The new It film is a great translation to the silver screen, but it could’ve been better had certain elements not deviated from the novel.
It—the slick new 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal work of horror—is a fun ride and will prove to be a box-office winner this fall season. However, It deviates from the novel of the same name in various ways—some understandable (due the original novel’s length and its translation to the screen) and some questionable.
In one statement: the film was definitely fun and provided the thrills I was expecting. But—and this is a big “but”—it could’ve been so much more. And no, I’m not comparing this new version to the the 1990 made-for-tv version. I know a lot of reviewers have been calling this latest version a “reboot,” “remake,” or “reimagining.” The film is none of those. Stephen King’s It was a book to begin with, so this new film is just another adaptation—like the television movie.
The new film retains the atmosphere found in King’s horrifying tale of an evil clown terrorizing children in the town of Derry. In fact, due to its R-rating, the dialogue and visuals are pretty faithful to the novel. Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier’s (Finn Wolfhard) colorful speech is gold and his attitude has definitely been preserved. The method by which It kills has also been perfectly mined and terrifyingly reproduced with 21st century technology via King’s graphic descriptions.
Where It suffers is in some of the characterizations and its need to use tropes. Characters which could’ve been fleshed out more were left with vague backstories—backstories which King went into fascinating (and excruciating) detail in the novel, thereby creating characters the readers could relate and sympathize with (and also hate, as is the case with Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton)).
WARNING: Potential Spoilers Ahead
The biggest example of this deviation would be the character of Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). In the book, Mike lived on a farm with his parents. School bully Henry targets Mike due to two things: Mike’s race (being black) and Mike’s father, Will Hanlon, being the source of the Bowers’ farm’s bad economic situation (a lie that Henry’s insane father tells him). Above all, Mike is the one who researches the history of Pennywise and Derry’s high rate of mysterious deaths and child killings.
The film changes those elements completely. In the film, Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) becomes the researcher and the one unraveling the mysteries. Mike has been relegated to being a very minor side character whose parents are already deceased. And Henry’s father is a cop who isn’t insane (the insanity is what contributes to Henry’s sadistic nature in the novel). It’s a mystery to me as to why the writers chose to change Mike’s backstory as well as Henry’s.
Another problem is with the film’s cliche of having a damsel in distress. In the novel, Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) never really needed rescuing. During the Losers Club’s final childhood showdown with It, Beverly was the one who saved most of her friends—leading them away from the pursuing Bowers Gang. There was really no need to switch this major plot point out other than to satisfy the solidifying of Bill Denborough (Jaeden Lieberher) as the film’s white knight. These are but a few of the major changes from the novel.
I understand that in adaptations, details need to be changed due to time limitations and an adherence to structure. However, the writers could’ve preserved a silver-screen-friendly format without sacrificing King’s great work. In the novel, the story bounces back and forth between 1958 and 1985—with details being filled in during character recollections. The storytelling scheme King used was a powerful one—presenting information in a perfectly timed manner, making everything compelling and unforgettable.
A constant stream of flashbacks wouldn’t have worked for the film. However, like I said, the film didn’t need to purely follow the novel’s structure. The chapters involving the characters’ childhoods could’ve been presented in a linear format with just as much impact.
With all the criticism, there is still a lot to love about the film. As a person who was the same age as the characters in the film’s 1989 time setting (which also makes it quite creepy since I’m also from the east coast and grew up in the same type of small town), I can appreciate the grand nostalgia. Making everything even weirder and more vivid, I was also incessantly picked on by a mullet-wearing bully. I’m sure many viewers can find a facet of themselves in one or all of the Losers.
The visual effects are very much top-notch. Computer-generated imagery seemed to be used at a minimum, with a lot of Pennywise’s (Bill Skarsgård) creepiness stemming from the actor’s own natural talents. The gore and graphic violence didn’t shy away from King’s narrative—and I was actually appreciative in seeing how a filmmaker would interpret the master horror author’s descriptions.
It will definitely be a crowd-pleaser, and it will definitely perform very well at the box-office, especially with Halloween around the corner. For fans of King’s novel, they may find certain elements to be disappointing. But hey, knowing how timeless King’s classic is, we can just wait another twenty-seven years (strange how that matches up with Its hibernation cycle) and get another adaptation.
It had a United States release date of September 8, 2017.