(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the blu-ray I reviewed in this article. The opinions I share are my own)
I’ve never liked it when filmmakers deviate from the source material, be it novel or short story, when they’re making movies with that kind of lineage, but it bothers me more nowadays because I feel they’re deliberately deviating to give audiences something new, or for whatever reason, any of which sounds like a cop out. I’ve always been under the impression when filmmakers do this they’re true motives is that they think they can do one better than the author himself. Personally, when I see a movie based on a book, or short story, I’ve read and loved, I want to see that adaptation be as close as possible. I understand there has to be some type of deviation because words aren’t movies, and some things can’t be translated, but I wish they’d make a concerted effort to get as close to the book as humanly possible. I can’t remember a lot of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, IT, but what I did retain I didn’t see in the movie, as I understand it there are a lot of other changes too, giving me the impression this could be considered a loose adaptation. With that said, I loved this film, and mostly for these two thing, it, at least, felt very “Stephen King,” and, second, it genuinely gave me the creeps, which is hard to do to me nowadays. Just about every form It took to terrorize the boys gave me the willies, which showed the filmmakers involved understood the “horror” of the novel, and how to present it accordingly to moviegoers.
I think my mother bought me the novel for either a birthday or Christmas; I was in high school at the time, and had never read anything as long as that. I don’t even think there had been a novel running thousands of pages long before then either. I read a small portion of it before putting down for six months. When I picked it up again I decided to pick up the story somewhere in the middle and that’s what I did, and you know what, it all made sense to me. That’s when I figured there was a lot “fluff” in the novel, stuff that sounds great, but, perhaps, not so integral to the whole. All I can remember now though is Georgie being killed in the beginning; a scene where someone opened up an abandoned refrigerator in this junkyard (or was it The Barrens?), and these leech-like creatures attacked him, and killed him, and all that was left was an eyeball, or something like that; Beverly having sex with the other kids; the ending in the lair when the kids are adults and the perception of It in its natural form being similar to a giant spider because that’s all their human minds were capable of perceiving it as, even though that’s not what it really looked like; something weird involving a celestial turtle entity, and, I think, that’s about it.
The now infamous and fictional town of Derry, Maine, has a problem unique to it, it’s become the home of a shape-shifting entity that awakens every twenty-seven years to feed, spending a year making the residents of Derry disappear. Like most “beings” it has a favorite food, that being children and teenagers, though it’ll pretty much eat anyone. I’ve often wondered what kind of town Derry would have been had this thing not shacked up in it, for its presence is felt by the young, the old and everyone in between, pretty much altering how the residents go about their daily routine whether they know it or not. The disappearance of the young here is six times higher than the national average, and I always had the impression adults turn a blind eye to it. The entity gets a kick out of terrorizing its prey before killing and devouring it and its primary M.O. is to take the shape of something the prey fears “tenderizing the meat” accordingly. But it can pretty much mimic anything it wants to achieve this directive. Its favorite form is something it calls “Pennywise, The Dancing Clown.” Makes sense, if you’re main food supply are kids. It’s the perfect lure. It can also “influence” those who are “morally corrupt” pushing them into any number of crimes it sees fit. This thing has been living in Derry at least as far back as the seventeen hundreds, so, yeah, its lifespan is far greater than an average human’s too.
Its lair is underground in the town’s sewers, but according to the movie it may have digs even deeper than that as far as I could see during the final confrontation. I can’t remember anything about that from the novel though, but in the movie it was a well, over which a house was eventually built that doubles as the entrance. And kudos to the filmmakers for making that house on Neibolt street rival The Marsten House in Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of Salem’s Lot (1979), in looking uber-creepy, unsettling, and reaching an impressive 13 on the the fright scale.
Even if you’re only remotely familiar with the book, the first change is noticeable. The novel bounced between two time frames, the late ’50s and the mid ’80s. The 50s being when the main characters were kids and their first encounter with It, the 80s being when they were grown-ups and the second (and final) encounter with It. In Director Andy Muschietti’s theatrical take the time frames have been moved up with the kid’s taking on the creature in the late 80s (1988 and 1989, to be exact), and the second film going to take place in, I suspect, 2014/2015. I’m all right with that change, honestly. As I watched six-year-old Georgie Denbrough’s impending death I wondered how much they were going to show. In the novel, as Georgie takes his paper sailboat for a ride this one rainy day along the curb, he loses it in a storm drain. Pennywise appears in the drain and lures Georgie into reaching for the boat. Once his arm is in far enough, Pennywise rips it off, but does not feed on him. All he wanted to do was a cold blooded murder, letting the kid’s body be found in a gutter. It’s not often you see a mainstream Hollywood movie kill a kid, but by God that’s what they did here. Georgie’s arm is torn off, and he tries to crawl away, visibly showing us all, yes, his arm was really torn off, and blood is flowing everywhere, but in this version Pennywise reaches out and takes the kid away with him, leaving his big brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), and his family to wonder. Cut to a year later, Georgie is still considered missing, and it’s obvious Bill is in denial, but he comes to grip with his brother’s death right after they defeat Pennywise and he finds Georgie’s raincoat half buried in the mud in its lair.
The movie focuses on “The Loser’s Club,” which starting off consists of Bill, Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff). As the movie unfolds they add Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) isn’t their only nemesis either, Derry has a group of bullies, and in Derry bullies tend to lean towards the psychopathic: Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague), Vic Criss (Logan Thompson) and “Belch” Huggins (Jake Sim). This group is led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton).
The only parents we’re introduced to are Bill’s, Eddie’s, Mike’s, Beverly’s and Henry’s. None of them are pleasant to be around, in the case of Bill’s and Mike’s they’re angry but mean well. In the case of the other’s there is clear abuse going on, with Bev’s father looking to be a sexual predator, and we can see where Henry’s psychopathy comes from after meeting his police officer father. But it goes to show you how palpable this creature’s influence is among the “morally weak.”
