WARNING: This post will be discussing the new IT film, the old TV movie, and the book. That means all kinds of SPOILERS — just a warning, in advance. I am gonna be talking details, so if you are hoping to be surprised by one of the three, this is where you should check out.
BEGINNING OF SPOILER POST (you’ve been more than fairly warned):
DISCLAIMER: Okay, so a LOT of things bothered me about this movie. I will admit right now though, I am a bit biased. I grew up on the TV movie, and have watched it with my closest friends over the years. The old IT wasn’t the greatest movie by any means, but the dialogue and delivery was so bad that it was funny, and I always had a great time watching it with me friends whether it was with my neighborhood gang in middle school, or my best gal pals in college. Also, I watched IT when I was way too young, so Tim Curry’s Pennywise occasionally makes appearances in my nightmares to this day. It was the first movie I watched where I completely recognized and understood how bad it was, and why, on my own (without just adopting whatever opinions my older siblings had). It was one of the earliest examples of a role played so well that I couldn’t find the actor in it. (Was this mostly because it was a terrifying clown, and recognizing the underlying actor would have helped assuage some of my fears – maybe. But even now, Tim Curry’s performance is undeniably fantastic, so that may have only been a small factor.)
Not only did I love the movie as a kid, but I love the book and have read it multiple times. The first time I read it, I was living alone in an empty apartment. My roommates wouldn’t move in for another week or two, so I pretty much had my bedroom set up. The rest of the two bed, two bath apartment was dark and empty. I didn’t have internet or anything, so I figured a good thick book was the way to go. So one night I was reading “IT” in my bed, which was next to a wall of windows showing off the amazing view from the 22nd floor of the Park Evanston (it was an AMAZING apartment). Outside, there was a crazy thunderstorm raging. I didn’t mind one bit since thunderstorms are one of my favorite things, and my view was incredible. Anyway, every so often I would glance up from my book to look at lightning or watch the rain lashing my windows. During one of these glances, I watched as a single red balloon floated up, right past my window. My window on the 22ND FLOOR! IN A THUNDERSTORM! WHILE I WAS READING “IT”…so yeah, I have a lot of fond memories associated with IT as a rule, and naturally had some affectionate bias when I went to see the new one.
Okay, onto business! I had so many problems with this movie, so I’m just going to try to keep them as clear and organized as possible.
1. The Basic Plot
If you are gonna complain about a movie, why not start with the framework? This new film was certainly based on the Stephen King book, much like The Shining was — that is to say, he laid the groundwork, and then the director changed a whole bunch of stuff. The problem is, Kubrick absolutely nailed it. It was not necessarily the movie that the book-lovers wanted, but once you accepted it as it’s own piece, it was an amazing film. That wasn’t the case in this movie. The changes that the director made often felt unnecessary, and what little plot managed to escape the cutting room floor was not from the book. Well, that’s unfair….the character’s did have the same names. But that’s about it. In the book, Georgie’s mutilated corpse* was found directly after the attack. Bill wasn’t on a quest to find Georgie’s body — he wanted to take vengeance on who (or what) -ever killed his little brother, and to bring his parents back. When they lost Georgie, Bill’s parents became empty and hollow. Bill believed on some level that if he could get rid of the evil enveloping Derry, he could snap his parents out of it and make them love him again. Bill remembers what it was like.
“‘Go on, Bill,’ Zack said, and Bill could feel the coldness again. The coldness that made suppers a kind of torture as his father leafed through electrical journals (he hoped for a promotion the following year), and his mother read one of her endless British mysteries: Marsh, Sayers, Innes, Allingham. Eating in that coldness robbed food of its taste; it was like eating frozen dinners that had never seen the inside of an oven” (673).
Bev’s dad was physically abusive, but not sexually abusive. That is why it was so scary in the book when he became sexually threatening toward Bev — IT had essentially possessed him so he could attack Beverly and she wouldn’t** be able to fight back. As a child, she believed that her father loved her, and that his abuse stemmed from a sort of parental concern. In the chapter “June of 1958” Bev remembers a specific incident when her father claimed his abuse was for her own good.
