite of the group. I loved that while everyone still defers to Bill somewhat, she was clearly the bad ass that was driving the soul of that club. I thought it was an interesting choice in the way her character seemed to be sexualized more than in the book or previous film. And I don’t mean that in a crass way, but that her growth as a woman seemed to both drive her further away from her other classmates while also drawing her closer to the rest of the Loser’s Club.
I also wanted to make sure I offered up some honerable mentions for several of the adults. Joe Bostick as Mr. Keene, the pharmacist was phenomenal. The big scene he has in the book with Eddie isn’t as present but he has a scene with Beverly that is so creepy and uncomfortable, he manages to steal a rare moment from Sophia Lillis.
Also, Mollie Atkinson was stunning as Eddie’s mother. I already knew the dynamic between those characters from the book but she somehow managed to communicate all of that in just a few scenes and a handful of lines. On one hand, she was just a socially awkward mom who didn’t realize how much she was embarrassing her son. But then she also came across as dangerous and menacing. And underneath all of that she somehow managed to seem scared for her son.
I loved the mini-sequences with all the kids building up to their shared realization of the monster’s existence. The opening of the film was spectacular and brutal to watch. Ben in the library was great as was Eddie’s run-in with the leper. Beverly was the only other one who had a scene similar to what was in the book, the infamous bathroom sink scene. I’ve got to say, they took this to a whole new level. The whole scene ended up being almost an homage to Carrie, it was great.
And of course, I can’t go without mentioning the phenomenal performance of Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. He walked away from this movie with a truly legendary performance, having been gifted with very large, Tim Curry sized shoes to fill. He delivered the perfect balance of menace and craziness and lurking power under the surface. Some of the scenes involving him were truly terrifying. The effects technology is obviously superior here but I believe his masterful performance was the main driving force.
And I think this is a good time to discuss the phenomenon of online criticism of movies before they are even released. There was a fair amount of grumbling, especially when the costume stills were released and we started to see trailers, that Pennywise looked too scary and that the clown should be used to trick and entice kids. Also, the costume was all wrong and not correct for the period.
My issue from the start was that you can’t really judge stuff like that after a handful of two-dimensional pictures or some clips from a teaser. Those trailers are meant to draw in an audience so it likely will have a slightly different feel to it. Just wait, check out the complete movie with its proper context. It would be like having an artist show you a postage stamp sized portion of their panting and reacting with, “Well, that’s going to suck.” I’ve never understood the practice of going into hyper-critical mode, based on so little actual material. This film is a perfect demonstration of why it’s important to be patient and wait for the final product.
It’s looking like we won’t be seeing the second film until 2019 since, as of yet there has been no news of even a script being developed, let alone a cast. I know some are disappointed by this but I for one will be happy to wait longer for a film that is as good as part one. Rushed timelines rarely make for good movies.
And for now, chances are pretty good I will end up reading the book again between now and then. Because I love it that much.
For now, adios, friends. We all float.