Chesterton and I have just returned from watching It, and we both had roughly the same reaction walking out of it. Going into this movie, I had always been a fan of the original. Chesterton, never really the horror buff, has not seen the original. Having read up on the bare minimum “essentials” of what he needed to know for this iteration of the story, he approached with a relatively fresh perspective. For once, I was the one more familiar with the source material, and watched with a more critical eye.
How Does IT Compare?
Keeping in mind the differences in the times and capabilities from which each of these installments originate, it’s understandable that there would be notable differences in each film. Not only have the capabilities of movie magic evolved, but so has the horror genre, for better or for worse. But just how much does this new version deviate from the original, and is it an improvement on a favored classic, or is this highly anticipated revival all for naught?
Let’s begin with the most important component for both films: the characters. On a basic level, the characters share many similarities between both films. Their backstories are naturally the same, and their most prominent traits have been preserved, for the most part, as well as the role each of them plays, of course. The only thorough, and efficient, way to really delve into the characters, in this format, is individually.
Bill: He is likely the most directly translated character between the two films. He looks the same, he talks the same, and he has the same basic character traits: his vigilance in looking into his brother’s death, his compassion towards others, particularly those labeled as “outcasts”. In the new version, Bill has much more of an opportunity to face his feelings about his brother’s death. Rather than a scene here and there, where he suddenly gets sad or angry about his brother, Bill’s character develops around his grief, and it is always present in his motivations throughout the movie, which feels much more natural.
Richie: Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things), knocks it out of the park as Richie, which comes as no small surprise. He is absolutely hilarious. It’s hard to contend with Seth Green’s performance in the original, but Finn makes this character his own, as the irreverent jokester. Many times, he had me laughing in some of the most inappropriate situations. Unlike Seth, Finn has no problem bringing in the drama, as well, which provided some much needed balance, to avoid the film’s most outstanding source of comic relief from feeling like a two dimensional character.
Beverly: Perhaps the greatest difference in characters was with Beverly. The original movie presented her backstory in a rather tame manner. It was made clear that her father was abusive, but there were not such strong notes of sexual abuse, which actually feels rather crucial to her character. Particularly considering the direction they went with her character in the new film. While the original Beverly Marsh was more timid, and seemed to try her best to wear a facade around others in order to avoid arousing suspicion or drawing unwanted attention, New Bev is rebellious, and exhibits behavior more characteristic of an adolescent who is acting out as a result of ongoing trauma. Ultimately, Bev is a stronger character, as well. While the original love triangle between Bev, Bill, and Ben is still there, Bev plays a much more significant role in these interactions, compared to the first film.
Mike: Strangely, Mike seems to have less depth in the new film, despite having much more of a background. We are given information on his parents’ deaths, and more about his personal life, his character manages to fall flat. It seems clear to me that he’s been left in the movie merely as solidarity with the original film, and I assume the book, but the directors played it safe by somewhat drowning out the racist themes behind his character being bullied. “Get out of my town!” is as close as it seems to get.
Ben: As opposed to the first film, Ben actually seems a bit more charming at first. He’s still fat and clumsy, as he originally is, but he holds his own in his first encounter with Beverly, in an awkward, quirky way. I appreciated the dynamic. Unfortunately, once Bev meets Bill, Ben is all but washed away. Reduced to coy glances whenever he sees Bill and Bev talking. The only other purpose he serves (granted, an important one) is being the expert on the history of Derry, and the many accidents and tragedies that plague the town. Rather than a small, unassuming class project at the start of the film, Ben has graduated to a full on conspiracy theorist, with photos and documents tacked to his wall. Ben paves the way for the gang to discover what has been happening, and allows them to find the means to face It. Unfortunately, he does so with very little character or development.
Eddie: Unlike Ben, Eddie starts weak, but finishes rather strong. Initially, his only job seems to be to overtly convey that he doesn’t think Richie is funny. Richie jokes, Eddie rolls his eyes, groans, tells him to shut up. His obsession with infection feels almost Sheldon-esque as he rattles off the dangers of playing in stagnant water or touching certain plants. As in the original film, he develops a bit of fortitude, but he manages to hang onto it for the remainder of the film. He’s scared, but he steps up, and he fights. Also, while Richie is the driving force behind the majority of the comic relief in the show, Eddie takes the credit for the most absolutely hilarious moment of the show, and I’m not going to spoil it, but its just great. Eddie’s mom, being one of the few parental characters to play any actual role in the plot, is just weird. Very strange choices with her, which really do detract from the scenes she’s in. She’s awkwardly padded to make her look overweight, but it just looks unnatural. It’s as if the makeup and costuming department ran out of funds, so they just wrapped her in foam and batting, and then squeezed her into a pink tracksuit. She looks like a character from a Foo Fighters music video, or one of those awkward MTV produced movies.
