It, Part II: It, Chapters One and Two
WARNING: This review will contain spoilers and reference sexual activity, so read at your own risk.
I find it interesting that, for so many years, most people may have tended to think of the miniseries with Tim Curry, if not the book, whenever someone mentioned Stephen King‘s IT. That reputation was sort of a blessing and a curse; it at least kept the story popular, but until then, most people may not have known the real IT, the IT that King himself wrote with all the horror, all the gore, and all the unnatural elements that made them a household name.
That wasn’t until two years ago, when director Andy Muschietti changed things with IT: Chapter One, and also this year with its follow-up, IT: Chapter Two.
Whereas the miniseries was campy at the most, the general look of this version of the story was that it was gritty, realistic, and genuinely scary. Those were much needed recipes to cook up a much more faithful take on Stephen King’s classic, and the good news is, it did not disappoint on either front.
The story, for those who don’t know, played out the same as in the book, where a group of kids, AKA the Losers’ Club, united after a series of gruesome murders cropped up in the seemingly quiet town of Derry, Maine, starting with the murder of Bill's younger brother, Georgie. The clues the kids picked up on helped them find the culprit, who was an ominous being simply known as IT. Once the members had encounters with IT of their own, they started to put pieces of the puzzle together and ultimately decided to band together to confront IT in the hopes of destroying IT once and for all.
Even though the time periods were changed around from the late 50s and the mid 80s to the late 80s and the mid-2010‘s – I’ll elaborate more about the rest of the changes later – the first thing I’ll applaud the films for is for sticking to the spirit of the source material. It had lighthearted moments for when the Losers’ Club got together as either children or adults, it had tense moments when they or someone else was about encounter IT, and when the movies decided to be scary, man, they really went all out there...while still sticking to the story first, just like a good horror flick should.
Here's one reason why this pair of movies was as effective as it was: because it aired primetime on ABC in 1990, the miniseries had to keep its content to, at best, a PG-13-esque level, and in the process, it took away many of the hardcore horror and violence that permeated the majority of the source material. Here, with each movie bearing the R-rating, not to mention that they were released in theaters first, they were both released with permission to go all out there with what was provided to them from the original source material.
That leads me to the next thing the movies pulled off very nicely: the cinematography. The shots were very delicately made, bringing up a nice range of colors that evoked the warmth of Derry while also emphasizing the striking darkness of the locale when hell was about to break loose. Even the movements conveyed an eeriness and uneasy suspense to it, which may have been part of how the movies earned their trademark horror elements fit for King himself. In fact, the heart and chills that I remembered very fondly from the original book were arranged with the next two things I’ll be glad to go into further detail on.
First off, the acting. Everyone, child actors and adult actors alike, gave their all in giving their characters the humanity, the sociopathy, and the conflicted natures that made the story so engaging.
The Losers' Club, in the miniseries, just felt like they were just a tiny group of middle-schoolers looking as if they went out on a school field trip. Some of the kids acted like they knew each other, sure, but their friendship felt pretty on-and-off at times. That ultimately left the acting from them to range from decent at best to not very memorable.
On the contrary, the kids in the Losers' Club in THESE movies had legitimate chemistry between them. I did notice it surprisingly didn't take them long to bond with one another, but given all the unnatural, terrifying phenomena that occurred with them, it would've made sense that they would've bonded so quickly. And, every time they were together, they really felt like they were a team. Individually, they would’ve been timid if not helpless, but as one whole group, they would have willingly, in the words of Simba, "laughed in the face of danger" and would always have had each other's backs. It also helped that the child actors all left a mark in some form through their characters, making them instead range from decent at least to really memorable. I think that the child actors playing Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) were some of the biggest highlights in the group, and they were really fun to watch.
What’s even better is, the Losers’ Club still managed to hold onto that chemistry and feeling of friendship onscreen after they reunited as adults in Chapter Two. Their acting felt very natural without losing sight of the bond that the Losers’ Club still shared, and the actors playing the adult versions of Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) gave the most memorable performances in the entire ensemble.