“She felt her love for him. I never hit you when you didn’t deserve it, Beverly, he once told her when she had cried out that some punishment had been unfair. And surely it had to be true, because he was capable of love. Sometimes he would spend a whole day with her, showing her how to do things or just telling her stuff or walking around town with her, and when he was kind like that she thought her heart would swell with happiness until it killed her. She loved hime, and tried to understand that he had to correct because it was (as he said) his God-given job. Daughters, Al Marsh said, need more correction than sons. He had no sons, and she felt vaguely as if that might be partly her fault as well” (397-398).
Yes, it was still abuse, but changing it to sexual abuse so that Bev could chop off her hair and (possibly) murder her father was a significant change in Bev’s family dynamic. Maybe this was just a quicker way to establish that home was not a safe place. That her father could supposedly “love” her and hurt her….still it felt out of place. Like there wasn’t time for her and her father’s relationship to begin with, but they wanted to squeeze in some backstory as quickly as they could.
In general, the plot was breezed over or altered. It was like they tried to reference things from the book and old movie, but didn’t have time to explain any of it so the editors were like, “Eh, the ones who have read/seen IT will get it” Pennywise says, “Beep Beep” to Richie in the new movie, despite the fact that no one else has ever said it. It was creepy of him to say that in the other versions because his friends said it, which meant that he had been watching them or could read their minds. If Pennywise is the only one who ever says it, it doesn’t mean anything. The same goes for the bloody note on Bev’s wall that says, “You’ll die if you try.” In the book and old film, Pennywise threatened Bev, saying, “You’ll die if you try to stop us. You’ll die if you try. You’ll die if you try…” In this new film he never said that, and Bev was the one who was kidnapped so…whoever gets the note will die if he/she tries…to stop Pennywise? To rescue Bev? To wash the bloody note off the wall? Who’s to say?
2. The Characters (or lack there of)
So some of the characters in the new movie were under-developed, or just flat-out wrong. For example:
Eddie was a wheezy and weasley little kid with an overbearing mother who had serious hypochondria on his behalf. He was little and he looked up to Bill. He was not the quick talking kid who carried an inhaler around but didn’t really seem to need it. In the book, Mr. Keene the druggist informs Eddie that his inhaler (which he depends on) is really just a placebo that Eddie receives because his mother is determined that he is sick and fragile, and his doctor is too weak and cowardly to stand up to her. When Eddie realizes Mr. Keene must have been telling the truth, he has a very cool and calculated showdown with his mother in the hospital, where he essentially blackmails her into letting him continue seeing his friends.*** He doesn’t go off of the word of some bitchy teen who told him he was taking placebos before graffiti-ing “LOSER” on his cast, and he doesn’t just yell that he knows they are “Gazebos!” and throw a pill bottle. Yes, this was a funny addition to the new movie, but the actual conversation that he and his mother have in the book is awesome. Eddie is determined and forceful without being a rude or temperamental kid. In fact, his calmness is what scares his mother into submission. When I saw in the previews that Eddie’s arm gets broken, I really hoped that this fight would be included, but instead it was reduced to a gag followed by Eddie behaving rudely to his mother and running out without her permission. It didn’t fit the character.
Butch and Henry Bowers
Henry Bowers is the main bully in all takes on IT, and his father is a crazy man named Butch. Butch is notoriously closed minded, blaming others (the Hanlons – a black family – in particular) for the fact that he is poor and unsuccessful. He was not intelligent, nor sane enough to be made a police officer. He was always crazy, and that crazy rubbed off on Henry. His dad raised him to be a racist, closed-minded bully and he had his father’s pre-disposition toward mental illness.
Henry’s descent toward insanity was much clearer in the book, and was even touched upon a bit more in the old TV movie. At first he was a bully; then he became more violent and tried to carve his name into Ben’s stomach (a moment that was REALLY downplayed in this new film), then he chased down Mike, hurling small sticks of dynamite and rocks forcefully at him and the rest of the Losers. After losing the rock fight, he caught Eddie on his own and beat him, shoving gravel in his mouth and breaking his arm.^ A shop owner (Mr. Gedreau) tried to stop him, but Henry was past worrying about consequences.
