Movie

What Went Right With… It Chapter One?

A review of It (2017) aka It Chapter One

It is a 2017 film adaptation of the Stephen King book of the same name. The story revolves around a group of seven teenagers living in Derry, Maine who discover that a clown is responsible for the town’s missing children. This clown is a personification of kids’ nightmares; it plays on their fears and it feeds off them. I have to mention that I haven’t read the book so I have no idea how good or bad the translation is, either in this or the original mini-series.

The 1990 version of It was an above average film. It was originally aired as a two-part miniseries but it has since been bolted together to create a 3 hour-ish movie. Given that it aired on TV, the tone of the whole piece was very much like a television programme rather than a cinematic picture. There’s some wooden acting, a few soap-opera edits, but the whole thing was raised to “classic” status thanks to the talent of Tim Curry who played Pennywise The Dancing Clown. Let’s face facts, if we were to remove Curry from 1990’s It, it would fail to be watchable. Tim played the clown with such bravado and zeal, his performance was witty at times and terrifying when needed. He basically stole the show and made you forget you were watching a regular television programme.

Hugo Weaving, Mark Rylance, and Ben Mendelsohn were all apparently in the running to play Pennywise in the 2017 film adaptation but in the end the role was given to Bill Skarsgård. In my opinion, they could have asked David Howard Thornton but I suppose he’d already played a man in a clown’s outfit a year earlier (Terrifier). I personally, would have cast Joseph Bishara; if anyone can scare the bejesus out of you it’s him. But I digress.

Bill Skarsgård contorts his face very well and tries his best not to evoke Tim Curry but this isn’t Heath Ledger’s Joker overthrowing Jack Nicholson’s (as a few critics have wrongly stated). It would have taken a once-in-a-lifetime talent to outdo Curry; Skarsgård tried his hardest but his Pennywise is too fun, coming across as cute and loveable rather than chilling. Unlike Tim, Bill’s clown never feels threatening, he’s too upbeat and slightly merry so when his facial expressions turn “evil” they look like some sort of joke, like an alternative comedy Pennywise. The fact that the original is so embedded in my memory, lines like “we all float” are delivered badly by comparison. Tim Curry’s lips waved when he uttered that line, his eyes conveyed a menace not seen in the 2017 version. Because of Curry’s outstanding performance, when you watch the latest incarnation of It, every time there’s a scene featuring Pennywise, you’re reminded of the 1990 version and how much better (and scarier) he was back then. Given the history of this adaptation, there’s a nod to Tim Curry in the clown room scene (although one of the clowns also reminded me of the robot in FX 2).

Aside from the performance by Skarsgård, there’s a heavy reliance on CGI for Pennywise (CGI that isn’t exactly industry-leading or innovative). There’s CGI teeth, Snoricam-style effects, and there’s playing with scale with the help of yet more digital effects. It’s nice that we actually get to see what “floating” looks like but that too is CGI’d up the wazoo. This all adds up to a feeling of falseness.

There are other issues, namely with the scares. The speed of the walking corpse at the library, the spatters of blood on the camera lens in the bloody bathroom scene, there’s too many directing and editing issues here. Every time you think you’re about to be scared, something is done to dampen the feeling. This being a film directed by Andy Muschietti, who also directed Mama, there’s the promise of shocks but an unsatisfactory CGI delivery just like in err… Mama. There’s no tension or unsettling atmosphere in It, instead there’s a reliance on jump scares which would be fine had Andy not failed almost every time. The slide projector scene comes the closest to being scary and that’s down to a build-up of mood which never occurs anywhere else in the movie. Similar to the antagonist in Mama, even the personal demons resemble CGI cartoons; the leper looks more like a homeless alien and the walking painting looks like a Surrealist Jimmy Carr.

Given the success of Stranger Things, every piece of TV and cinema that features kids is instantly moulded to mirror the Netflix classic. It is now set in 1989 (and partly in 1988) rather than 1960 in order to entice fans of that show. Even Finn Wolfhard (who played Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things) is included in order to feed-off the fan base.

The lead in It (Jaeden Lieberher aka Jaeden Martell) who plays Bill, lacks on-screen presence in order to be the central character. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!) who play Richie and Eddie respectively steal the limelight away from Jaeden. Sophia Lillis (Sharp Objects) who plays Beverly also plays her scenes well but some of the other actors are either forgettable or downright annoying. Wyatt Oleff who plays Stanley is particularly irritating and although he’s supposed to be a little sheepish and cowardly, he plays it in an irksome way.

What works in It is the friendship element. Building (quite obviously) on the success of the classic TV show Stranger Things, this is another ’80s-set kid’s adventure. The reason that this movie review is in whatwentrightwith.com rather than whatwentwrongwith.com is almost entirely down to the cast. The children look like they get along, there’s some chemistry between them, and there’s some humourous back-and-forth exchanges between Richie and Eddie. Childhood friendship is a timeless theme and whether it’s Stand By Me, Stranger Things, The Goonies or The Explorers, the concept of middle-school friends meeting each other without the approval of their parents will always make you relate or reminisce depending on your age. The feeling of school ending for the summer holidays, the fear of a bully, bike-riding, fighting, puberty, camaraderie, love, they’re all deftly conveyed here. Because of the small-town setting and the chemistry of the children, you’re immediately onboard for the escapade that unfolds.

I give 2017’s It a 6 because that’s what I would give the 1990 miniseries. This film improves on many aspects but it lacks many things too, namely the atmosphere and scares. The tone here isn’t PG-12-safe or family-friendly like the 1990 version but is instead in the same vein as Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark – teen-friendly. It is definitely watchable, It is quite enjoyable, but as a horror it doesn’t quite…

Cut It.

Writing: 5/10

Directing: 5/10

Acting: 6/10

Overall: 6/10

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Read the related article - What Went Wrong With... It Chapter Two?

What Went Wrong With… It Chapter Two?

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