Note: I promise I still have so many entries about my time in Europe last year (I think me writing about it might espouse the time actually spent there). But this week there's traveling for work and other things that keep me preoccupied with real life. Still, could not resist throwing in my two cents on this guy. Travel Tuesdays resume next week!
I saw It this weekend. Initially, my plan was to tack on my thoughts during the weekly roundup: Hey, here are some interesting articles on It. Also I saw it last week and liked it. But then that alone started to get too long. So, screw it, here are my thoughts on the latest Stephen King adaptation.
First, a warning - I love Stephen King. I love the worlds he creates, the familiar characters and King-isms that imbue not only his works but a generation he's inspired. I cannot be objective about this film. I wrote a whole thing about it. Also, I was first introduced to Pennywise, long before picking up a King novel, via that TV miniseries from the '90's. I rented it with a friend when we were probably 10 or so, right before I started reading the books. The show itself was as daunting as the book - two cassettes! The only other movie I remember doing that was Titanic. And that's Titanic! The series terrified me. And somehow, in the thirty years since, the character of Pennywise has become ubiquitous. And while I think this latest iteration of the clown might even be better, as far as evil creatures go, I can't imagine anything replacing the iconography of Tim Curry all dressed up from the miniseries. I mean, do we have Bill Skarsgard smoking a cigarette under an umbrella? No, no we do not.
But onward! First, I enjoyed the film. It was a fun, and scary, 2 hours and 15 minutes. As an adaptation, it seemed to capture the spirit and themes of the novel without getting dragged down with the specifics. And look, we're beginning prime scary movie season. I just want to be scared. And that certainly happened. In a way, the film has two parts - the typical coming of age stuff that is more Stand By Me than The Stand. And then there's the scary stuff, big spectacle after big spectacle as the clown inhabits the things the children fear most. And I know I wanted to be scared, but I vastly preferred the former. The scenes between the kids, just being kids, are so excellent. There are some complaints going around the internet that this is a piggyback, cash grab off the success of Stranger Things. Honestly, okay, fine. Netflix, give me ten episodes of these kids running around Derry, getting in rock fights with bullies and jumping into the quarry. So many scenes were just perfect, like the boys' total awe at Bev in her underwear after the swim, the quick rally around Ben once they discover him. I wanted so much more of that, just them embracing that magical time in the lives of children that inhabits so many pieces of culture, especially from Stephen King himself. And while the scenes and interactions between them were excellent, the kids themselves shined. Sure, there were tropes and the movie didn't have time to get much beyond single traits (there's the black homeschooled kid, the one who stutters and has a dead brother, the Jewish kid not really into it, the hypochondriac, etc.). But even with that, this may be the best acting and chemistry I've seen among a group of child actors in a long time. Even Stranger Things didn't have it this good. For actors, I really appreciated the kid who played Richie, the one holdover from Stranger Things. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from this. But my favorites were Eddie and Bev. Eddie's humor and earnestness, his need for affection and acceptance from his friends, plus occasionally going toe to toe with Richie for bawdy humor, he was continually a welcome surprise. Bev had this cool exterior, all winks and New Kids on the Block references. And yet she was so vulnerable and so ready to help anyone else who might need her. In general, compared to the child actors from the TV miniseries, the teens were a dramatic improvement, but maybe none more so than the actress who played Bev. Again, can't wait to see what she, or her cast-mates, do next.
And then there's the other half, the scary part. And sure, it was really scary. The clown was excellent. While I have nothing but affection for Tim Curry, this version, in part due to technology and budget, was much more magical, much scarier. It was difficult to tell what was Bill Skarsgard and what was CGI. But Pennywise should be this magical, larger than life thing. I mean, he can turn into a spider whenever he wants! As for the scares themselves, there were some impressive ones. The painting coming to life, the awesome scene in the garage where Pennywise comes out of the screen. All terrifying. I jumped, I gave sharp intakes of breath. But still, when this movie comes out and I watch it again on HBO Go or Amazon in a few months, I won't be looking forward to the screams but just the kids being kids, throwing rocks and reading about Derry.
And now all the stuff that really bothered me. But I mostly liked it, promise.
First up, my heart for a gray character. Everyone in this show is either really bad or really good. That's it. There's one scene where the gang is riding the bike and they hear the bully beating someone up behind some trees. Without hesitation, they drop their bikes and run to help. Could we at least have a moment's doubt? Or have Eddie take off his fanny pack so it's protected? Something to show these guys are anything but good. I know, I know, later they have doubts about the mission, but no one guys so far as to actually not participate. But there's all the other characters. Eddie's Mom, Bev's Dad, and Henry's Dad, all just complete and total assholes whose kids would probably be better off raised by the direwolves from Game of Thrones. The pharmacist can't be a complex guy who wants the best for Eddie but also has to follow HIPAA. Nope, just your run of the mill pervert. The most galling, though, might be the bullies. There are two sets of bullies - the girl bullies and the boy bullies, the latter much more prevalent. And they beat up, to extremely disturbing degrees, our heroes. Why? I don't know. The one guy's dad is mean to him and that's really all we get. The Stand, a literal battle between good and evil, had more moral ambiguity.
