It, the nightmarishly difficult-to-Google film based on Stephen King’s 1986 horror fiction masterpiece, is a hit with general audiences. But how about with tried-and-true Stephen King fans who were in love with the story years or even decades before the movie was announced? The movie has not been around for long enough to get a clear consensus of the entire community, but here are my thoughts as someone who has, for quite a while, regarded It as his favorite book of all time.
First things first: It is a very good movie, and the film’s ticket sales reflect that. Since its September 8 release, It has been been setting box office records, including “Highest-Grossing Horror Movie Ever” both domestically and worldwide, with nearly unbelievable swiftness, according to Forbes. It has already outdone the previous record-holder, The Exorcist, by raking in $455 million worldwide on a budget of $35 million. And that’s after just three weekends. We are almost certainly looking at a title that will end up taking in over half a billion dollars, one to which the Inquisitr reports a sequel has already been confirmed for September of 2019.
I am happy to say that about $30 of my own money makes up that gigantic sum. I have gone to see It three times because it is so well-written, well-shot, and all-around fun, even if not the same experience as the book.
Some Pros of It
The stand-out feature to me is It’s magnificent cinematography. It’s not extraordinarily artsy like one might normally assume when the concept of nice cinematography is mentioned in a film review. Rather, there’s just so much to see.
As I mentioned, the sets and real-world locations (the town of Port Hope, Ontario, was used as Derry, the town in which the film is set) are beautiful. The wardrobe crew, makeup artists, camera people, and prop managers for It obviously knew what they were doing as well, because nearly every frame is full of vibrancy (or the opposite, if that’s the mood the movie is trying to portray) and personality.
The movie also did something that I love to see in films: included meaningful blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments in the backdrops. Some movies insert such moments just so that especially observant viewers can feel gratified when they catch something their friends didn’t, even if the moments do not have anything to do with the movie. In It, though, the background moments genuinely add to the film by upping the impact of the scene or developing the characters further.
An example is a scene where a character is leafing through a library book. What’s going on in the foreground of the scene is mildly scary in itself. If one looks more closely, however, they will notice that the librarian standing in the background of the shot is standing stock still and staring at our leading man with a smiling glare that is very creepy indeed. It’s by no means essential to the plot, but it adds to the uneasiness of those who spot it.
Another example is a segment where a group of characters is talking at a Fourth of July parade. While the conversation is going on, another central character (this one being the comedian of the group) can be seen attempting to commandeer the marching band horn player’s instrument. I was the only one in the theater who cracked up.
There are lots of little bits like that going on in the background throughout the movie, and they are one of the reasons It is such a rewatchable experience.
Another spot where It shines is with the amazing dialogue. It is fast-paced, funny, and realistic. The child actors who deliver it are superb at drawing you into their middle school-aged world, and you feel like you actually get to know them through the dialogue as much as you can get to know seven different protagonists over the course of a single feature-length film. And that slightly negative afternote is a good transition into…
Some Cons of It
Out of every book I have ever read, the character development in It is unquestionably the deepest and most masterful. All seven of the main protagonists feel like my friends by the time I finish Stephen King’s work. Pennywise and Henry Bowers feel like my sworn enemies. Many of the townspeople of Derry seem like living, breathing entities too. That amazingly vivid and widespread character development is just not present in the movie. It’s no surprise, as 135 minutes of video obviously don’t have as much space to work with as the 700-ish pages of the book on which the film is based. That’s where my impossible-to-satisfy expectations as a diehard It fan come in, though.
When an early draft of the It movie script leaked last year, reports Digital Spy, it was revealed that Cary Fukunaga, the original writer and director attached to the project, planned to cut one of the main characters from his script. I was as horrified as most fans of Stephen King’s book or the 1990 It ABC miniseries when I heard the news. After seeing It, though, I understand Fukunaga’s logic. Seven main characters is a lot to juggle. Half the movie is comprised of their individual encounters with the monster, and there certainly wasn’t enough time to develop their characters to the wonderful extent King does in the book. In fact, I might be alright if two characters had been cut. Even three, making the main group more reminiscent of the Stand by Me cast, would have been bearable if the remaining characters had then been able to be properly developed. As it is, Beverly and Richie (played by 37’s Sophia Lillis and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard, respectively) were really the only main characters who got a fair share of development.
Notice that neither Pennywise nor Henry Bowers is present in that last statement. That is because the villain’s character development was lackluster as well. I can let that slide in the case of Pennywise, even though I maintain that he had way too much dialogue for a character who is supposed to be so spectral and ominous. The mysterious nature of the infamous demon clown is precisely why his/her lack of development is forgivable; much of his character is not exposed in the book until after the events chronicled by this part one-of-two It adaptation. In the case of Henry, however, the filmmakers really dropped the ball. The book’s handling of the racially-charged and intense interplay between Bowers and almost each one of the protagonists was one of the highlights of the book, and its nearly total absence in It’s 2017 movie was disappointing.
Another issue is that when compared to the horrifying and usually brutal monsters It’s titular creature transforms into in Stephen King’s book, its forms were surprisingly tame for a movie that was advertised as “a hard ‘R’.” In the book, the creature is a shapeshifter who can take on basically any form before it scares its victim. It might turn into the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or a giant carnivorous bird, or an oversized bloody eyeball that scuttles across the floor like a millipede. Other than that, it has to work within the real world. In the movie, though, It seems to be able to make the “victim” see anything it wants them to. Sure, the forms look creepy, but they’re not really threatening like the werewolf that claws at one of the children in the book and gives him a huge bloody gash on the back. Even when the forms really were just a shapeshift, they didn’t deliver.
There is, for example, a scene where one of our main characters is chased through an empty library basement by an iteration of the monster written especially for the film. When it finally catches up to its target, I thought the first time I saw It that it would seriously injure him like the bloodthirsty monster from the books — not kill him, because the creature likes to feed on the continued fear of the main characters. Instead, nothing happens. The “victim” just bumps into someone and his pursuer is gone. To be fair, there is one exception to this “toothless creatures” issue near the end of the film, but a villain as purely evil as the monster of It deserves a more vicious portrayal.
Lastly, some of the plot points in the movie not taken from King’s book were clearly meant to appeal to mass audiences and sacrificed story because of it. For example, there was one point in the movie when the majority of the main characters decide they do not want to continue pursuing Pennywise because it is too dangerous. It takes one of their friends being kidnapped by the monster to pull them back into the task of defeating it. The plot device of the main characters abandoning their shared pursuit only to be sucked back in by some cataclysmic event is a pretty common Hollywood trope, and it really clashes with the theme of It. The main characters are supposedly able to beat Pennywise because they are not afraid of him. Yet, they decide going after him is too scary? I don’t get it.
There is also the bit near the movie’s mediocre finale where an unconscious character is awoken by a kiss from her true love. Enough said.
For the most part, I agree with praise that It has received since its release. I do think there are several glaring flaws, but I also acknowledge that I am not exactly a non-partisan judge. In fact, I’ve been writing news and speculation about this movie for well over a year and have daydreamed about It coming to the screen for a lot longer. I have probably spent thousands of hours contemplating this adaptation, and my hopes going in were so high that a masterpiece on the level of Alien could not have fulfilled them. If I had never read the book, I think I would have a lot less negative things to say about the adaptation.
Was It as profoundly moving, terrifying, and exciting as its written predecessor? No, not by a long shot. The character development is a bit lacking, the big bad is not quite scary enough, and it is noticeably “Hollywood-ized.” But It is also funny, aesthetically pleasing, and very rewatchable. In short, it’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies in years and is definitely worth seeing at least once.
[Featured Image by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images]