While the development, production, and eventual release of It (2017) saw a lot of obstacles it was inevitably a huge critical and financial success. Released last fall, It went on to gross just over $327 million on a $35 production budget (Box Office Mojo, n.d.). The final box office totals are particularly impressive when you take into consideration the R-rating and retention of the source material’s darker themes.
It has long been considered one of Stephen King’s better novels, but its sheer length has made adapting it to the big screen challenging. A made-for-television version released in 1990 spread out the source material across two episodes. Unfortunately, this version was seriously limited by budget and prime time TV content guidelines. With the 2017 film version, long-time fans were finally treated with seeing King’s vision in movie theatres and It was certainly worth the wait.
Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the screenplay, credited to Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer, and Gary Dauberman, wisely opted to divide the source material in half. The 2017 film focuses on the childhood portion of King’s massive work. Similar to the novel, the murder of Georgie Denbrough pushes together a group of young social misfits. The “Losers Club” inevitably elect to confront the shapeshifting terror, Pennywise the Clown, that has haunted the small town of Derry.
A Film True to the Emotional Core of the Novel
Much of the success of Andy Muschietti’s It can be attributed to his understanding of King’s original masterpiece. When you’re dealing with a novel that pushes over 1000 pages, it’s inevitable that some aspects of the source material will be left out, even when dividing the novel into two films. Fortunately, the film understands King’s core themes of the horrors of childhood and growing up.
…the horror of It arguably works so well because it never forgets the humanity at the heart of its story.
Muschietti’s It distils these powerful themes through its focus on the friendship of the “Loser’s Club”. Details from the novel are re-arranged or altered but It understands the emotional core that holds the story together. Audiences are given an endearing and often moving look at childhood bonds. In fact, the horror of It arguably works so well because it never forgets the humanity at the heart of its story.
Some characters and storylines from the novel are sadly given short shrift. Alterations to Mike Hanlon’s story from the novel dismiss much of King’s subtext on racism that would still seemingly fit with the film’s themes of the nightmares of growing up. Derry bully Henry Bowers also feels a little underdeveloped and under-utilized given his role in both the novel and importance to the film’s plot. Nonetheless, these are relatively small complaints given how well the film translates King’s novel. Thankfully, Fukanaga et al’s script leaves out King’s bizarre child sex orgy.
It Genuinely Scares and Disturbs
Free from the confines of the 1990’s made-for-television format and smartly embracing an R-rating, It boasts some truly disturbing and frightening moments. Director of Photography, Chung-Hong Chung and Muschietti know how to stage there scares, balancing more traditional jump-scare moments with scenes that take more subtle approaches at getting under your skin. This is the rare case of a big Hollywood film that does not compromise on the horrors it promises.
Some fans of King’s novel may be disappointed that some cross-over monsters are absent from the film. Yet even with the absence of some of these moments there are still plenty of fun and thrilling moments. Poor Georgie Denbrough’s death is appropriately shocking even when you know it’s coming. Pennywise emerging from a projector screen is sure to elicit screams from viewers. And Eddie’s ‘leper monster’ captures all the gruesome details of King’s prose.
Strong Performances Bolster the Scares
Across the board, It is impeccably cast with performances that are undeniably strong. To be perfectly honest, I was never impressed with the original made-for-television adaptation of King’s novel. One of the main problems with that version was horrible miscasting in key roles. All the child actors in Muschietti’s It are perfectly suited for their roles – they’re living, breathing embodiments of the characters from the novel. In addition, each of the young actors turn in completely believable and captivating performances. Finn Wolfhard, from Stranger Things, stands out as Richie Tozier, and Sophia Lillis gives a star-making performance as Beverly Marsh.
Bill Skarsgard does the impossible in It and offers audiences a chilling re-interpretation of Pennywise.
One of the only high points from the made-or-television version of It was Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. It was hard to imagine another actor taking on the role and not being overshadowed by Curry’s performance. Surprisingly, Bill Skarsgard does the impossible in It and offers audiences a chilling re-interpretation of Pennywise. In a film that boasts a lot of highlights, Skarsgard still manages to stand out with his performance.
It Was Worth the Wait
In a year that included several strong horror entries, the 2017 It finally gave Stephen King fans the big-screen version of his novel that they’ve been waiting for since 1986. From cinematography to storyline decisions and performances, It exceeds expectations giving fans a horror film that is well worth watching more than once. It remains to be seen how well the back half of King’s novel will work on the big screen. Fortunately, it sounds like the creative foundation behind the first film will be returning, bolstering fan expectations.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A+