Muschietti. Sounds like the name of an entree you’d find on an Italian menu, not someone sitting in a director’s chair. Andy Muschietti was thirty-nine years old when made Mama (2013), a supernatural thriller starring Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (best known as Jamie Lannister on GOT). That film had Guillermo Del Toro’s seal of approval. Little did Muschietti know at the time that his next feature would get a ringing endorsement by The King of Horror.
To take on a project like IT you know it’s going to be scrutinized. Maybe not to the intensity of, say, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but by a fanbase that has devoured Stephen King’s 1986 novel to the point where the spine has as more cracks than a neighborhood sidewalk. Then there’s the television miniseries, which holds a certain nostalgia for those who watched it back in 1990. Tim Curry played the villainous clown-entity Pennywise and absolutely creeped everyone the hell out. To this day I have friends that can’t be around or look at clowns because of Curry. Bill Skarsgård had some very big clown shoes to fill as the actor chosen to play Pennywise for the big-screen adaptation.
For those who have memories of the original miniseries and remember how great it was, well your memory may be wishy-washy. Yes, Tim Curry was unbelievable. The rest was pretty much garbage. When making films with kids as the central characters casting is crucial. It’s the biggest reason why Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body (as Stand By Me) is one of the greatest cinema translations of the horrormeister’s body of work. River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton, and Jerry O’Connell as four friends from Castle Rock that decide to venture out and try to locate a dead body.
IT sports one of the stars from Netflix’s Stranger Things, a kid who played young Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Jaeden Lieberher, the most prolific of the bunch having played opposite Bill Murray (St. Vincent) and Michael Shannon (Midnight Special). Together they would help comprise the Losers, the ostracized pre-teens of Derry, Maine, the story’s fictional setting. The era of the story has been changed from the fifties to the late eighties. Film aficionados will be able to tell when the town’s movie theater advertises new releases A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Lethal Weapon 2. This subtle change totally won me over; born in 1981, I remember seeing Riggs pull Murtaugh off an explosive-armed commode in LW2 on the big screen, seated next to my parents. I may not have lived in a town like Derry, but my childhood memories were sparked while watching Muschietti’s adaptation.
As much as we’d like to believe the film’s $700 million worldwide box office was because audiences were flocking to see a villainous clown-entity, I’m of the belief it was the mix of fear and friendship that were the strongest ingredients. Jason Blum and James Wan may have the market cornered when it comes to parading supernatural tropes as if they were dancing marionettes for audiences, but IT is more about the characters than the scares. By giving the Losers breadth, seeing the whys of their rejection by others, we latch on to them as they begin to investigate the hidden truths about their town and missing kids.
Pennywise lives underground and, using guile and guises, is able to play of the phobias of the unsuspecting to pluck his victims. Feeding on fear ensures that his craving is surfeited. The pre-teen outcasts have their own manifestations of the demon clown, and they also deal with some of the older teens around town. The constant threats and Pennywise appearances evolve where the six boys and one girl find greater strength when they are together.
Clocking in a little over two hours, IT never feels long. The decision to have the 2017 release as “Chapter One” helps (“Chapter Two” is set to arrive in 2019). Give credit to Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga (filmmaker of Beasts of No Nation and originally set to film IT) and Gary Dauberman. They scratch out a lot of King’s lengthy exposition while balancing the scares and building friendship of the Losers. Then you have Andy Muschietti who, while working with Chung-hoon Chung (photographer for director Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy), recreates the look and feel of small-town America and its deceptive facades, particularly the house of horrors that Beverly Marsh shares with her abusive father.
The talent behind the camera is directly proportional to the actors. Again, casting the roles of the Losers and have them bond the week before production commenced was essential in shaping their characters and for allowing the friendship to feel organic.
Thirty-plus years after its original publication Muschietti and Co. have crafted a frightfest where characters matter and that it’s best to have a friend or two to overcome your deepest, darkest fears. Because, let’s be honest, Pennywise is chump change with onset pubescence, sexual hormones, and high school algebra coming soon.
With the 4K release of IT there’s no night-and-day difference in video quality. Honestly, visible improvements are based entirely on the HDR, which only offers subtle enhancements. Though the colors do get dialed up for a few scenes. When Beverly Marsh’s bathroom sink moment happens – watch out!
Both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray Disc come equipped with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack as well as giving the option for a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Nice powerful mix and deep bass may make you “float” while your pictures rattle and objects shake.
You won’t find any extras on the 4K disc but the included Blu-ray contains three featurettes and eleven deleted/extended scenes. Pennywise Lives! (16:25) has Bill Skarsgård explain how he got the gig [hint: auditioning in clown makeup helps] and that Pennywise’s lazy eye and “lip thing” were not generated by the make-up team or special effects. The Losers’ Club (15:42) allows Andy Muschietti and the cast explain how the naturalistic friendship of the Losers was achieved. Author of Fear (13:51) has the King of Horror himself, Stephen King, share what he wanted to achieve with writing IT and the Maine municipality that served as the inspiration for the fictional town of Derry.
The behind-the-scenes features aren’t your normal press kit variety, which is a bit refreshing. The standout is the new Stephen King interview followed by the kid actors enjoying themselves in between takes. Though the best line may be from Stranger Things‘ Finn Wolfhard just before he sees Skarsgård on set for the first time: “I really hope Bill’s not method.”
With the deleted scenes you do not have the option to select them individually. They play as one set and each one is preceded by a title card. I’ve put the scenes in bold that are well worth viewing.
Sc. 10: Georgie catches boat (a/k/a Opening Gag Scene)
Sc. 25: Stanley’s Dad corrects him (extended scene)
Sc. 64: Denbrough family dinner
Sc. 74-77: Bill’s Dad looks in the basement, et al.
Sc. 98: Outside the Neibolt house
Sc. 104: Evacuating the Neibolt house (extended scene)
Sc. 108: Stanley’s Bar Mitzvah speech
Sc. 115: Eddie at Keene’s pharmacy (extended scene)
Sc. 132: Henry and Bullies wait outside (extended scene)
Sc. 137: The Losers find Georgie’s wallet
Sc. 160: Denbrough family vacation
Several years ago I remarked that if writer-director Frank Darabont did nothing but Stephen King adaptations for the rest of his career I’d be okay with that. Now I think I need to revise that original statement. Andy Muschietti has made a stellar adaptation of a Stephen King work. But IT‘s only half complete. Chapter Two will present the Losers with a new set of actors. With a larger cache and raised expectations you just hope Muschietti won’t get in over his head and is able to keep things…afloat.
Warner Bros. Presents IT. Directed by: Andy Muschietti. Written by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman. Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgard, Nicholas Hamilton. Running time: 135 Minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: January 9, 2018.
Tags: Andy Muschietti, Bill Skarsgard, Chosen Jacobs, Finn Wolfhard, It!, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Mama, Nicholas Hamilton, pennywise, Sophia Lillis, Stephen King, Tim Curry, Wyatt Oleff