“Mr. Gedreau looked back at Henry and got just as far as ‘You get on your bikes and–‘ when when Henry gave him a good hard push…Henry’s shadow fell on him. ‘Get inside,’ he said. ‘You–‘ Mr. Gedreau said, and this time he stopped on his own. Mr. Gedreau had finally seen it, Eddie realized — the light in Henry’s eyes. He got up quickly, apron flapping. He went up the stairs as fast as he could, stumbling on the second one from the top and going briefly to one knee. He was up again at once, but that stumble, as brief as it had been, seemed to rob him of the rest of his grownup authority. He spun around at the top and yelled: ‘I’m calling the cops!’ Henry made as if to lunge for him, and Mr. Gedreau flinched back. That was the end, Eddie realized. As incredible, as unthinkable as it seemed, there was no protection for him here” (783).
While this is him on the more extreme end, there was a clear deterioration . The Henry in the new film was strange and underdeveloped.
Honestly, they pretty much deleted Mike’s entire character, or gave it to Ben. Instead of being the one who gives them the history of Derry, and notices the pattern of violence that happens roughly every 27 years. As an adult, he is still passionate about the history of Derry, and interviews the older people in town to learn as much as he can while all of the other Losers are off living life and not remembering anything. In this new film, Ben does all of the research and groundwork, so Mike is just…the one who brings the cattle killing gun I suppose. Also, his dad lived through “The Black Spot” Massacre and gave Mike a first hand account. But he and Mike’s mom are dead in this film for some reason…so I guess we’ll just ignore that, just like this film sidelines a lot of the racism from the book and old film by instead disliking Mike for being homeschooled. I think that trying to make your fifties (or even late eighties) bullies politically correct is a bad move. They weren’t. They were racist, anti-semitic bullies, and you can’t change history. (Yes, these bullies were fake, but look at the news…they are still out there now, and they were a lot more vocal before the early 2000s.)
3. The Minimization of Violence
Part of the reason Henry’s insanity was underdeveloped in the new movie was because the violence in the film was downplayed and a bit cartoonish. His character literally carved an “H” into Ben’s stomach, and it just sort of happened. It was fast, and immediately followed by Ben flying backward down a hill. It was an incredibly violent and sadistic thing for a MIDDLE SCHOOLER to do, and this movie just rushed through it as wasted time between the endless jump scares.
Another example of this weird downplay of violence is the rock fight that the Losers have with Bowers and his cronies. They are standing about ten feet apart and hurling rocks at each other with all of their strength. One hits Henry directly in the head, and bounces off forcefully and cartoonishly. Henry is unfazed by the blow, which minimizes seriousness of the confrontation. In the book, Henry was throwing rocks along with small explosives. The protagonists were defending themselves (and the new addition, Mike) from serious injury or worse. Before Mike makes it to the group, Henry throws an M-80 at him, and even Henry’s cronies are stunned and visibly frightened.
“They’re ascared of him now, Mike thought suddenly, and a new voice spoke inside of him, perhaps for the first time, a voice that was disturbingly adult. They’re ascared, but that won’t stop them. You got to get away Mikey, or something’s going to happen. Not all of them will want it to happen, maybe — not Victor and maybe not Peter Gordon — but it will happen anyway because Henry will make it happen. So get away. Get away fast” (688).
4. The Lack of Grounding
Alright, so the old movie is not particularly scary, but it was grounded in a sort of reality. Yes, Pennywise was a monster, but the things he did were real. Tim Curry was dressed as a realistic clown. They didn’t CGI the way he looked, the way he moved. He was a real and believable threat that felt like he could be around the corner, or in the basement. When blood gurgled out of Bevvie’s sink in the old movie, it exploded out of a balloon. It was gross and realistic looking. The sink was covered in blood and Bev was spattered with it. In the new film, the sink spews a CGI geyser^^ of blood that covers every inch of the room, and Bev. But somehow she is perfectly clean the next day, (though her bathtub is still a bloodbath) and her and the boys manage to completely clean the entire room. IN another seen, Ben looks out the window of his cab and sees Pennywise pointing and laughing at him while holding a bunch of balloons. When Ben turns back, there is a balloon in the car with him. It doesn’t matter that it is just a balloon because it is startling and eerie. Georgie’s boat shows up in the sewers during part two, and it is simple and creepy and ACTUALLY THERE! In the new film, the boat, the balloons, Pennywise most of the time….it was all CGI. It would have been easier, cheaper and far more effective to just use the real things.
