|UK Release Date||8th September 2017|
|Starring||Kids and an 'orrible Clown|
|Reviewed||10th September 2017|
Screenwriting legend William Goldman, who adapted Steven King's novel Misery for the screen, made one pretty significant change to the script in the process. The infamous 'hobbling' scene was far more graphic in King's book, something that Goldman felt would not translate well on screen. By all accounts it was a reasonably contentious change, with various of the people involved having conflicting ideas as to whether it was necessary. The result proved Goldman's point though. The scene is horrific but not to the point of throwing the movie into a completely different place or losing the viewers' empathy. It's a note that I spent some time considering as I watched the latest adaptation of one of King's most famous (and long) works.
I watched the original TV adaptation of It way back in the early nineties (I forget when it appeared on UK TV screens). As a young teenager, it had quite an impact on me, though I'd always judged clowns with a healthy degree of suspicion so it wasn't exactly life changing. The new bid screen version of the book has gone through a somewhat protracted production process, shedding original director Cary Fukunaga - here sharing a writing credit - along the way. The novel presents a substantial challenge to any adaption, the sheer weight of the tome (eleven hundred odd pages) and the sprawling time span make it entirely unsuitable for one movie and arguably for any number of movies. Here, the producers have opted to split the book in two, as the original TV adaption did, eventually revealing in the closing credits that this is in fact Part I.
The story is pretty well known but for the sake of completeness - we follow a gang of twelve year olds in the town of Derry, Maine. Calling themselves The Losers Club, the bunch of misfits contains the usual high school oddballs - Bill (stutters, brother disappeared), Ben (fat out of towner), Beverly (token girl), Finn (smart mouth), Mike (doesn't spend much time at school), Eddie (hypochondriac), Wyatt (Jewish). The kids all have different issues to be dealing with, predominantly around weird-ass parents or some form of early trauma. That and they are being pursued by a psychotic clown that preys on their worst fears and fully intends to eat them all. Tough break kids.
Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) lurks in the sewers, luring kids to their doom with a wide range of shape-shifting shenanigans. It is responsible for the disappearance of little Georgie (Bill's younger brother) and has apparently been preying on the residents of Derry for a number of 27 year cycles. The kids must band together to help each other over their natural and supernatural trials.
A dark clown is fertile ground for lingering terror but even with such material, director Andy Muschietti (Mama) struggles to establish any real dread. Faced with way too much material to get on screen (even as Part I in two hours and fifteen minutes), the movie bounces around with no real coherence in order to jam in as many BOOO! moments as possible. What should be a solid tale of growing up, bonding and surmounting challenges, quickly becomes a series of stereotyped set-pieces that really struggle to stick together.
Released from the original adaptation's TV restrictions, Muschietti has a freer hand with the gore but, as noted in my introduction, I can't help but think he would have done well to take Goldman's note. The movie stakes its position early with Georgie's death, now with added dismemberment, and this habit of relying on showing everything stays with it throughout. Later in the movie, Eddie appears outside a BIG SCARY HOUSE on his bike. There's no build up to him arriving in front of the BIG SCARY HOUSE, he just pitches up. And the door creaks open and so on and so forth. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't quite be bothered to build in why he was there, they just plonked him outside and assumed we'd all be shivering at the BIG SCARY HOUSE. Which looks exactly the same as any other BIG SCARY HOUSE you've seen in movies.
This lack of narrative flow really dents the movie's ability to build any sense of lingering dread. The kids have their own lunatic parents to deal with, the local town bully (who weirdly sort of ends up doing Pennywise's bidding - but only very briefly) and a bloody vicious clown but I struggled to care that much because I didn't feel a part of their lives. The kids themselves bare no blame for this, they all play their roles well and the whole group has a sort of Stranger Things kind of feel about them. Off TV now, they are free to swear and dick around more like kids would and they come across as a natural group. But one that keeps just getting pulled up and dropped into whatever scene that the writers have pulled from the book next. We just don't seem to spend quality time with them to get to know them, they are too busy being bounced around by the script.
As Pennywise, Skarsgård is decent but can't quite pin down the bizarre behaviour and switching pace that made Tim Curry's original clown so utterly horrible. Your best friend one minute, a growling animal the next, Curry's expression shifted wonderfully from glee to malevolence and back to glee again. Skarsgård is smoother, relying more on a menacing look and nifty effects (the projector is genuinely unsettling though you will have seen this in the trailer) to bring home the evil. It's a nice creation but always in Curry's hideous shadow.
It's difficult to fairly judge this iteration of It against the TV mini-series, predominantly because I'm a lot older than I was then but the comparisons are inevitable and, unfortunately, unflattering. Despite the lengthy running time, Muschietti still manages to make the movie feel rushed and fails to blend his shocks into something more meaningful and dread-infused. The jumps are decent, the cast are great and this is by no means a total failure, it just falls short of the vast promise inherent in the source material and of course, scary horrible clowns.