The “IT” Factor
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!!! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE IT MINI-SERIES OR READ THE NOVEL AND DON’T WANT EITHER RUINED TURN BACK NOW!!!
I constantly go back and forth between which Stephen King book is my favorite, The Stand or IT. Gun to my head I’d probably say the latter. Both are sprawling, intense, multi-layered works that stand up to literary criticism, but when you get down to where the red rubber nose meets the actual nose, IT is where it’s at. There’s just so much to love. The themes of friendship, the disconnect between children and their parents, the grieving process, the nature of Evil, the paper boat symbolism, child abuse and its ramifications, racism in small town New England, and the rich, deep characters of the Loser’s Club. I’ve read the novel at least ten times and when I finish, I always have this bittersweet feeling in my chest, like I’m saying goodbye to old friends. And the fact that the whole group forgets about each other once they’ve conquered the monster? Rips my heart out every single time.
Additionally, at base level King’s seminal work is terrifying, even thirty years after its publication. There’s something inherently horrifying about a being that can prey on your worst fears and bring them to life. And really is there anything more devastating than the murder of a child? It’s every parent’s worst fear including my own. Then there’s the fact that the creature itself appears to children as a being associated with birthday parties, carnivals, and circuses. Yep. I’m talking about clowns.
Did I mention I hate clowns? Well I do. I FUCKING HATE CLOWNS. They scared the shit out of me before I saw the 1990 mini-series based on King’s novel and afterwards it jacked that fear up to eleven. Throw in John Wayne Gacy and the ridiculous 80s film Killer Klowns From Outer Space and suddenly there was a strong possibility that if I ever saw a clown car I’d set it on fire. I don’t care how much my son begs, he will NEVER have a clown at his birthday party. NEVER.
Ah yes the 1990 television mini-series. Anyone who came of age in the 80s and 90s knows what I’m talking about. The miniseries (starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown in arguably his best role) holds up surprisingly well over a quarter century later. While it may seem quaint to an audience that’s used to gore fests like Saw and Hostel, IT possesses ten times the nuance of horror movies like Dead Snow. And this scene still scares the bejesus out of me:
Although I like the 1990 IT mini-series, truthfully it’s limited by the fact that it was on network television. King’s novel runs over 1100 pages and with a 192 minute TV movie, things were naturally left out. (The house on Neibolt street where the Loser’s Club confronts IT in werewolf form being one of the most notable.) Additionally, the level of violence, profanity, and sex was virtually cut by 3/4. A re-make of Stephen King’s work has been in development for over half a decade with director Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) originally attached. Fukunaga left the project last year over the ubiquitous “creative differences” and Pennywise in Waiting Will Poulter (We’re the Millers) was replaced by Bill Skarsgard pictured at the top. For awhile I feared that the story of King’s killer clown and the brave seven who confront him would remain in Development Hell for years. Fortunately director Andres Muschietti (Mama) took over and the film just wrapped production.
However, will IT live up to some VERY high expectations from fans of the novel and the mini-series? Will IT have that…ahem…”It” factor? I think that if Muschietti and company make some of the following choices, (several of which they already have) it’s going to go a long way for pleasing fans and non-fans alike.
CAST UNKNOWNS IN THE ROLES
Yes that is the official cast of the Loser’s Club* and yes that is Finn Wolfhard** of Stranger Things fame sporting the Toronto Blue Jays hat (incidentally he plays Richie Tozier in the film.) When you have a high profile movie based on a high profile novel people are always going to bitch about casting. They are especially going to bitch if you cast a well known actor in certain roles (see Michael Keaton circa 1988 and a well known crime fighting character that likes to dress as a bat.) Looking at the cast of IT, aside from Wolfhard and Skarsgard, virtually no one boasts any Hollywood experience. Despite Stranger Things’ success even Wolfhard isn’t a household name. This is the perfect move by Warner Bros. You don’t run the risk of a Batfleck situation with a mountain of preconceived notions and expectations.
HAVE THE TONE REFLECT THE TIME FRAME
One of the great things about King’s novel is that it juxtaposes the nostalgic era of the 1950s with the “Me Decade” of the 1980s. Moreover, King captures the 50s era with flawless clarity, whether it’s getting an ice cream soda at the drugstore, spending an afternoon playing Monopoly, or childhood in America a few years after the Korean War. As the set picture indicates above the producers have decided to set the children’s portion of the film in the late 80s, specifically 1989. The reason you can tell that is because both of the movies listed on the marquee (Batman and Lethal Weapon 2) released in 1989. I’m fine with them updating the children’s segment from the 50s to the 80s…as long as they capture the tone of that time frame. The tone can encompass all kinds of things: movies, the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers, ripped jeans, VHS tapes, and Metallica. Hey speaking of music…
A KICK-ASS SOUNDTRACK
I’m sure whoever composes the music for IT (there currently isn’t one listed) will set the appropriate creepy atmosphere. However, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the kick-ass tunes/bands that need to be featured in this movie. Bands like Guns N’ Roses, Fine Young Cannibals, The B-52s, Tears for Fears, Def Leppard, U2, Mike and the Mechanics, The Pixies, Joan Jett, and (dare I say it?) New Kids on the Block. Love or hate these bands, they’ll go a long way towards projecting and reinforcing the mood of the 80s. It seems there’s an air of laziness when it comes to soundtracks for films as of late. At least for major films. While I stated previously that Suicide Squad had a great soundtrack, upon further analysis it was really just a recycling of songs that have been done to death in the last decade.