Stanley: Honestly, he has been converted into one of the most useless characters in the whole story. He’s basically a cardboard cutout. He groans and whines about everything they do, but otherwise contributes nothing. Eddie could have completely taken over Stanley’s role as well, and he could have been cut out entirely. He is a sounding board for Eddie’s protests of “Don’t do that. Don’t go in there.” Otherwise, his only other significant trait is that he is still Jewish, and that’s about all that his character hinges on. His Bar Mitzvah is coming up, his yarmulke gets knocked off his head. Just generally insignificant incidents to solidify his heritage, likely to, again, maintain solidarity with the source material.
Bowers: Henry is back, and he’s more deplorable than ever. Sporting a shaggy mullet and typical “trailer trash” attire, he’s even more violent than in the original. Armed with a more updated version of his signature switchblade, he is out for blood from the start. He is portrayed as more of a sociopath than a bully in the new film, often even causing his closest friends to cringe and question his actions. His transition into It’s right hand man is much more fleshed out now, and far more unnerving. While he is more brutal as an antagonist this time around, he is not nearly as effective, lacking that iconic “greaser” aesthetic, as well as cohesion with the rest of his gang. One member, in particular, just does not fit with them at all, being tall, scrawny, and looking somewhat like a deranged, murderous anime character.
Pennywise: Enough cannot be said about the differences between our two killer clowns. Originally portrayed by Tim Curry, Pennywise the Clown was almost always jaunty and friendly. He actually had the potential to lure children to their demise, as he did not have a frightening appearance (at least for those happy few who do not suffer from crippling coulrophobia). Even when he is facing down the Losers, he is frolicking and antagonistic, but he is not terrifying until he chooses to be. Very few times does he bare his teeth to the children, and usually at the last minute. Alternatively, the new Pennywise bares his teeth every chance he gets. He is vicious and ravenous in pursuing the children, feeding off their fear and emotions. Curry was terrifying because he wasn’t. He’s actually funny and animated, as a clown would be. I don’t believe the original film intended to feed off of the general public’s fear of clowns. In the new film, it seems to be what they are primarily relying on. This is not to say that the new Pennywise is ineffective. Initially, I was rather put off by his character, and I can’t say I warmed up to him entirely.
His voice is squeaky and awkward, and his eyes point in separate directions, seeming as though the directors wanted to make it very clear that the clown appearance is little more than a shaky facade.
He is not entertaining in the same way, though he does try to be at times. However, he is usually rather statuesque, up until he decides to lunge and make his attack. Pennywise may be the character who has changed most from the original film.
Same Story, Different Delivery
The basics of the story are obviously the same. Killer clown, kids go missing, group of outcasts stand up to fight evil. Not a whole lot of deviation, in the grand scheme of things. The true difference is in the delivery. There is, of course, something to be said for the vast improvements made to cinematic storytelling, in general, over the years of perfecting the art. Trading over-dramatic character reactions for a more dramatic atmosphere, the new film rarely has a moment where the viewer feels a sense of safety. The movie builds tension from the very opening scene. Georgie’s death is more brutal in its depiction, and there aren’t many lighthearted moments from that moment on. The pacing actually works well in the movie. While we don’t get many breaks from the tension, the movie doesn’t really move too quickly, either.
The dynamic friendship between the main characters is maintained. Where it matters, their interactions are organic and realistic, hanging onto what made the original film, and other films like it, so endearing. Their unity and sense of adventure drives the story forward, and gives the viewer confidence. However, there is a particularly damning element lacking from the story. In the original film, It’s greatest weakness was the imagination of the Losers. They essentially fabricated the weapons that would be effective in vanquishing the creature, based on their familiarity with monsters. Particularly, there is a scene in the original film where they go to see a monster movie featuring a werewolf, and come to the conclusion that, if silver worked against that monster, perhaps it would work against their own. Similarly, there is a moment where each of the Losers shares a puff of Eddie’s inhaler, and one of them comments that it “tastes like battery acid. Eddie, later attacked by It, holds out his inhaler and shouts, “eat battery acid, you slime!” He sprays a stream of puffs into Pennywise’s face, which effectively melts away part of his facade, causing what appears to be excruciating pain. I couldn’t help but summise that these objects would have held no power over It, had they not believed they did.
