Despite being greatly anticipated (I mean, like, I was counting the days), the It movie is missing je ne sais quoi (that little something). In fact, it is missing the soul, the very spirit, that both the book and even the prior mini-series had. In short, I’m disappointed, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. I can say with certainty, though, that the screenplay sucked.
Pennywise the Clown
Okay, there were several things that were alright. For example, Bill Skarsgard (BS) did a decent job with Pennywise the Clown, especially when standing in the shadow of Tim Curry, which was a hard act to follow. BS captured the dualistic horror of the maniacally happy and ferocious malice of the clown. There was a pretty scary scene when BS jump out from a slide show in a dark garage.
But there was something missing about the way that Pennywise interacted and connected with the kids in the loser’s club. In the book, each kid has his or her own personal horror experience which brought them together in the club, and as part of that, and during subsequent interactions with the members of the club, as a group and sometimes one-on-one, the clown and the kids developed an intimate relationship, something akin to an abused child with his/her abuser, or the dark co-dependency that develops between of the kidnapped and the kidnapper.
For example, both in the book and in the min-series, the loser’s club makes a very conscious decision to go after and destroy Pennywise, and the clown responds by turning up the heat, confronting them with the mantra, “You’ll Die If You Try.” That phrases shows up in this movie, but it seems like an afterthought. That threat bound the kids together, but its strength and meaning was lost in this movie.
The Loser’s Club
These kids just don’t seem that closely bound to each other. In the book, and even in the min-series, there are several events that each kid experiences that is terrifying. They keep the experience mostly to themselves, and then they eventually confess that they’ve been seeing the crazy clown that’s actually killing all the kids in town. For whatever reason, these experiences in this movie didn’t seem very compelling or moving. Even in the mini-series, when they take turns confessing their experiences, it brings them together. But in in this movie, after everyone says they’ve been seeing clowns, it really hadn’t been well established they were a tight club of very close friends.
The min-series uses the first person voice of Mike to narrate some of the story, and an effect of this is also be bring more immediate emotion to the felling of what’s happening. This movie doesn’t do that, and while it may not be necessary to build feeling, this movie didn’t find a good replacement, because moving feelings never came.
The It Screenplay Sucks
There were several events in the book that were not mentioned in the mini-series; so many, in fact, that, with the exception of several key scenes, an entire new movie could have been crafted, weaving these new vinyets into the story, instead of trying to recreate a shadow of the mini-series.
In the book, Mike goes to the scene of the Easter disaster at the old smoke stacks that had collapsed and instead finds a giant bird that tries to kill him. And in the book. Mike’s dad tells the story about how “the black spot,” which was a jazz club for African Americans in post war Derry, burnt to the ground, killing many, and his dad saw Pennywise in the chaos, apparently soaking up the horror. In the book, Mike’s parent’s hadn’t died in a fire, and that whole business about Mike’s parents burning up and trying to get to him was never in the book. This new version didn’t work, and didn’t do much to develop Mike as a strong character.
Back to when the kids confess they’ve been seeing clowns … After that point, this new movie version of It changed so much about the story, that the screenplay seemed to meander, not sure where it was going, but just trying to twist the story in any way possible, just as long as the Loser’s Club ends up confronting Pennywise underground somewhere.
In the book, a homeless man chased Eddie from the vacant lost, rushing out from under the porch. There was none of the recurring business about zombies or lepers, or whatever they were supposed to be, except briefly in the standpipe. Seemed like the writers couldn’t figure out what would be scary, so they just settled on zombies, like everyone else.
After that, in the book, Bill learns that Pennywise might be lurking around the old house, he gets a gun, and tries to confront Pennywise there. But not all of the Loser’s club is with him, and Bill narrowly escapes the house by himself, not with all the other kids in toe.
The Barrens Is the Key Location (and More on the Screenplay)
In the book and in the mini-series, the Barrens is where Pennywise’s layer is located, and it is from there that everything evil flows. Not the old house. Yes, the house is one of the places that Pennywise is using to come and go, but that’s about it. The scene in the movie, where all the kids go to the house and nearly get killed, etc., doesn’t happen in the book. And again, it seems like the screenplay writers was just trying to jumble everything up, make a really scary scene, just to segue the direction of the plot to the final battle somewhere underground. But in doing so, many of the other scenes that involve kidnapped kids and the Bowers clan get shuffled to the side, apparently so all this business about the Barrens can be forgotten. Many of the killings take place somewhere near the Barrens, the river or one of the places where the creature is coming and going, like the Standpipe.
In the book, Pennywise is also coming and going from the Standpipe (not just a “water tower”), and there’s a pretty scary scene about that in the book. While the movie briefly shows a Standpipe, it doesn’t call it that, nor does it portray the scene.
The Characters Were Miscast and Dialogue Unbalanced
Bill stutters, sure, but he’s still a strong leader, which did not come across in this movie. Richie is the joker and he is also very strong. Putting glasses on the kid from Stranger Things didn’t necessarily make him a good pick to play Richie, especially when that actor could have played Bill. Indeed, it was almost like casting didn’t let him play Bill just because he was the leader in Stranger Things, which means it was a mistake to cast him in this film in the first place. Eddie shined with some excellent lines, but his portrayal was so good it reminded you that the rest of the characters were flat. Stan’s role seemed to be to just stand around, be scared, and otherwise fill space. Mike went from being a key figure in the book and mini-series to being a token character.
Beverly Is Too Old and Too (Sexy) Molly Ringwald
Ironically, one of the boys refers to Beverly as Molly Ringwald, which highlights the biggest problem with casting that actor – she’s too damn old. Sure, all the boy’s had a crush on her, but Beverly was not hot enough be actually look like she’d stepped out of Pretty in Pink. She was younger, and more childish, like the rest of the boys, as she was in the mini-series. It just seemed at times that Beverly was old enough to be babysitting the rest of the boys, not being part of the club. And there was no this inference that Beverly’s dad may have been sexually molesting her. That was a huge distraction from the story, and just a little too much – dark. AND I don’t remember Beverly apparently killing her own father (?), because that was also inferred. The last time her dad is shown in the movie, he’s lying on his back in the bathroom with a pool of blood swelling under his head.
It (2017) Just Wasn’t Convincing
There’s more details that could be said, but in the end (yes, I know there’s a lot of “buts” here), the story just wasn’t convincing. First and foremost, It is a strong story. A story about young kids becoming very close friends, and facing the biggest challenge of their lives. Yes, It is like Stand By Me because Steven King wrote that, too, and because like Stand By Me, It also weaves a very moving story about friendship. It is not just about scary scenes and eye popping computer generated clowns. It inspires. It reminds us of what we struggled with children, and how those ghosts haunt us today, make us who we are, for good or bad. BUT this It movie reminds us that the book is much better, and even the melodrama of John Ritter is sorely missed.