Director: Andy Muschietti
Writer: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman; based on It by Stephen King
Cinematographer: Chung-hoon Chung
Producer: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, and Barbara Muschietti
by Jon Cvack
I’ve grown increasingly fond of Stephen King over the years, having started out reading his memoir "On Writing" (which continues to be the greatest book on writing that I’ve ever read), specifically his ability to achieve a rare prose that feels as though it’s like a great friend speaking to you. Most recently I completed his deeply dark and disturbing "Pet Sematary"; a story that I had only known through the film adaptation, which having tried to revisit the film after reading the incredible book is so terrible that I couldn’t even finish the thing when revisiting. While any who are familiar with the movie and even the general premise of the book would recall the ability to reanimate the dead, the book offers a grueling and slow burn where we know the inevitable tragedy that’s bound to occur. As much as it’s a horror novel, there’s very little in the ways of terror until the last hundred pages of so (it’s over 500 pages long).
It wasn’t a delayed horror so much as a perfect balance between endearing reflections on youth with the immediate terror of a killer spirit who takes the shape of a clown. At over a thousand pages it’s greatest strength is getting you lost within the relatively innocuous subplots before shifting back to horror. However, similar to my other experiences with some of King’s other work (namely, "The Shining"), it was the climactic sequence, where similar to the film, I was struggling to follow what I was suppose to be seeing and how the characters were dealing with it, often extending so far into the fantastical that I was pulled out of the novel that was otherwise realistic.
I was most excited for the film back when True Detectives' Cary Fukunaga was attached, who then left the project with few details provided, though with such a heavy property, it’s clear there were disagreements over creative direction, with Fukanaga replaced by the far less exciting director Andy Muschietti. I think I’ll forever wonder what Fukanaga could have brought to the project, where at the very least, I anticipated a visual style likely more on par with Kubrick’s The Shining ('80).
Similar to the book and miniseries, the film opens up with Ben and his brother Georgie, with Ben sick in bed, helping Georgie create a paper boat to use in the water runoff during a heavy downpour, eventually resulting in George meeting Pennywise the clown in the sewer who rips his arm off and pulls the kid down, disappearing forever. Counter to the book or miniseries, the film sticks with the kids, taking place the following summer as more kids begin to disappear from the community.
Recently there’s been a trend of ensuring that all the tweens portrayed in films don’t veer too far off into offensive territory, with "Stranger Things" and Super 8 ('11) as two recent examples. For as much as they attempt to replicate what The Goonies ('85), Stand by Me ('86), and Now and Then ('95) accomplished, the film again falls victim to feeling as though it was written by a bunch of adults imagining how kids speak, rather than portraying them as how kids actually speak - saying offensive things with all the dirty and immature language. It comes close to correcting the problem, but again something was off, as though feeling that an executive made redlines in the dialogue, never wanting the kids to drift too far and risk blowing up social media over an offensive comment. "Stranger Thing"’s Finn Wolfhard was the closest the film got to showing real kids, but his departure from the nerdy and reserved Mike Wheeler from "Stranger Things" felt a bit too forced, especially in the way of his wardrobe where it felt as though they figured putting on glasses would allow for a more believable character shift, even though his overall look failed to meet the demands. I ended up liking him in the end and he’s by far the most interesting character, with the rest feeling more like personality tropes than fully fleshed out characters.
I wasn’t sure if my expectations were fairly low after Fukunaga dropped out, then raising a bit when seeing how excited Stephen King was on Twitter, and again after hearing good things from a few trusted sources. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen the film and while I was hoping it might take position as some type of grand coming of age film, it felt just a bit too shallow, never capturing the essence of King’s book, nor the depth of his story. It’s a tragedy that it’s only going to be about a four to five hour film total (with the sequel), as it averages to just shy of a hundred pages being condensed into an hour film. It demanded a miniseries, or a phenomenal director. I will be left forever wondering what Fukunaga would have done with this, as I truly believe it’s one of the greatest unproduced tragedies in cinematic history; serving as the bridge between independent art house horror films and the mainstream, leaving David Gordon Green to probably be the one ushers it in with Halloween [I wrote this last year and was very pleased]).
One the largest concerns is the fact that the clown or its essence seems to be included in every single scene, as though the one note from executives was a cowbell of more clown. While King’s book works through building from an atmosphere of dread that eases toward the supernatural, for two and a half hours the film relies on jump scares and pop outs, all building toward a climactic set piece that is large, fantastical, and completely unrealistic, where we know that only an office of computers could have constructed it.
Even with those factors in mind, I was left wondering if my bias of having grown up with the original film, along with some of the greatest coming of age stories ever made, has affected my objectivity. I suspect if I was younger, maybe just getting into horror films - and if this was all that was offered in the genre next to the "Stranger Things" - that I’d probably like it. While the horror is overwrought at points, all the more disappointing for how little was in the book, it offers a pretty good look at growing up. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but I could see myself turning it back on in a few years and seeing how it goes.
BELOW: Solid opening scene and one of King's best
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