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King Of The Wild Front-ARRRRRGH: IT Reviewed
Sean Kitching , September 8th, 2017 09:08

Sean Kitching on the latest adaptation of Stephen King's much loved IT, out in cinemas today

It’s been a long time coming, but the New Line Cinema version of one of Stephen King’s best loved novels, 1986s It, has finally arrived. Having begun development in 2009, the project has traversed a rocky road, changing scripts and director, and eventually arriving in a post Stranger Things universe where King’s influence now appears more pervasive than ever, and if the national papers are to be believed, killer clowns are about to appear lurking behind every dark corner.

Originally under the direction of Cary Fukunaga, who did such amazing work on the first series of True Detective, the project stalled due to differences of opinion regarding budget and story direction. In a September 2015 interview in Variety, Fukunaga said that he ‘was trying to make an unconventional horror film'. Andy Muschietti, who directed the 2013 Guillermo del Toro executive produced supernatural horror Mama, took over the project in 2015. Although Even before Fukunaga’s involvement, the Duffer Brothers pitch to direct the movie was rejected by Warner Brothers, which led in turn to the creation of their massive Netflix hit, Stranger Things.

No doubt many of these problems derive from the sheer size of the original novel. The 1990 made-for-TV version, largely memorable because of Tim Curry’s iconic performance as the creepy clown, Pennywise, attempted to fit the whole story into three hours, covering both the children’s first encounter with the ancient evil and their return to face it once more as adults. The 2017 big screen version concerns itself solely with the initial events, with the time frame moved to the 80s rather than the 60s of the novel, with a second part detailing their grown-up counterparts return to face It, being dependent on the success of the first instalment. The 80s being synonymous with King’s success as a novelist, and the many films those books inspired, this is a shrewd move. Comparisons with Stand By Me and Stranger Things being simply unavoidable, it’s unsurprising to see Finn Wolfhard from the Netflix show cast as Richie Tozier. With a running time of just under two hours, the new film is fast, fun and has a lot going for it but it also suffers from a number of problems that make one wonder if the Duffer Brothers pitch, over a longer format, might not have resulted in a better end product.

The buddy aspect of the story, the forming of friendships within the Losers’ Club and their stand against the local Derry bullies, is undoubtedly the best part of the film. Indeed, both the teen tyrant Henry Bowers and Beverley Marsh’s creepy alcoholic father are in many ways more frightening than Pennywise’s ghost train scare tactics. Bill Skarsgård makes for a fairly convincing evil clown, with his signature ocular trick in which his eyes roll apart, deviating in opposing directions. The problem with the horror sections of the film seem more to do with the director’s attempt to fit as many scares into the procession of images as possible. After a time, it starts to feel as though one is on a virtual thrill ride, with elements of the background much less convincing than others. The zombie-like creature that appears in the grounds of the haunted house, for example, looks like an animatronic ghoul one might expect to see in a theme park attraction.

Another issue is that the ancient nature of the evil that haunts Derry is not sufficiently established. It is referenced, via the character of Ben Hanscom, whilst conducting research in the library and explaining his findings to his new friends, but it still feels a little rushed, without time being allowed for the information to sink in, either in the minds of the audience, or the minds of the young characters themselves. Those concerns aside, It is still a hugely enjoyable film and its message of strength against evil through the inviolable bonds of friendship remains at the heart of all that transpires. Although falling somewhat short of being a perfect adaptation of King’s classic novel, It is still a significant improvement on the 1990 version and one that should pique audiences anticipation of a second film.

IT is out in cinemas today

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