It (2017) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries. (From WB’s official synopsis)
The massive, “surprise” success of Andy Muschietti’s It (currently the top grossing R-rated horror film of all time, unadjusted for inflation) is an inevitable result of nostalgia in our current pop culture landscape. Stephen King’s original story (Viking, 1987) is a thoroughly mediocre tale (with a thoroughly revolting underage group sex sequence), yet it captured the essence of late ‘50s childhood nostalgia for its adult audience during the ‘80s. Soon after, Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 adaptation set a standard for the popular Stephen King television miniseries, leading to a decade-plus of popular two-night specials that attempted to capture the essence of King’s stories without breaking TV S&Ps. Wallace’s It has aged horribly, but its easy availability (it was a hit and reran often), coupled with Tim Curry’s unforgettable performance as the evil clown Pennywise, made it an indelible part of growing up in the mid ‘80s/early ‘90s – an era that has been mined for every ounce of nostalgia in the current decade, from the return of Star Wars and popularity of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (Random House, 2010), to the ‘event television’ standard of Netflix’s very Stephen King-inspired Stranger Things (2016 -). The triumphant return of It became a foregone conclusion, even considering its rough production history and loss of original writer/director Cary Fukunaga.
In case my introductory paragraph was too subtle for you, I should probably reiterate that I’m not a fan of It the book (I haven’t read it in probably 25 years) or It the miniseries, nor am I particularly nostalgic for the ‘80s (not that the film does more than reference the era in completely incidental ways) or the tired coming-of-age clichés that fuel King’s tale (while noting that he helped to establish said clichés). I’m not the best person to review Muschietti’s take on the material, unless you’re looking for an outsider’s perspective. That said, this is a solid version of the problematic and incredibly dense source novel. Muschietti and screenwriters Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman (Fukunaga still shares a screenwriting credit, but I don’t know how much of that is just contractual) distill the vital plot elements, make good use of the uncannily wholesome, yet brutal tone, and have even convinced me that it wasn’t a terrible idea to split the past and present narratives into two distinct parts (though I’ll be damned if I care about the adult part of the story at this point). Their raunchy kid banter is forced and obnoxious (in fact all attempts at levity fall flat), but the characters are well captured and the child actors all give strong, natural performances, despite the hackneyed qualities of their non-supernatural plights. More importantly, the filmmakers capture the isolation of the children as they hammer home the fact that the adults are not always (or maybe ever?) acting in their best interest. It’s a genuinely frightening notion that hasn’t been well exploited in mainstream horror since they stopped making (watchable) Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
Muschietti’s feature directorial debut was Mama (2013); a well-made, pleasant-looking, and refreshingly mature horror film that I don’t remember much else about. His grounded, dark, and pseudo-naturalistic aesthetic lends itself well to the material, as do the limitations of the modest $35 million budget. Given the evil entity’s ability to emotionally affect its victims in ways that are basically impossible to represent in a visual medium, like film, there’s no sure-fire way to make it work here. A more flamboyant approach might have been neat, but, acknowledging the bloated tendencies of big studio-backed horror, that probably would’ve devolved into a messy CG-fest. In this case, for every goofy, computer-generated clown scare, there are plenty of successfully eerie, pseudo-surrealistic, and nightmarish images that are firmly rooted in the physical reality of the film. Bill Skarsgård gives an appropriately ghoulish performance as Pennywise and Muschietti doesn’t shrink from R-rated violence. It isn’t a wall-to-wall gore-fest, but the filmmakers definitely don’t skimp on the red stuff and get maximum impact out of minimum screen time.
It has a contrasty, film-like look, but was apparently shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras. This 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray release is, for the most part, incredibly sharp and heavily-textured, but there are some minor issues. In close-up and medium shot, separation and complex patterns are very impressive, but, when the film cuts to wide-angle images, details soften considerably. This may have something to do with the digital source naturally appearing smoother, but there are significant signs that this is a compression problem. More specifically, some of the neutral colors blend strangely and exhibit blobby mosaic artifacts. There are also minor hot spot effects that lead me to assume that the disc’s producers tried to sharpen things up a bit. Neither is a huge problem and will be overlooked by most viewers (it is harder to notice when the footage is in motion). Back on the good side of the equation, cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon’s use of deep shadows and some might say ‘excessive’ darkness is rarely a problem. There are a few instances of details disappearing into the gloom, but this is usually on purpose and little important is absorbed by blackness. In turn, the largely desaturated palette features plenty of clean and punchy red and yellow highlights.
It is presented in Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I don’t have an Atmos set up and found no major difference between the core Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD tracks when I flipped between them. Either way, this is a fantastic track, brimming with subtle ambience, busy environmental representation (even during quieter moments), and wide dynamic range. The stereo and surround channels are consistently engaged and directional elements are quite aggressive, most impressively when it comes to the abstract sound of Pennywise’s terrifying influence. Benjamin Wallfisch’s original score follows suit by playing with the tonal values between soft, sentimental motifs and assaultive scare cues. The music is very neatly integrated into the mix, warming up the melancholic scenes with a surprisingly prominent rear channel presence. Because It is a period piece, there are also a number of well-chosen period-appropriate pop tunes peppered throughout the soundtrack.
Pennywise Lives! (16:25, HD) – The cast and crew explore the design of Pennywise and Skarsgård’s preparation/performance, complete with behind-the-scenes footage of the kids seeing Skarsgård in costume for the first time and production illustration samples.
The Losers’ Club (15:42, HD) – Interviews with the young actors, who discuss their characters and bonding on set.
Author of Fear (13:41, HD) – Stephen King talks about his original novel, the real-life town and people that inspired It, and the themes It explores.
Eleven deleted/extended scenes (15:18, HD)
Trailers for other Warner Bros. releases
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.