Remakes and reboots have become a substantial and constantly growing part of the combined feature film output from Hollywood. It may signal a lack of fresh ideas, but it when it comes down to it, why not? Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool, and producers and production companies see no need to leave older films to rot and die - why not give them a fresh sheen of paint, attach a new director and let new, fresh minds work out exactly how to update the source material for a new audience. That all sounds pretty simple and innocent, right? Well, it's really not simple, and it certainly isn't innocent. More often than not, these remakes don't manage to even remotely capture what made the originals great and memorable, and furthermore, they manage to stain the original films forever. Robocop, Clash of the Titans, Karate Kid, Conan the Barbarian, or even The Wolfman - they all lacked ideas and reeked of corporate greed, which has ultimately given the terms "remake" and "reboots" a bad reputation amongst filmgoers.
It, however, a remake of the 1990 two-part series based on the Stephen King book of the same name, aims to do its source material justice, and wants to justify its existence through sheer creative force and an apparent love for the universe created by Stephen King and brought terrifyingly to life through Tommy Lee Wallace's mini-series. And if you think about it, a remake of It makes a lot of sense. It's very visual, has a memorable villain, and following movies like Super 8 and series like Stranger Things, another ensemble cast of witty children have been thrown into the spotlight. Mama director Andy Muschietti is directing with True Detective creator Cary Fukunaga producing. Oh, and it's Bill Skarsgård putting on the iconic clown costume as Pennywise. There's a lot of weight on this remake's shoulders, and a substantial production budget to haul back in. Can Pennywise once again scare the living s*** out of the average moviegoer?
First off, this remake has shed the very 90s visual style of the original mini-series, and to great effect. We all loved and remember Tim Curry's magnetic performance, but overall, that particular adaption was altogether too confused, too lost in its tone as it juggled several comedic aspects and classic horror notions. And who could even blame it? The movie is about a scary clown haunting a group of tongue-in-cheek children. The tone is, however, much more steadfast this time around, and it manages to neither sacrifice the spooky scares or even the comedy. It's a beautifully realised film with cinematography harking back to Fukunaga's first season of True Detective, with a bleak grey and dark green colour palette providing the perfect backdrop for Pennywise's colorful make-up. Every shot is self-indulgent, swooping and purposeful, as if Muschietti knows this is his big break to create something large and epic. It's beautiful, no doubt, but one could also argue that this decidedly "small" story about adolescents escaping an evil clown in a cursed, rural town, is a bit undercut by this larger-than-life technical presentation.
Luckily, the sometimes mismatched scope of It is practically erased by the eclectic performances on screen. Whereas it'd be prudent to highlight Bill Skarsgård's turn as the terrifying Pennywise, it's actually not him that steals the show - it's the ensemble of kids, the Loser's Club. If there ever was an all-star kids cast, this would be it. Jaeden Lieberher appears, and previously impressed in Midnight Special, Finn Wolfhard did a good job in a leading role in Stranger Things, and Jack Dylan Grazer already did horror in Tales of Halloween. And just as in Stranger Things, or even Super 8 as mentioned above, these talented young actors steal the show from the offset. They're also given great material to work with, and seeing both their youthful banter as they attempt to solve this pretty unusual problem, and their friendship as the scale of the task at hand becomes apparent, is both heartwarming and incredibly believable.
And now it's time to address the scary clown in the sewers: Pennywise. Whereas the original mini-series was inherently flawed, Tim Curry's performance is legendary, and it was always going to be tough following that. Bill Skarsgård does what he can, and neither the script nor his performance is particularly lacking in the grand scheme of things. The film does, however, end up overexposing its titular villain, and by the end, it's pretty clear that neither the writers nor the visual designers have any clue what to do with Pennywise as an antagonist. Luckily, the villain isn't always a clown, but also a series of hallucinations designed to prevent that aforementioned overexposure. It doesn't quite work, but at least it creates variation.
This all sounds great, and for a while it really is. The scope is slightly off, sure, but that's nothing in the grand scheme of things, right? Well, prepare for more criticism, as we fire the main torpedo at the side of S.S Pennywise - its length. It's pretty common knowledge these days that movies are getting too long, and are too padded to maintain proper momentum and suspense. In this particular department, It suffers tremendously with its 135-minute running time. The film is neither sectioned or paced properly, and in the end you end up screaming for it to finally cut to black, and leave the viewer with a lasting impression. It doesn't, though, and the movie keeps on exposing Pennywise, keeps on creating meaningless interplay between the lead characters, and keeps on providing the viewer with one swooping shot of the town of Derry after another. It all becomes too dragged out, and the movie suffers for it.
All in all, though, It is a successful adaptation of Stephen King's modern horror masterpiece and a worthy reimagining of the 1990 mini-series. It stumbles along the way in terms of pacing and mismatched scope, but ultimately it erases those mistakes with charm, horror and epic production design. It is truly scary, and we're sure it'll be successful.