5. The Clown
I know that everyone new that no one was going to top Tim Curry, but I still have to mention it because this clown was pretty annoying. He was usually looking in two different directions, and somehow the lack of eye contact managed to make him less threatening. His movements, face, teeth, etc. were generally CGI-ed which, as I mentioned, made it cheesier and less haunting. Also, this clown relied on looking scary and popping out suddenly, whereas Curry’s Pennywise was scary all on his own. The reason that Tim Curry’s Pennywise was so scary is that he felt like a clown. He could be kind and encouraging toward kids, he made jokes and faces throughout the film that were genuinely funny (even if it was just because he was so clearly annoying the characters around him), and he could be terrifying and threatening without the help of special effects. Also, he just had a great laugh (just watch from 17 seconds to 33 seconds). Being threatened by Tim Curry is already a terrifying prospect. Once you factor in the greasepaint…more than enough to give you nightmares. Skarsgård’s Pennywise was creepy looking from the get-go, which is already not what you want. You want him to become creepy through his actions, but start out friendly like a clown at the circus. The whole reason IT takes the form of a clown is to lure in kids and get them to let their guards down. This clowns scary face and whispered, “Hi” followed by his Gollum-like speech style wouldn’t exactly set a child at ease. I think Tim Curry managed to really give Pennywise a character, while Skarsgård was just designed to look scary and pop out ever ten minutes. This is how the book describes Georgie’s encounter with Pennywise. Beneath that is a link to Tim Curry’s. I don’t think there is any good clip of that exchange from the new film online yet, but you could always go see it and find out. Theaters tend to have deals on Tuesdays.
“He saw himself getting up and backing away, and that was when a voice — a perfectly reasonable and rather pleasant voice — spoke to him from inside the stormdrain. ‘Hi Georgie,’ it said…There was a clown in the stormdrain…’Want your boat, Georgie?’ The clown smiled. Georgie smiled back. He couldn’t help it; it was the kind of smile you just had to answer. ‘I sure do,’ he said” (13-14).
For Tim Curry’s version, click here
The interaction is much longer, but this gives you an idea of how it felt. Pennywise was not creepy and drooling and off-putting. He was a friendly clown, just like the ones that made Georgie laugh on TV. Making the new Pennywise super creepy was kind of the exact opposite of the goal.
Anyway, these are just some of the things that bugged me. There were others, but they were much more the complaints of someone very bookish, like the newer Dumbledore yelling at Harry about the Goblet of Fire, or Tom Bombadil not being in the Lord of the Rings movies. I would be happy to go through them, but I won’t for everyones sake. While I definitely have my biases, I also genuinely disliked this new film, and wanted it to be more than just “Well…because it was bad!” I completely agree that the child actors were good, but they weren’t good enough to make the movie enjoyable for me.
P.S. For those of you who assumed that Pennywise called himself “The Dancing Clown” because he did acrobatics down the street (as in the TV movie), I am sorry to say that that was not the new director’s interpretation.
*Pennywise grabbed Georgie when he reached for his boat, and ripped his arm out of it’s socket. Georgie died immediately.
**I emphasize “wouldn’t” because a normal person (or writer) works under the assumption that a daughter wouldn’t be able to beat the living shit out of her father with a heavy chunk of porcelain, and later ram a pipe down a facsimile of him. This film had no such assumption.
***I wish I could include the fight here, but it would require multiple pages to do it justice. Maybe Google it?
^This bugged me in the new movie — Henry broke Eddie’s arm, not falling through the floor of the house on Neibolt Street.