The Stephen king novel IT was released in 1986, followed by the famous 1990 miniseries that has since become a cult classic, mostly due to the chilling performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Overall the miniseries works as a TV movie based on a King novel even with the budgetary and technology restrictions of the time. I have always wondered, why remake good movies? Why not remake one that hadn’t quite worked the first time instead? This new version of IT is a great example of that theory. The filmmakers managed to take a long, complicated story and streamline it into something compelling, adding new elements but keeping the original themes and scary tone.
Now fans of the book and miniseries know that this story is long: it’s split into two parts that deal with the main characters as young adults and then years later as full adults. Where in the miniseries we follow both stories concurrently, here in the new version this first film just follows the portion of the story that focuses on the kids.
In Derry, Maine in the summer of 1989, a group of outcast preteens known as “The Losers Club” fight against a shape-shifting entity that can take on different forms depending on its victims’ worst fears, but it mainly sticks with eerie clown named Pennywise. This thing is responsible for the disappearance of dozens of children in their town for many years, and in seeking to destroy it, the kids are forced to confront their own personal demons.
Taking cues from Stranger Things, the filmmakers got amazing child actors, even going so far to get main Stranger Things actor Finn Wolfhard. Each of these child actors act beyond their years. Each brings their A-games to the party, especially Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. They are fantastic and very believable in their roles. Lillis is the perfect girl-next-door-first-crush-type. Her journey in the movie is pretty great. All the kids have to overcome some sort of personal obstacle, but hers is the one where people cheered out loud when she overcame hers.
Now, no one is going take the Pennywise mantle away from the great Tim Curry, who at a time was a shining, scary example of what Pennywise could be. And it’s hard not to compare, because that’s what we film horror fans do, but Bill Skarsgard is amazing. He’s completely different from Curry, which is what he needed to be. There is only one Tim Curry, so to try to redo what he did would have been insulting and frankly, downright foolish. Skarsgard managed to take a creepy clown and make him more than he ever was. The advent of special effects helps by leaps and bounds. Pennywise is now an evil entity that can transform at will into whatever scary thing a child can imagine.
One of the highlights of the film is when the kids attempt to stop Pennywise, only for him to get the upper hand in an awesome kitchen battle. It’s an edge-of-your-seat fight with some great effects and scary imagery. Even though this Pennywise is all new and different, each is great in their own way. Both will be remembered for a long time in the horror fandom.
There have been many Stephen King film adaptations of his iconic and very poplar novels. Some of have been great or Oscar worthy (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery) some has been just downright terrible (Dreamcatcher, The Dark Tower, Needful Things.) But most seem to fall into the simple category of mediocre at best. I’m glad to say that IT is not one of the latter. The movie is great! Fun scares, scary imagery, some wonderful dark humor and some of the best child acting ever seen. IT is everything a Stephen King film should be. Cannot wait for IT Chapter Two!