Movies inspired by Stephen King’s fiction are more apt to be called “adaptations” than most other based-on-a-bestseller works. Love ‘em or hate ‘em it’s generally agreed that King’s books contain elements that can’t be accurately conveyed on film or shouldn’t be attempted. 2017 has brought us two such extremes in King-Flicks. “The Dark Tower” approached this problem by reducing his magnum opus to a dreadfully generic film that appealed to no one. Now, a few months later, “IT” takes a more intuitive approach, mining the 1,1100 page novel for its core themes and crafting a story arc that is much more streamlined.
The surprisingly brisk 2 hour and 15-minute runtime abandons the adult story arc, instead focusing entirely on the children over the summer of 1989. While there are arguments to be made for and against this choice, within the structure of a standalone film it makes sense. Trying to cover all of the story, lore, and interwoven plot lines in a single film would have weakened the emotional build-up between the characters, which is the very essence they required to defeat the monster in their youth. This choice to focus solely on the characters in their adolescence creates a very different narrative texture which differentiates itself from both the book and TV miniseries, instead placing it closer to “Stand by Me” or an even a less whimsical “Goonies.”
Regardless of the structure choices made, it takes a special cast to pull off a story like this, and here “IT” undoubtedly shines. Bill Skarsgård may not have been the first name that came to mind when cast as Pennywise, but similar to Heath Ledger, he disappears behind the facepaint and a truly chilling clown takes his place. Skarsgård’s version of the hellish harlequin is uniquely his, haunting in his own unsettling mannerisms. He invokes memories of Tim Curry’s infamous performance, while never attempting to mimic it. The youth cast that makes up the “Losers Club” are truly exceptional. Each and every one of them shine brightly, with Sophia Lillis (Beverly) delivering a knockout performance that shows talent far beyond her years.
The only faults in this film lay within its own excesses. The group of kids have such great chemistry together that at times we lose sight of the bigger picture. Instead of being concerned with their defeat over ultimate evil, we start to wonder more about their day to day life and summertime adventures. The writing for these kids is razor sharp and the adolescent zingers they fire back and forth rival many comedies this year. Like the peaks on a roller coaster breaks to breathe and reset tension are essential to the pacing of a successful scary movie. But too much levity can start to round the edges off piercing jump scares. Even some of the excellent VFX work begins to go too far. In many instances, Pennywise’s movements, especially the unexpected, are exaggerated in post. It’s incredibly effective, one particular standout being the Slideshow Encounter. The effects used make Pennywise seem to move in 3D dimensions even though we’re watching a 2D film. By the end of the film, this tool has lost its novelty, at which point we’re subjected to the worst and oddly misplaced CGI shot.
With so many films lacking in every area, it’s difficult to fault a movie for its excesses, especially when it results in such an enjoyable remake of a King novel. IT’s highs and lows, atmosphere, adventure, and humor can be wrapped up easiest if you imagine it as a movie Spielberg could have made in the 80’s if he had a truly sadistic side.
Curious how the novel rates? Check out our “Stephen King’s IT” Book Review