And now I have the nittiest of nits to pick - the score. I feel like great movie scores are usually unseen. They assist the director in what he's trying to achieve without getting in the way. The score here bangs you over the head - you're supposed to be charmed by Derry, now you're supposed to be emotional over the dead kids. And now you need to be scared! BE SCARED! INCEPTION NOISES, INCEPTION NOISES. That was the score, basically. Watching it on mute with subtitles might have been more successful.
Finally, I saw this as someone who has read the book, seen the miniseries, and read most of the other books that take place in the same world. I know the history of Derry better than I know the history of my own hometown. So I can't answer this honestly, but did they explain everything well enough? With horror, I think you can go one of two ways - put out some horrible evil and just leave it. It's evil, who knows. Or you can try to explain it away. In The Descent, for example, there are creatures. They want to eat you. The end. Even looking at Stephen King, the salesman who shows up in Needful Things is clearly very evil and very old, but the book doesn't give you his backstory. Or there's something like Nightmare on Elm Street that gets plenty of backstory. It, in the novel, gets plenty of backstory. There isn't a definitive description of where the creature came from but you get an idea of how long it's been around and what it's done, how the creature influences the town and impacts everyone living there. This seems glossed over in the film. I kind of wish they had either gone all in or not at all, with Mike and Ben's attempts at explanations seeming half-hearted. Maybe this is something that will be explored more in the next film.
Which brings me to my final concern - did they make a huge mistake in splitting the film apart like they did? The book and original TV series constantly go back and forth, from present day to childhood (though I do appreciate moving the action up twenty years; a little bit of Amblin for everyone), as the adults rediscover the memories they repressed as kids. And there was something really effective in that. One concern I had while watching the movie was a certain sense of 'and then this happened.' Each child gets their run in with It, seemingly at random and without connection to the larger plot. This isn't an issue in the book, as each character is introduced as an adult and remembers their encounters with Pennywise. So much of the greatness of Stephen King books comes from what he gets right about people, not the horror. And in It, he effortlessly demonstrates the power and strength in childhood, how kids can do things grownups could never imagine. And I worry that the second part of the film is going to miss that, as it's just a bunch of adults, as we struggle to remember the characters from a film that came out two years ago, that got us there. Or will the second part of the film be a mess of new material and recaps of the first film?
And here is the one thing I think the TV mini series may have gotten right - splitting it (because you do have to split It into two movies - thanks every YA franchise of the past seven years preparing us for that) when the adults return to Derry. Or does that make it too incomplete a story on its own, too much a setup for the next film? Outside of that "Chapter One" business, this latest movie could probably stand on its own, in case the studio decides not to proceed with another film (though given the box office, there's probably gonna be an other film, maybe even more than one). And the TV mini series definitely is a two-parter. But everything else is terrible. First, the actors. Neither the adults or the kids are particularly great. There is one seen between child Eddie and child Bill that was particularly cringe-worthy. I could almost imagine some PA off camera, mouthing the words, or a director instructing the kids how to move their faces to convey an emotion. There was no charm to the TV series. It felt like a chore, watching it. Where the most recent movie had its own wings, feeling like a true adaptation, the TV series feels like a copy of a copy. It reminded me a lot of the first two entries into the Harry Potter series, where the child actors aren't that confident or good yet and the director feels obligated to hit all the points from the novel, but forgets the heart and spirit that makes the books so enjoyable and important in the first place. Recommendation - don't watch the TV series. If you really can't wait for the next movie, check out the Wikipedia to see what happens to everyone or just read the goddamn book. Personally, I'm grateful to have a very busy week ahead of me and two book clubs already or I would be reading the thing for the second time right now.
And I am looking forward to the next film, my above-mentioned reservations notwithstanding. Until then, Vulture takes a look at who might play who. There seems to be a general consensus that Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain should play Bev. Personally, I'm fine with either, though I am concerned about the very different age ranges of the actors being considered. I can only suspend my belief so far and it's totally taken up by an evil clown for this series.
But maybe don't listen to me because It made shit ton of money this weekend, especially impressive given its R-rating, an overall crappy box office summer, and hurricanes pretty much everywhere. Side note - Reese's new movie didn't do that well. I'm disappointed - it looks cute, reviews were good, I like Reese, and we don't have many movies like that. But also I only had time and money for one movie this weekend and of the two, there was no question which one I was going to see. As for It, my personal perspective is just, it's been awhile since there's been an adult movie to really see in the theaters. Outside of comic book movies, what was there to be excited about this summer? And of course, it's a known property with a lot of affection. But really, at a time when this country seems more divided than it has been since the Civil War, when hurricanes are destroying lives and islands and reigniting the climate change debate in ugly ways, we really just needed to come together over a clown murdering kids.
But it's only getting better from here. The film mother! had a trailer before my screening of It (as did Disaster Artist, which looks amazing and may finally make me watch The Room) and I don't know if I've ever seen a trailer as aggressive. It promised me I would never forget where I was when I saw the film for the first time and suggested I pick up my tickets after watching It at the box office. I could see it in the same theater! It seemed a little desperate but guys, I'm already going to see it, chill. And then it's Oscar season and also Halloween season, as I try to stuff in as many scary films as I can. Gotta make up for all those times I didn't go to the theater this summer.
Finally, as long as my list of complaints were, I really had fun with this movie. It was the right amount of nostalgia and pulpy terror and just kids hanging out during the summer. But mostly, it removed that bad taste from The Dark Tower. Thanks for giving the King fans a movie we can celebrate.