Back in 1990, there was a television miniseries adaptation of the Stephen King novel It. The series was broadcast in two parts and told two separate, but connected, stories. One followed its protagonists as children and the other showed them as adults three decades later. This new version of It is an adaptation of the first half of that story, which in 1990 only took about 90 minutes to tell. The 2017 version is 135 minutes, which is just the first of many problems I have with it.
The story, for those unaware, follows a bunch of children in the small town of Derry, Maine back in 1989 (updated from the original, whose first story was in the ’50s). They are all being tormented by “it,” whose identity is unknown but it is scaring them and killing other children. So, after lots of time to bond, they eventually decide to take a stand against “it.” Fin. That’s pretty much it. Stephen King stories aren’t usually about the destination; they’re about the journey. The fun is in getting to the end, not on what happens. The details are where the story earns its accolades. But why, oh why, do we need 135 minutes for this?
Fans of the film, and I suspect there will be many, will tell me that we need that time to flesh out our children, giving them an opportunity to come together and bond and grow. If that happened, the movie wouldn’t feel overlong. Most of the children come together by happenstance. They are The Losers, as the film so adorably calls them, and they’re drawn together because (1) the plot requires them to and (2) luck. One of them doesn’t even join the group until only a couple of scenes before they first decide to go after “it.” Their bonding involves rock fights against cartoonishly evil bullies and swimming in a lake. Oh, and they insult each other or make crude jokes at every instance. Because that doesn’t get annoying after more than two hours.
As for their characters? Well, each child has one defining characteristic and one fear. Overcoming the latter—and possibly embracing the former—is how It decides to have them grow. See the movie and try to remember more than a couple of names or maybe something as simple as a favorite food or color. Wait! One of them is a closet New Kids on the Block fan! You’re right; It has great characters. I take back what I said. There’s also a stupid love triangle, because even pre-young-adult characters need to be subjected to obligatory love triangles!
Did I like It? Ultimately, I don’t really think I did.
One of the draws is the villain, who frequently takes the form of a killer clown (played by Bill Skarsgård). His first scene is fantastic; after that, he loses something. Maybe it’s just how much we’ve seen “it” in pop culture, but Pennywise just doesn’t make the knees quiver anymore—at least, not for me. The first scene works because he’s acting manipulative and directly approaching his target; later on, he’s just a creepy-looking clown who either stares at his potential victims or chases after them while laughing maniacally.
But perhaps my biggest issue with It is the way that it tries to scare, particularly in its first half. Not only are there a good number of jump startles, but the film struggles to create any sort of forward momentum. It’ll do something that, at least in theory, is scary, it’ll end that scene, and then won’t do anything remotely frightening for another 10-15 minutes. It’s almost like the scares are arbitrary—thrown in because the filmmakers thought we’d fall asleep without them. This gets corrected about halfway through, after most of our group is together and “it” becomes more desperate to scare them and could potentially show up at any point. It builds atmosphere, eventually, but it feels like it should have started that way earlier—but the halfhearted early “scares” fail to accomplish that.
I feel like I’ve ragged on It a lot, and I have, but it’s not all bad. The film looks great and the work that went into making Pennywise look like he does is incredible. It’s a more traditionally terrifying look than was crafted back in 1990. Some of the kids turn in good performances—although a couple of them are also pretty bad. And there are a couple of off-putting scenes involving one of the kids and her father that are far more effective than anything “it” does, so at least there are a couple of scenes that work as “horror.”
Did I like It? Ultimately, I don’t really think I did. Which is weird, because it looks competently made and has the makings of a good movie. But it’s overlong, doesn’t have enough scares, wastes a lot of time and momentum in its first half and doesn’t have strong enough characters to make up for that, and Pennywise isn’t that scary. If it comes down to entertainment, It is a failure. This is not a horrible movie or a terrible waste of time, but I wasn’t very impressed by It.
Conclusion: It isn’t awful but it disappointed me.
Recommendation: If you need to see It, you won’t really miss out if you wait until it hits home video.