Main cast: Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise the Dancing Clown), Jaeden Lieberher (William “Bill” Denbrough), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Benjamin “Ben” Hanscom), Sophia Lillis (Beverly “Bev” Marsh), Finn Wolfhard (Richard “Richie” Tozier), Wyatt Oleff (Stanley “Stan” Uris), Chosen Jacobs (Michael “Mike” Hanlon), Jack Dylan Grazer (Edward “Eddie” Kaspbrak), and Nicholas Hamilton (Henry Bowers)
Director: Andy Muschietti
Unless you have completely gone under the grid recently and you do not know anything about Stephen King, you must surely know that this It is another movie based on that author’s books. I don’t know why they keep doing this. Is someone hoping to start a new movie franchise based on that author’s world, or is Stephen King using his money to force Hollywood to keep churning out misfires after misfires to keep his name up there in the big screen? I can count with one hand the number of adaptations that only halfway work, as none that I bothered to catch have ever succeeded with me, and this is going to be one of those halfway ones.
It is also one of the few books of the author that I manage to finish, and it is also one of those that stick to my mind, even after all these years, for reasons both good and bad. Therefore, when I sit my rear end down at the cinema to watch this one, I can’t help comparing it to the book. It’s hard not to, because this movie demonstrates why it is very difficult to make a successful visual adaptation of the author’s works. Stephen King often hits his readers hard in the viscera, and the visceral nature of his works is near impossible to translate to screen. Take away the visceral elements, and what is left is often bland, unmemorable fare.
First, the story. Basically, a bunch of kids band together and call themselves the Losers Club, despite not having much in common most of the time, because they are bullied by a very human kid as well as an inhuman one – the latter being Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a monster hungry for kiddie flesh who wakes up every 27 years. Pennywise can change his form, and he uses this ability to terrorize the kids using their greatest fears.
The thing is, in the book, Pennywise isn’t a monster as much as, I feel, a device for the author to accentuate and exaggerate the fears often experienced by children, which manifests often in the form of dangerous adults. The book isn’t just about a monster, it’s about living in a violent and harsh world when children and even teenagers face no shortages of violence and even fatal threats. Hence, when these kids manage to triumph, if only for a while, there is a sense of satisfaction to be had. The book is also very obviously one that was published in 1986 – it has many elements and scenes that would never be allowed to make it on paper these days, and are carefully scrubbed in this movie adaptation.
Hence, in this movie, the clown just seems another generic evil clown monster thing. The most terrifying scene takes place early in the movie, and it’s all downhill from there as the poor thing is reduced to being another menacing one-dimensional monster. This is because the movie tries to condense over 1,000 pages of small-print into two movies (yes, this movie covers only the first half – there is a sequel planned to bring the grown-up versions of the kids for a round two), and in the process, glosses over the troubled backgrounds of the kids, rendering them as one-dimensional stereotypes of abused kid, bullied sensitive kid, token black kid, kid with crazy mom, et cetera. As a result, there is no deeper substance here, just another movie of kids versus monster. Thus, much of the dark, disturbing nuances and undercurrents of the book – stuff that make the book an effective disturbing read – is diluted in the movie.
Still, the visual and atmosphere is well done in this movie, and the kids aren’t too annoying. When people say that this is the best adaptation of a Stephen King story, I can see why they feel that way. But given how terrible the track record is when it comes to turning the author’s works into movies or TV series, that’s not exactly a glowing recommendation if you ask me. That’s like saying that a half-baked, flat-tasting cake is the best because all the cakes made previously tasted like rat poison. I’d personally suggest waiting for this to be available for rental or streaming – it’s still not something worth braving the traffic, queues, and annoying people who can’t shut up once the movie begins to catch it in the theater.