Welcome to Take Two, the series that’s big enough to hold up its hands and say “I was wrong.”
From your first watch to your second, has a movie gone from marvellous to meh? Has an initial viewing ever left you cold, only to later warm the cockles of your heart? Have you ever been so stubborn, “anti-mainstream” and cantankerous that you’ve point-blank refused to admit that a certain film has any merit at all whilst everyone else claims it’s the cinematic second-coming? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Remakes, reboots and re-imaginings: Ridiculous. A sweeping and not exactly original statement, but judging by the furore whenever one is announced, it’s not an isolated opinion either. Although some remakes are successful, the reactions to films such as Ghostbusters (2016), Flatliners(2017) or the upcoming Big Trouble in Little China (don’t get me started) often provoke derision, and even claims the ruining of people’s entire childhoods.
So with remakes and ruining childhoods in mind, Stephen King’s IT seems apposite.
Stephen King’s IT in one take
The remake of Stephen King’s IT (1990) seems to be garnering an altogether different reaction than expected. Originally broadcast on television as two episodes over two nights, its long form version always felt like a TV movie rather than a feature film, so the idea of a 2017 version doesn’t feel like a complete retread.
What may feel like a retread though is the narrative; here, a group of all-grown-up childhood friends return to their hometown. The difference? They have to again battle the demon who terrorised them some thirty years previously.
Perhaps the biggest gamble with the remake is with the demon: the embodiment of fear himself, Pennywise. Tim Curry’s interpretation was the literal stuff of nightmares and arguably the ‘inspiration’ for 2016’s spate of clown sightings and attacks across the globe. Stephen King’s IT struck a chord with those afflicted with ‘coulrophobibia’ as well as those who just found clowns plain-ass creepy. Whichever it was, you were part of the school playground’s very own Losers Club if you hadn’t seen Stephen King’s IT.
The First Take
In its day as well as in the here and now, the film seemed so out of time that wearing a shell suit and Global Hypercolor t-shirt whilst watching seems obligatory. This was due in part to the production values, which seemed to fall on the ’80s side of the ’90s fence and that the cast was largely comprised of ‘oh, he used to be in…’ and ‘what’s she from?’ TV actors. To the young and impressionable mind at the time, the stars in the film really mattered. In fact, other than Tim Curry…who was actually in it?
The trouble is, it’s Pennywise’s film. Like Nicholson’s Joker and Englund’s Freddy Krueger, Curry injects so much menace, mirth and avidity into the role that it’s difficult to root for anyone else. The grown ups may as well have been wearing red shirts.
That’s not to say that there weren’t some memorable, nay, iconic moments. Once seen, the image of Pennywise peering out from a storm drain leaps from latency and into your memory every once in awhile whilst walking the street. “We all float down here” is so ingrained in our consciousness that it even surfaced as a meme in 2017, accompanied by; “Hey kid, we have Pokemon down here” etc. You know you’ve made it when you’re a meme.
Pennywise glimpsed holding balloons aloft across a lake, watching passersby from the side of the road, and bearing his fangs have all transcended the film and seeped into popular culture. From The Simpsons to inspiring the punk band of the same name and appearing on fidget spinners, some aspects of Stephen King’s IT have stood the test of time. The question is, how will it stand up to Take Two?
The very first shock comes during the opening credits: ‘Special appearance by Tim Curry.’ Special appearance? An understatement for sure. In addition we get a young Seth Green of Austin Powers and Robot Chicken fame popping up alongside Superman III and Smallville actress Annette O’Toole. Who knew?
Before the focus begins to shift between members of the grown up ‘Lucky 7’, there are shades of Noir as Mike Hanlon (Marlon Taylor), the only member to stay in hometown Derry, narrates like a private dick with a case to crack. Unfortunately, this is ultimately inconsistent and short lived. But what we do get is characterisation in spades. Red shirts, these are not.
Each of the Losers Club gets the kind of character development that you’d expect from a Stephen King novel, not a Stephen King TV adaptation. The time invested enables insight far beyond the usual King staples: the author with writer’s block, the fat kid, the nerd et al. Having said that, you still want to see them spoon-fed to Pennywise, mind.
But Pennywise is not the only horror that they have to confront. We see their all too tangible fears framed alongside the supernatural: the embarrassment of the school showers, abusive patriarchal and overbearing matriarchal figures, and the loss of family members are all as terrifying as the clown itself. Viewing these as a supposed adult makes it all the more unnerving.
Similarly to yours truly, it has not aged well at all but, also similarly to yours truly, it arguably adds to the charm. It goes without saying that it hasn’t transferred well; it was even on a flipper disc for goodness sake. However, even though the blood looks like it was from Toys R’ Us, it remains on screen once the various visions have ended, where only the audience and the Lucky 7 members are able to see it. It’s a refreshing slant on a clichéd idea as incidental characters inadvertently walk through it and smear it on their faces. The invention on display helps you to look past its dated effects. With the exception of the end of level boss spider.
As expected, Pennywise is still the star of the show, raising laughs one minute and hackles the next; the parallels between him, The Joker and Freddy Krueger are still uncanny. He does feel like a one trick pony though, with every appearance punctuated with a balloon or floating reference. These kids are way too old for balloons, mate! However, there are nuances in his performance: the thinly painted lips, the mime-esque affectations of his movement, and the bloodshot eyes. Whether these are evident in the 2017 reincarnation of the clown remains to be seen. Let’s see if we’re talking about IT (2017) in 27 years first.
The Final Cut
There should actually be a final cut released; Stephen King’s IT is way too long. With the merging of the two episodes, being around 30 minutes shorter wouldn’t have hurt but arguably may have been at the cost of character development. As a nostalgic viewing, though, it’s an engaging watch whose scares and neuroses actually evolve with the viewer over the years; from childhood fears of bullying, body-image and things that go bump, to adult fears of ageing, responsibility and misplaced self-perception.
But of course, none of us have to be worried about such things.
Which films do you think deserve a Take Two? Let us know which and why in the comments and see if you can change our mind.