Starring-Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher
Reviewed September 20, 2017
An enormous amount of hype has gone into the first big-screen adaptation of the epic length 1986 Stephen King novel, It. An above average mini-series based on the book was released in 1990, but the film version is much more effective. Officially entitled It: Chapter One, it divides the story in half, only focusing on the characters as children not as adults decades later. The film is highly effective with fantastic story, visuals, cinematography, and a rocking musical score. Simply put, it is one of the better Stephen King film adaptations.
As rabid Stephen King readers will understand, at over eleven hundred pages in length, and spanning a time period of thirty years, a two hour and fifteen minute film simply wouldn’t do to encompass the author’s artistic vision. To be determined is how chapter two will measure up to the glory of the first chapter.
Derry, Maine is the sleepy little town where the action takes place and the time period is 1988- worth pointing out is that the novel takes place in the late 1950’s. On a stormy afternoon, seven year old Georgie takes a paper boat, constructed by his older brother Bill Denbrough, outside to see if it sails. He meets a clown in the storm drain, who introduces himself as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown”. Pennywise toys with Georgie, turns vicious, and tears the boy’s arm off. Months later, life goes on as Bill and his group of friends known as “The Losers Club” all separately begin to see variations of Pennywise.
The film is really part teenage summer adventure balanced with a terrifying horror film and director Andres Muschietti achieves this mixture seamlessly. In fact, the use of lighting is one example of how the film goes about in this fashion. Most of the outdoor sequences, are bright, sunny, and airy. Conversely, the truly scary scenes, usually involving the entity of Pennywise, are shot using dark lighting, thereby eliciting fear and a perfect mood.
The casting is terrific- I specifically found actor Jaeden Lieberher as Stuttering Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor, as Ben Hanscom, and actress Sophia Lillis, as Beverly Marsh, wonderful performers, and the clear standouts among the teenage characters. Lillis, bright-eyed and possessing a strong-willed composure, is reminiscent of a young Scarlett Johansson, and could have a bright future ahead of her. Lieberher contains an every-kid innocence and is believable in his earnestness and stuttering ability. Lastly, Taylor fills pudgy new kid in town, Ben, with comedy and a romanticism in his unrequited love for Bev.
Successful is the portrayal and appearance of the demonic entity, Pennywise. Since the fictional clown has over thirty years of interpretation and imagination, bringing him to cinematic life was surely a challenge. A risk would have been to make him either too horrific or too cartoon-like- the end result is a perfect hybrid. Bill Skarsgard exudes crazy in his brilliant performance, teetering between goofy and playful with Georgie, and evil personified as he taunts and terrorizes the kids in his dusty hideaway.
Interesting, and to be noted, is the fact that none of the adult characters are written in a sympathetic fashion. From the creepy Alvin Marsh, to the nerdy pharmacist, even the stern librarian, and the overbearing Mrs. Kaspbrak, they are each laden with an unlikable quality. The closest adult to being “nice”, Bill’s father, finally screams at his son to accept the fact that Georgie is dead.
Two small complaints include the two secondary bullies- king bully Henry Bowers cohorts are not given their comeuppance and simply vanish from the screen never to be mentioned again. Secondly, the sound exterior shots of Derry, Maine exude a New England freshness and a small town mystique. Too bad that the scenes were not filmed in Maine at all, but somewhere outside of Toronto, Canada- more realism would have been nice.
Due to the huge success of the adapted film, legions of fans will undoubtedly hold their breaths waiting for the resurrection of Pennywise and “It” to be unleashed on film fans everywhere- probably in 2019. I will be one of those fans.