“It wants to divide us!”
Last night I went to the premiere of the movie that inspired “It Week” here on In Defense of the Horror and leaving the theater, I really had to question some of my life choices. Here I had spent all the this time on my blog building up to this movie and trying to convince myself it was going to be good, but the only thought I had on my way home was “that was an experience.”
BUT, you’re not here for vague, unhelpful comments, are you? You’re here to watch me make a bunch of people angry by tearing mercilessly into a film that others seem to anjoy and alienate myself from the rest of Stephen King’s fanbase. So, now that I have slept on it some, I think I’m ready to make some enemies.
SPOILER WARNING: While I feel like it may be difficult to give too many plot-related spoilers to a story that is so well known, I highly encourage you to watch the movie and form your own opinions before reading this. I think this one missed the mark but a lot of fans are enjoying it and I would hate to take that away from anyone before they even see the movie.
Yesterday I wrote a short piece about my concerns going into the movie (you can check the link here if you missed it: Preliminary Thoughts: Stephen King’s It) There were two things that had me really worried; the notion that this adaptation was trying too hard and the rumors that it stuck so closely to the source material.
I was spot on about the movie trying too hard. While there was a sense of levity that softened the blow some, it was clear that the plot took a backseat to the aesthetic as the film went out of its way on numerous occasions to cash in on horror tropes and overused imagery associated with the genre. The special effects were obviously better than in the mini-series and they did a good job balancing gore with other types of fear-inducing visuals – but a lot of the concepts were a bit of a stretch and seemed to fit poorly into the movie.
A couple examples are the smoldering Easter eggs and the stretched woman from the painting, – but I think the best example is probably Pennywise himself. One of the things that I liked so much about Tim Curry’s portrayal of It was that he was over the top – but the 2017 film kept pushing and pushing to add ridiculous and seemingly unnecessary elements to make the clown seem strange. Guys, he’s literally a shapeless entity who has to take a physical form to feed on children every 27 years – you don’t have to try that hard to make him creepy and original.
But seriously, what were they going for with Pennywise? They way he talked reminded me a lot of Gollum if Gollum got a job trying to sell circus tickets. I’m assuming they were trying to make him sound less human and more like an entity trying to imitate human speech (maybe?) but I feel like what they captured was a human failing to imitate monster speech. His silly outfit doesn’t get less silly in context, in fact it made many of the times when he was after the children seem more comedic than I feel was appropriate – especially when combined with the way that he moved. That was actually my biggest problem with Pennywise by the way;his movement. It was very inconsistent. Sometimes it moved like a human, sometimes it was like a Silent Hill nurse on speed, sometimes it was like a limbless puppet, and there was one scene I actually laughed out loud because he reminded me so much of Octodad with the way he was flailing around.
I felt at a lot of points like I was right to have assumed the movie would try too hard, and I think the fact I was thinking so much about that instead of what was happening on screen shows how easy it was to become disconnected from the story. What I wasn’t right about however was my other concern; this really didn’t stick to the source material as well as I was afraid it would. In fact, I’d say they went the other way with it, adding and removing elements until it really was an entirely different story. As someone who saw a lot of room for improvement in the book, I can see why this was attempted, but they took a lot of risks that I don’t feel paid off.
They reduced the members of the Loser’s Club to their most basic characteristics and rewrote their stories around that. That was really disappointing to see because if the book got one thing right, it was the characters. What started as subtle changes to personal backstories and a lack of career-related foreshadowing turned into an over-simplification of characters that had a negative impact on their dynamic as a group. This was bad enough, but it seemed at a lot of points like they were going out of their way to accomplish this.
I think they stuck truest to Eddy. He had more of an edge in the movie than he did in the miniseries and they did a good job balancing the fears that his mother had instilled in him with his desire to think for himself. That being said, I still felt less connected to him in the movie than I did in the book or the miniseries.
Bill would probably be the next best. A lot of the story focused on him so I feel like he was a little better developed and even though he was different in this version, they kept a lot of the right elements. He was a creative kid trying to deal with the loss of his brother. He’s brave, he’s a protector, he’s leader of the group. Where I feel like this version of him was lacking was how he connects to the other characters – or rather how he doesn’t connect to the other characters. He commands less respect from his friends here and too much of his bonding was with Georgie as opposed to the other members of their club. It also bothered me that he wasn’t a storyteller. We see that he draws a picture of Bev, which suggests he is still creative, but there’s virtually no suggestion he’ll grow up to be a writer. I know I was just complaining about so many of Stephen King’s writer characters are heroes and it’s gotten predictable, but as a writer I can’t imagine a movie being made about me where that didn’t come up. Writing was a part of Bill’s identity, and it was really sad to see that stripped away.
Mike isn’t portrayed as a character following in the footsteps of a proud father who teaches him about overcoming adversity. We don’t even get to see the relationship he has with his parents because they were both killed off before the start of the movie in a fire that inspires Mike’s nightmares of seeing burning hands reaching for him. The scene where this is introduced was actually pretty neat, but I wrongly assumed that the burning hands were hands from the people who burned alive when The Black Spot was attacked by white supremacists. While I can see how having Mike’s parents be the source of this imagery makes the narrative more personal, I feel like it would have said a lot more about Mike’s character if he had seen the hands first, gotten the history of The Black Spot fire, and had the personal connection be more about discrimination that he and his family have been suffering for generations – more like the book. Not only do I think that makes the Mike Hanlon from the book stronger as a character, but I feel like the social commentary about prejudice would have been very timely considering disturbing events happening out in the real world right now. The only benefit that I can see to this alternative is that it really did cut down on the racial slurs from the book and miniseries.