THE CONFRONTATION ON NEIBOLT STREET
One of the gravest injustices regarding the 1990 miniseries was it left the fight between The Losers Club and Pennywise at Neibolt Street on the cutting room floor. Even that’s not accurate because the section was never filmed. In the novel the scene plays out in a phantasmagoric manner that rivals the final showdown between the seven children and IT in the sewer. The set picture above puts to rest any notion that this mistake will happen again. It’s a picture of the house on Neibolt Street where the aforementioned rumble occurs. And holy Santa Claus shit does it look like they nailed it.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS
Whenever there’s a book to movie adaptation, things are inevitably left out. It’s just the nature of the beast. And of course people are going to bitch about the lack of their favorite moments such as say the Tom Bombadil material in The Fellowship of the Ring. However, especially with IT, it would be nice if they added some touches that aren’t only nods to readers but add some ambiance to the film. Non-readers may wonder why the Hell I’ve included a picture of a plastic Paul Bunyan. Unlike the mini-series where Richie Tozier’s initial confrontation with IT was in the basement of Derry Elementary School and in the guise of a werewolf, the novel was quite different. Richie was actually attacked by a giant Paul Bunyan statue instead. (I know that sounds ridiculous but seriously that part was scary.) And while the Derry Library was featured in the original, I’d like to see that glass connection corridor between the children’s library and the adult library that gets played up a lot in the book. Mike Hanlon’s research about Derry and its connection to IT would be a nice touch too.
MAKE IT A HARD R RATING
This may sound like a Captain Obvious statement, but in a horror age where films are toned down to PG-13 in order to expand audience attendance, it bears mentioning. Considering the time (1990), the IT miniseries REALLY pushed the envelope in terms of what was allowed on network television. It’s probably why the movie was so terrifying at the time and why it holds up. However, the sheer level of violence, sex, and swearing in Stephen King’s novel, necessitates that IT carry an “R” rating. Thankfully it looks like that’s what the producers are pushing for.
LEAVE OUT “THAT SCENE” FROM THE RITUAL OF CHUD
The “Ritual of Chud” refers to the battle of psychic wills between IT and the Loser’s Club, most notably Bill and Bev’s battle. It’s also the title of one of the parts in King’s novel. However there is a scene in that section that’s one King’s most infamous. Something that still shocks me every time. Essentially it’s this: After defeating IT, the group gets lost in the sewers. For some reason Bev believes that their bond is bent if not broken and decides the only way to restore the connection…is to have sex with everyone. Mind you these are twelve year olds. It’s awkward to say the least although in no way graphic. And strangely enough it’s not tawdry sex. The section is actually quite tender. If lovemaking (not fucking, that’s different) is the ultimate expression of love, that’s what this scene is all about. Reconnecting on a personal level, reforming the bond. Critics have often cited this scene as sexist and stereotypical, the idea that the only way a woman can gain respect, love, or validation is through sex. While I see their point, I respectfully disagree. The Loser’s Club already loved each other. This wasn’t about validation or power. Regardless, this scene CANNOT be in the movie. It’s just too over the line. And honestly, this part of the “Ritual of Chud” can easily be dropped and the film will not suffer.
IT HAS TO BE A TWO-PART FILM
Certain novels don’t need to be split up for movie adaptations (**cough cough**The Hobbit **cough cough**) however Stephen King’s IT is not one of them. As I mentioned, the book is over 1100 pages long. IT practically screams out to be split. Ever since 2009 the plan was always to have the film split into two parts, one focusing on the children’s story and one focusing on the adult story. (For those of you unaware, the group is drawn back to Derry when Mike discovers that IT is not dead.) However, since Fukunaga left last year, no one’s been able to give a definitive answer to whether IT will be a two-parter. There’s been zero casting announcements for the adult versions of the children and no production start date for the presumed second film. I don’t know if they are waiting to see how successful the initial film is or what but I’ll be VERY pissed off if this is not the case. To be fair I think the chances are slim that we won’t see that portion. After all, why set the film in 1989 if there’s not going to be an adult section? You might as well just set it in 2017.
I’m not naïve enough to think the people behind IT are going to get everything right. That’s totally unrealistic and will only set audiences up for disappointment. However, based on what I’ve seen so far I’m extremely optimistic about this production and how it’s going to turn out. With every new set picture and bit of casting…well it’s like I’m…floating. And come September 8th, 2017 audiences will be reminded that, as Mr. Robert Gray (AKA Pennywise the Dancing Clown) says, “We all float down here.”
WE ALL FLOAT.
*Oh my God this pic is amazing.
**Seriously though, how AWESOME is that name?
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