Instead, in the new movie, the children are forced to face their fears. Being unafraid weakens him, and he is not able to eat them unless they are afraid. While they could excuse this away by saying “they truly believed that their cattle gun and metal fence posts would be effective”, but the primary focus still seems to be their fear. While this is not utterly outlandish, to suggest that they could face their fears and stand up to Pennywise, it does seem relatively unbelievable that they would be able to completely render him almost defenseless by totally overcoming their fear. They’re in a sewer, surrounded by dead bodies, he has prickly gnashing teeth, super speed, and has just grown mantis-like arms. Tell me you wouldn’t be frightened. In my opinion, Pennywise being dependent upon their imagination, both to gain his strength against them, and as his downfall, was a much more compelling element, and actually a rather interesting revelation to put together after thinking back on the movie.
There are a few iconic moments from the original film that are either left out, or just disgustingly altered, sometimes in very poor taste. The moment that upset me the most was when the Losers safe Mike from Bowers and the gang. In the original film, this was a very triumphant moment, where they begin pelting the gang with rocks. Bowers tries to fight back, but he and his crew are forced to make their retreat, and this serves to build the confidence of our heroic group of friends. In the updated version, after a few rocks are hurled, enough to allow Mike to escape Bowers’ grasp, both sides pick up more rocks, and Richie lets loose a shrieking “ROCK WAR!”, before he is nailed in the head with what would be a skull crushing blow. The two sides then begin pelting one another with stones from opposite sides of the creek, accompanied by about seventeen seconds of heavy metal/thrash music, until the Losers eventually come out victorious. However, there is little feeling of triumph or unity in this new scene. It is not only a disappointing change from the original scene, but it really just feels out of place with the rest of the film.
The greatest difference in how the story is delivered this time around, is that they have completely done away with the adult time period of the film. Whereas the first film presented the childrens’ experiences as a flashback, this movie takes place entirely in 1990, revealing during the final credits that this is “Chapter 1”, and reports are that Chapter 2 will come if the first movie is successful, which does not convey a lot of confidence. Also, this somewhat skews the timeline, as production on a second installment will likely take more than the next three months, placing the second installment in either 2018 or 2019. If It returns every 27 years, and the first installment occurred in 1990, they will have to either present the second installment two years in the past (maybe not a huge deal), or just have to cop out of the timeline altogether.
But, is It Scary?
With the difference in age, as well as the advancements of the film industry, it’s difficult for me to look back and remember what scared me so much about the original. It really wasn’t terrifying, but at the same time, neither are a lot of movies from back then. Not by today’s standards. However, the original film seemed much more focused on the “coming of age” aspect, where as the new one simply instills that dynamic, but focuses more on being a red-blooded horror film. However, this doesn’t exactly answer the question.
This movie was designed to be frightening. From the typically dreary atmosphere to the newly designed and monstrous Pennywise, it’s set up to fit the modern horror genre. And it does fit the bill. There are plenty of jump scare moments that take the viewer by surprise, but the terror really depends on the viewer. I can’t say I found myself really startling at many of these moments, and I do truly try to surrender myself to the established atmosphere of the movie. However, it was usually easy to tell when something was going to happen. It was just a matter of what.
Beyond cheap jump scares, the movie relies more heavily on frightening and grotesque imagery to make the make the viewer uneasy, and it is very creative in doing so. Exploitation of the characters and their fears is a very prominent feature in the new film, compared to the original. There were a few moments that I found particularly intriguing. However, the problem is that the use of computer graphics and special effects is particularly telling. The monsters they are faced with stand out significantly as computer generated, and painstakingly so. They had some great ideas in the movie, which were unfortunately overshadowed by the rendering, which seemed to be a go-to for the production team, over practical effects and makeup. An unfortunate shortcoming for ideas with so much potential.
One glaring feature that served to ruin the horror whenever it reared its ugly head was the Pennywise charge. While he was typically a looming, stationary villain, he did occasionally have to chase the children, and when he did, the camera would zoom in on his face, and everything else would go sort of blurry, indicating that he’s moving extremely fast. It looked absolutely awful, and they resorted to this point of view every single time.
Ultimately, I would credit the movie with being a contender for modern horror films, drawing on the disgusting and hard to watch, rather than building on actual fright potential.
So is It Worth Seeing?
The new version of It may deviate quite a bit from the original film in a futile attempt at terror, but it does expand upon the background and relationships of the central characters in a way that the original film could not. This, combined with the inventive new ways of showing how Pennywise stalks and intimidates his victims, makes the movie a different experience from the first, and is really worth seeing, even if just for the purpose of comparison. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s awful. The movie is on par with most modern horror films, in regards to scares, but is fairly advanced with the storytelling and character development, even with its flaws. Personally, I found myself enjoying the movie more as it progressed, with the characters (fully realized by the end of the film) carrying through a relatively mediocre ending.
Have you seen the film yet? Are you interested in seeing how it compares to the original, and do you hope they end up making the Chapter 2 follow up? I’m sure there will be quite a lot of perspectives with this film, so feel free to leave your thoughts below.