After doing some “internet research” it appears some of the forms It uses to terrorize the kids in this movie are different than what King wrote. The ones that seem to be the same include using Georgie’s form to lure and terrorize Bill; the leper that attacks Eddie near the house on Neibolt Street; and the blood flooding Bev’s bathroom sink, though in the movie it gushes out so much the walls and floor are covered. I don’t know if it went that far in the novel or not. The “new forms” are a multitude of burnt hands trying to claw their way out from behind a door to haunt Mike because his parents died in a house fire he was also trapped in, and a painting of this warped woman’s face that always creeps Stan out; it brings that visage to life. The spider form it’s perceived as in the book, at least in this Chapter One, has been changed as well, which was a big disappointment when I first heard the filmmakers didn’t want to go that far with It’s “shape-shifting.” Though once the kids are inside the Niebolt house there are obvious call backs to its arachnid-shape in the form of an extraordinary amount of cobwebs strewn everywhere. And at a thickness and size that seems to be almost unreal. I’ve never been in a house that decrepit, but if I had I would have to wonder what giant spider was shacking up here. Nice touch, though. And there’s a headless, burnt form It uses to scare the shit out of Ben at the library. All these forms were extremely creepy and for this forty-nine year old reviewer somewhat unsettling. So, I can just imagine how actually terrifying they probably are to anyone a lot younger than me, like, say, in their teens, or even younger. It made me wish I was a kid experiencing this movie, I would have pissed myself silly. That’s the best time to make a “memory movie.”
All the spider-effects have been purged from It’s lair in the sewer too, but I can’t remember how spidery King made it in the novel. I remember the 1990 mini-series making it look like an obvious arachnid lair with various bodies webbed up. None of that is here in this flick, but that doesn’t mean the filmmakers didn’t manage to come up with a suitable alternate motif that would be equally creepy, if not more so. There’s a giant head of Pennywise made up of junk, shit and dirt that stretches , like, a hundred feet straight up and around it floats all the bodies of the kids it’s taken. Most of them looked like to be in one piece, which means they’re probably food yet to be eaten. Once he’s “killed” these bodies start to float down to the ground. It’s an impressive and weird sight.
With their actual fight with Pennywise, the thing shape-shifts it’s arms into two appendages that look like carbon copies of the lethal jackknives a praying mantis uses for capturing prey, which brings me to the effects in general. I personally thought all the effects worked, even the CGI.
Another change from the book I noticed is the seeming death of Henry Bowers, who Mike eventually shoves down the well. In the book he lives and It uses him as an adult to go after the Losers, but I have to point out the movie never shows Bower’s body, so he could still end up playing that destined role in Chapter Two.
Now I must say something about Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. Before this movie I had never heard of the actor, and the only thing I can compare his performance against is Tim Curry’s version in the TV mini-series. I liked Curry’s version, but I think Skarsgard’s was more impressive, and what I mean by that is he made a creepier Pennywise. I’m in the middle of revisiting the mini-series at the moment, so I won’t know for sure how he stacks up to Curry for a few more days, but from what I’ve seen so far he, at least, didn’t do anything less than what Curry did. For millennials, and their kids, Skarsgard will probably go down in history as their most terrifying version of Pennywise, but as a Gen-X’r I think I’m going to second that.
I’m still perplexed why Warner Brothers never seems to consider doing a limited series of King’s immense novel. I don’t know, maybe they did. I never understood why they think a 2-part movie will suffice. Of course I never in a million years thought they’d do a remake, much less a big-budget theatrical one, but wouldn’t you think a limited series (season one based on the kids, season two based on the grown-ups) would be better at representing the source material? Anyway, right now I’m inclined to like this R-rated version better than the TV one, despite the many, many deviations it makes. And I’m looking forward to Chapter Two in September 2019. I’m hoping the filmmakers change their mind and go with some kind of creepy ass spider-form.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.40:1 high definition widescreen—English Dolby Atmos, 7.1 English Dolby TrueHD, 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 French (Canada) Dolby Digital, 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital, 5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital, 5.1
English: Dolby Digital—English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish subs
Extras included . . .
- Pennywise Lives! (16:25)
- The Losers’ Club (15:41)
- Author of Fear (13:51)
- Deleted Scenes (11 scenes/total runtime: 15:18)
- Sc. 10 “Georgie catches boat” (aka opening gag scene)
- Sc. 25 “Stanley’s dad corrects him” (extended scene)
- Sc. 64 “Denbrough family dinner’
- Sc. 74-77 “Bills dad looks in the basement, et all”
- Sc Sc 98 “Outside the Neibolt house”
- Sc. 104 “Evacuating the Neibolt house” (extended scene)
- Sc. 108 “Stanley’s Bar Mitzvah speech”
- Sc. 115 “Eddie at Keene’s pharmacy” (extended scene)
- Sc. 132 “Henry and bullies outside” (extended scene)
- Sc. 137 “The Losers find Georgie’s walkie”
- Sc. 160 “Denbrough family vacation”
I found the interview with Stephen King to be highly educational; Skarsgard’s Pennywise Lives! is damn good too for those not familiar with the actor; the Loser’s Club extra just made me yearn all over again for my childhood.
According to the director on Instagram he says there’ll be a longer cut coming on disc in a few months. I’ve heard it will have all the cut scenes listed above along with some others not revealed. I’m hoping this is true. I’ve heard other directors mention there’ll be longer cuts coming of their movies (i.e. the remakes of Piranha and Evil Dead. The latter of which took years before an extended cut happened and even then it’s only available here in the US on digital) in years past, so, for right now I’m going to take that news with a grain of salt.