The latest adaptation of Stephen King’s It comes as something of a disappointment to me, if only because the original source material is something very dear to me. It is, however, still a perfectly fine movie. It is one with some enjoyable suspense, good acting and decent characterization. Technically, it is a good movie, and for the amount of success that It is receiving, you could do a lot worse.
I wanted to first start with what I liked about the movie.
I think that It has genuine heart. I think that all parties involved wanted to make something unique to themselves and it shows. It is not a strictly faithful adaptation, which I’m actually kind of thankful for. I feel like so many movies based on books now just adapt their screenplay straight out of the page of the novel, and that doesn’t take any imagination whatsoever. That’s just copying and pasting. Instead, I enjoy seeing a unique interpretation of source material. It’s up to the filmmaker’s to select the specific story that they feel the original novel told and spend their time on that. In this case, the filmmakers focused their attentions on the friendship of the kids.
It, also, isn’t solely a dark-and-dour, depressing horror film, either. I feel like Andy Muschietti had a genuine affection for his characters and that shows. For what it’s worth, Bill Skarsgard is a decent Pennywise, not just a carbon copy of Tim Curry’s earlier incarnation… he actually does something different with the role and does quite well with it.
Two of my personal pet peeve trends have also been bucked, in that It is not a star-studded feature, and it boasts a modest budget. I get so very tired of bloated-star studded pictures.
My problem with It is that in just around 2 hours and 15 minutes for its total runtime, It doesn’t really tell much of a story. It just doesn’t. While I think Andy Muschietti does have a genuine attachment to his characters, I feel like he was more familiar with them than we were. There’s not much character development. Bill stutters. Beverly comes from a broken home. Ben is awkward. Richie is a horse’s ass. Eddie has asthma. Stanley is… Jewish? Mike is… Black? The only character to have much time dedicated to building within the story is Beverly, and I have to admit that I was uncomfortable with the amount of time that was dedicated to sexualizing her.
There was also, perhaps, one showdown too many. I believe this happened in the novel, too, but it’s been a while since I’ve read it. In the movie, they confront Pennywise twice. My problem with that is that it ate up a tremendous amount of screen time that could have been devoted to showing the consequence of Pennywise on the terrorized town. Pennywise never presents much of a threat, which is odd, considering he’s the entire reason this plot is happening. Kids in Derry, Maine are going missing… so we’re told. It never has much impact on anyone’s day-to-day, however. We see missing posters arbitrarily covering other missing posters, even when there’s plenty of room on a marquee. Finally, we see a visual of just how many kids have been taken by the malevolent clown, and it has no impact because we’re simply being told a number. More time needed to be dedicated to showing the twisted, evil nature of Pennywise and its power over the people. I don’t need to be told everything, and in fact the novel gives away far too much of the mystery by spelling it out in too-literal terms, but I never really felt like anyone I was supposed to care about was in any real, actual danger.
The original It, the 1990 TV miniseries, was only slightly longer and told a larger story. I liked having the focus of this film being on one era, instead of the two, but for some damned reason, just not much ever really happens and everything feels so rushed. It feels like having read the book is a prerequisite here, when a movie should stand on its own merit.
Pennywise is a creature of pure evil that feeds on children’s fear, but he (it?) gives up pretty easily at the first sign of resistance. The emphasis of the film was on the clown itself, but that was simply one of many forms it could have taken. The emphasis should have been on the fear itself, because at the end of the day, it never really seemed to matter. Band together, fight back, win. The resolution came so easily to something that never really represented that much of a threat in the first place.
Updating the period from the 1950s/60s to the 1980s felt like an unnecessary move. Updating the period to the 80s felt like a cynical push to capitalize on the success of Stranger Things and further continues the trend of Generation X nostalgia porn. The original story took place in the time that it did for a reason, because it spoke of racism, sexism and all of those things being under the umbrella of Pennywise’s spell of misery.
Still, as much as I’ve bitched, it’s a fine movie, one that toyed with greatness. It had the potential, but settled on box office success, which it is finding plenty.