When we reviewed IT back in September, we had a mixed bag of reviews. At the time I didn’t really have much more to add to what Dory, Shawn, and Nate had to say, finding my initial impressions touching on parts of each of their takes. With the film about to be released on home video this week, I got a chance to take another look at IT and, unfortunately, still came away more bored than scared.
But first, the good stuff. The cinematography is beautiful. Which should come as no surprise, as frequent Chan-wook Park collaborator, Chung-hoon Chung is the director of photography. The small town of Derry, Maine practically becomes a character in the film thanks to Chung’s eye. Both the set design and art direction are also stunning at times. The costuming is perfect, despite my initial misgivings at the new look for Pennywise.
Basically, this film looks amazing, and the Blu-ray transfer is flawless.
Also flawless is the casting and performances by all of the kids. Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff are every bit as good as the original cast from the 1990 miniseries. The standouts are, of course, the leads, Lieberher as Bill and Lillis as Beverly. They’re given the most heavy-lifting to do character-wise and both nail every level. The other kids do really good jobs, they’re just not given a whole lot to do.
I’m not too proud to admit that I wasn’t sure about Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise when I saw the pre-production press. The harlequin style of his clown costume was off-putting, and I really wasn’t sure what to think about his big bulbous head. I’m pretty sure kids would go running in terror from this version of the killer clown, rather than be drawn to him. Add to that Skarsgard’s creepy-ass grin, weird drifting eye, and gigantic lanky body, and this is a Pennywise that is a walking nightmare.
So, yeah, Skarsgard is freaking scary as Pennywise. He won me over. He is totally committed to the performance, so much so that he was even frightening to the kids on-set, staying isolated and giving everything to every scene – even doing most of his own stunts.
IT looks great and has a fantastic, multi-talented cast.
The script has some problems, though. The pacing overall is sketchy and relies on what is essentially the same scare scene replayed over and over without really providing any fresh angles or new takes. A kid is alone, something creepy is set up, then there’s a jump scare accompanied by either an extremely loud screeching noise or an extremely loud music cue. There are some character changes made in the adaptation, particularly with the role Mike plays in the story.
Originally, in the book and in the 1990 miniseries, Mike was the bookworm who figured out the history of the town and the threat of Pennywise, and then he eventually becomes the town’s librarian in Part Two. Here, he’s home-schooled, doesn’t live in town, and has a future killing sheep to look forward to (actually, according to the director, he becomes a drug addict in Part Two). I’m sure the fact that he’s the only black character didn’t have anything to do with the changes.
There’s also a tendency to go over-the-top with the effects to the point of absurdity, turning scenes that were genuinely disturbing in the original miniseries into splatterstick comedy. I already mentioned the reliance on jump scares and loud noises to startle the audience rather than relying on the very impressive settings and moods to provide real scares. We also lose some of the more mythological elements from the original as well as the celebration of the power of imagination when it comes to combating It in the finale.
It’s a more mundane ending, which is disappointing, but at least there’s no giant spider puppet.
All in all, director Andy Muschietti put together a decent, if forgettable, horror film that captured the recent zeitgeist of 80s nostalgia, scary clowns, and Stephen King’s resurgence in a way that reintroduces this story to a new generation trained to think loud noises and jump scares are real horror.
Pennywise Lives! – This feature focuses on Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, from the casting (he showed up in clown makeup) to the costuming, to the actual physicality of his performance. There are plenty of anecdotes about the shoot and tons of praise for Skarsgard. What really comes through here is the energy and enthusiasm that everybody had for making this film, especially Skarsgard and the kids.
The Loser’s Club – Speaking of which, this feature is all about the kids. Muschietti got them together before shooting to work together on establishing trust and get to know each other. By the time shooting started, they were all best friends – if this is to be believed. The cynic in me wants to say that this is a promotional piece and it’s all about putting on a good face, but dammit, these kids really do seem to be best friends in all the behind-the-scenes footage. They’re goofing around, laughing, supporting one another, and generally a joy to watch.
Author of Fear – This is an interview with Stephen King about the writing of IT. As with the other features, this one is fun and lively. There’s no discussion of the book’s orgy scene, but that’s probably for the best.
Deleted Scenes – These start off with an alternate first encounter of Georgie and Pennywise that is played for laughs, then the rest of the clips are your standard deleted scenes. Most don’t add much to the film or were simply cut for time, although there is one scene that I thought could have been included. In it we see the gruesome fate of teen psychopath Henry Bowers’ friends. I suppose it was cut to make his appearance more of a shock, but a brief shot of his car was left in, so we know he’s out there.
I don’t know. I liked it and would have left it in.