Stanley comes across more cowardly than practical. While he was supposed to be the reluctant one, the one in denial of their situation, the book Stanley drew strength from his friends and offered support even in the times when he doubted them. The Stanley in the movie fought the group, divided them, hindered their progress, and generally came across as the weak link. While those are elements that should have been implied, they were too obvious and too much a vital part of Stan’s overall personality in the film. They also did a lot of set-up for Stanley’s Bar Mitzvah, which I think could have worked well to emphasize the “coming of age” theme that this adaptation seemed to be going for, but I felt like it was an element that was ultimately skimmed over. At the end of all things, it felt more like a loose end than an interesting addition.
Ben didn’t get to build anything. We didn’t get to see his natural talent or the way his brain works – or much of his personality at all. The only creative outlet he has in the haiku that he writes to Bev, and even this is overshadowed by how pronounced Bev’s chemistry was with Bill over any of the other members of the Losers Club. I felt like he went from being one of the best developed characters to one of the worst developed characters. What we did get to see was his fascination with Derry history, something that helped move the plot along but painted him as more of an obsessive creeper than an intelligent, albeit shy kid.
Richie was awful. I knew that I wasn’t going to like the new Richie as much as I liked the last one because of how much I love Seth Green, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. They stripped him of a lot of his character by removing most of his voices and impersonations. These were replaced with an over-abundance of lazy sex jokes that were made not just by Richie, but by everyone. It took him out of his comic relief role, trading in his unique style of humor for something generic and forgettable. On top of this, his fear of clowns seemed forced – like it was an excuse to include more creepy clown imagery than to develop a main character.
Finally, let’s talk about Beverly.
I saved her for last because this gets a little more personal for me. I read the book as a kid and I grew up with the miniseries, and Bev was always a character I deeply admired. Growing up with such a terrible father she gravitated toward unhealthy situations, abusive men, and felt comfortable in the roll of a victim – but even at her most submissive she never let those things define her. She knew when to step in and take control of what was happening – always aware of her limits. She didn’t have trouble expressing her emotions and she wasn’t afraid to be herself. She was so brave. It was also great to see a girl who was capable of opening herself to people and being feminine while still knowing how to kick ass. I didn’t get that impression from this movie, and that’s something that was absolutely heartbreaking for me. While she wasn’t a weak character by any means, she did become more of a tomboy cliche. Instead of embracing her femininity to become more empowered, she shies away from it like it’s something she’s uncomfortable with. Struggling with identity would have been one thing, but it’s a dilemma that I feel wasn’t resolved for her and could have been handled better. Additionally, when it comes to the “final battle” if you will, she needs rescued in this version. That pissed me off to no end. Beverly Marsh should never need rescued – she should be kicking ass. In the book and the miniseries she made the decision to go down into those sewers, and she was on the front line ready to fight. In fact, the fact that she was the one to take lead on the physical aspect of the monster fighting was one of the most inspirational things in the world to me when I was a girl – and I would have liked to see that movie do her justice in that regard.
That leads into some final complaints I have about the film as a whole – because it’s something that I think is perfectly embodied by the slingshot with silver ammunition. This movie changed a lot of things to make them feel more realistic, and in doing that I feel like it missed the entire point of the story. It makes sense to take more weapons than a single slingshot when going to fight a monster, but the fact that The Losers Club marches into the sewers to fight Pennywise with one slingshot, three makeshift bullets, and an inhaler was symbolic of the hope that the characters are able to maintain and the childlike innocence that leads them to victory. Belief, hope, and laughter are the things that conquer fear – not better weapons.
That wasn’t the only instance of realism trumping the underlying themes of the book, either.
Bill wants to go to the Barrens not for summer fun, not to make a dam, but to look for the corpse of his brother. That makes sense. He feels responsible for Georgie’s death, he’s watched his parents give up and tune out, he needs closure and he needs to know that he’s done everything he can not to be powerless. Those are all deep, rational emotions for a young boy in his situation to have. At the same time though, it removed the contrast between innocent childhood antics and stepping in to fight evil.
It makes sense that the Losers Club wouldn’t always be on the same page, that they’d fight and even have a brief falling out. These aren’t kids who chose to be friends out of common interests after all, these are kids who are driven together because they’re all misfits. The closeness of the group is what makes them such a threat to Pennywise, however, and it’s the fact that they aren’t just an ordinary group of friends that gives them the power to defeat an evil that’s been feeding off the town for countless generations. They address that power in the movie, if anything it’s more spelled out here than it was in the miniseries.
If we stick together, all of us. We’ll win.
But the Losers Club wasn’t portrayed as a close group of children able to stay strong as a unit, and they don’t come across as having a special or even a particularly deep bond with one another. It was the fact that their dynamic seemed too good to be true that made it seem possible for them to take down such a powerful evil. It’s what made the story work and now that has been replaced.
There are a lot of other things I didn’t like, and I probably have enough complaints to fill up several more articles – but these were the core things that bothered me about the new It. I know a lot of other people really enjoyed it and if you got something out of the movie, I think that’s awesome. I however, was disappointed in the quality of It and the story that it told.