written by Kevin O’Shea
When discussing an adaptation, it is impossible not to refer back to the source material, if only to acknowledge what it was adapted from. Such is the case with this review, and it’s one of those things that I have to acknowledge, because it’s so close to my own heart.
Comparisons will also be made to other adaptations of the same source material, and this movie is no different.
I went into the theater expecting great things from It (2017), and I was not disappointed. I was, however, very much surprised.
Hi. I saw this movie about four hours ago, as of the writing of this review, and I’m still traumatized. Join me under the cut to find out why this is such a good thing.
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
This movie was different than I was expecting in terms of adherence to the book. But at the same time, it so perfectly matched the tone of the story. It hit all the right resonances and found the balance between an adaptation of a book and the visual medium. As I said above, it’s impossible to make connections between the movie and the previous forms this story held, but it’s also impossible not to, so we’ll go right into what absolutely worked about this adaptation.
The story is condensed, even as it is broken into two parts, as any adaptation of an eleven-hundred page novel would be. However, it doesn’t get bogged down by the source material, and instead builds upon it. It was about half an hour into the movie when I cheerfully realized I had no idea what they were going to do next, and I was absolutely thrilled.
Here’s what made the original story work, and what this movie got so incredibly right:
The kids. The Losers’ Club of 1957, now the Losers’ Club of 1988. The social rejects in a smallish New England town, with their own issues distinct from each other, yet allowing them to really connect with one another:
Bill, whose home has not felt like home since his brother died.
Ben, who came to the town with no friends and no expectation of having any.
Eddie, who was groomed to be a hypochondriac because his mother needed to control him better.
Richie, whose mouth gets him into more trouble than he can handle.
Stan, the skeptic in life and in faith.
Mike, the outsider to the lower-middle-class white kids.
And Beverly. Arguably the strongest person in the group. The one who had the most character development, but the one who we’ll stop and talk about now.
One of the selling points of Mad Max: Fury Road was that they were able to show the effects of abuse without having to show the abuse itself. They did the same with Bev here, in how she walked on eggshells around her father, in how she responded to the way he talked to her, in how she cut her hair after he touched it. Until the end of the movie, when Pennywise is ramping the adults’ personalities up to eleven, we never actually see the visceral aftereffects of what is clearly abuse. And we don’t need to. We get everything from context and move on.
I had no issues with moving the time period from the ’50s to the ’80s, because it keeps the spirit of the story alive. The book was written in the ’80s, which is when the Losers’ Club were back in town as adults, reminiscing about their childhood in the ’50s. The book was set in the time period it was written in for the people reading the book at the time. So, too, is this movie set for the childhoods of the people watching it at release. It isn’t just the kids’ childhood, it’s also the target audience’s.
I had no issues with changing Henry’s and Mike’s families from being interconnected, because while it worked really well in the book, it required the backstory. The movie simply didn’t have time to work with it. Combining the Black Spot Massacre with Mike’s parents dying turned that aspect into a more personal connection with Pennywise, and wove Mike in with the Losers more tightly.
As an adaptation, I really think this is the strongest it could be. It goes without saying that it’s impossible to compare this to the 1990 miniseries, but again, impossible not to.
Splitting this movie into just the kids’ half works to keep the pacing and the story. The sequel, which I believe has already been greenlit, will presumably be the Losers coming back in 2015 (or thereabouts) to finish the job.
What did I think missed the mark?
First off, I had a slight issue with the overall pacing. As a horror movie, the first forty minutes were just relentless in giving us scene after scene of build-up and terror, and it really started to stress me out that it took so long to get to a proper breather. The relaxing bits and tension-breaking humor were sorely needed and extremely effective, from the intentionally-too-cheerful pop montage of cleaning the blood out of Bev’s bathroom to the setup and callback of the New Kids On the Block bit, but they were too few and far between.
Secondly, one of the most important aspects of the book was how racist society was at the time, and how very little of that was affected by Pennywise’s influence. The real monsters in Stephen King’s books are always the humans, even when there are extradimensional demonic space spiders poisoning the sanity of half the state.
Look, I’m about as white as one can possibly be without the supremacists giving me a pass, so I’m hardly the one to talk about the impact of societal racism in this movie. That’s for someone far more equipped to discuss this aspect than I am to do. But I did think that, while they did address the racism that Mike had to deal with, it was super glossed over.
Finally, while it can be argued that Pennywise targeted Bev specifically because she was initially the only one to actually hurt it, it still felt kind of weird that the girl was the one who got captured and had to be rescued by the boys. I don’t know; it’s debatable, and the point is that it shouldn’t be a debate.
But what they got right, they got so perfectly right. The kids were kids, the town was very clearly shown to ignore the kids when it was convenient to the clown, the adults were creeps and just as terrifying as an eldritch monster, and it just felt like Derry was supposed to feel. The kids might not have gotten to turn their individual quirks into weapons against the clown, but that might still happen when they come back as adults and need to reconnect to the people they used to be, so we’ll see what happens on that front.
In any case, this was an amazing experience, and I am so glad I was able to see this movie. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to not sleep again for the next seven months.
Kevin O’Shea can be reached on Twitter @osheamobile.