All the actors who portrayed the members of the Losers' Club, regardless of age, helped keep the movies afloat and aroused a certain connection for us to feel with them every single time; that’s the sign of good characters backed up by good acting.
Chapter Two also was nice enough to throw in a cameo by good old Stephen King himself, as a store manager who sold adult Bill back his old bike, Silver.
Ultimately, however, there's only one acting hallmark in both these movies, without question, and that's Bill Skarsgård as IT in its Pennywise the Dancing Clown form. If you thought Tim Curry did a nice job conveying IT in all ITs creepiness, then get a load of this: Bill not only nailed that element in equal measure, but he went the extra mile by adding levels of monstrosity and unnaturalness to his character. Because of that, he automatically dethroned Curry as being the definitive Pennywise. One minute, he can be joyful and playful around the children, and the next thing you know, he can unleash his inhuman side when he feasted on them, sharp needle-like teeth and all. Even when he made himself seen to other people at various points, he exuberated an uneasy presence felt with the viewer. These were the perfect acting methods necessary to bring something as unpredictable, unseemly, and as dangerous as IT to life.
That also leads to the second thing that helped the movie capture the story’s heart and thrills: the visual effects. Most of it stemmed from ITs transformations, but they helped establish what kind of entity IT was and how flexible IT can be in ITs forms in the eyes of multiple different, unsuspecting people. Whenever a transformation occurred, it felt real, unnatural, and it still gave off of a threatening demeanor that signaled that IT was about to lunge out at someone and attack. It worked with the Losers’ Club when they were kids, and when they were adults, it still carried some of the threatening nature, further hitting home how much of a bona fide threat IT was and how it had to be overcome.
It goes without saying, but this movie changed around plenty of elements from the original book. I can't help it, I am too tempted not to put together another top 10 of the differences I caught between the book and these two movies, but here goes:
Once again, the encounters the kids experienced were different. Bill also saw Georgie, but in the then-flooded cellar instead of in his photobook. Beverly's fear was the same as in the book and the miniseries, except it also involved being pulled down to the sinkhole by the strands of her own hair. And, the blood spewed out not just all over the sink, but rather everywhere in the bathroom, to the point where it was all red with blood. Stanley encountered a freaky-looking woman in the painting, and it came to life. Mike encountered IT when he saw IT in the form of a group of burnt hands reaching towards him from the slaughterhouse's back cellar door. Ben saw IT in the library basement as one of the headless victims of the Ironworks explosion from Easter of 1906. Richie didn't experience his fears until he was in the house on Neibolt Street with Bill and Eddie, and he was approached by a bunch of clowns, before stumbling into IT in its Pennywise form next. However, according to Chapter Two, he also encountered IT in its Paul Bunyan form, like in the book. Eddie's fear remained almost the same as in the book, too, except for when he encountered the leper in front of the house instead of when he peeked in through its basement windows.
Ben never showed his skills in architecture outside of constructing the clubhouse in the ground and becoming one professionally in Chapter Two, which means that the Losers' Club did nothing about constructing a dam in the Barrens, unlike in the book and miniseries.
Patrick was killed in the sewers as he was chasing Ben, instead of in the Barrens' junkyard, when, after lighting farts with Henry, and with Beverly eavesdropping, he met his fate when he was devoured by IT in the form of swarming leeches.
When adult Henry was being broken out of prison by the corpse of his old friend, really IT in disguise, by being handed back his old knife from IT, the corpse in the book was that of Victor Criss, but in the movie, it was that of Patrick Hockstetter.
When the Losers' Club went to the house of Neibolt Street, where Eddie saw IT in the form of the leper, they paid only one visit to the place as opposed to two in the book. In fact, this was nicely toyed around with; at first, it was just Bill and Richie, plus Eddie, walking into the house, but when the chaos started unfolding, the rest of the Losers' Club intervened to stop IT.
When Beverly attempted to escape her abusive father, Beverly whacked him on the head with a toilet seat, resulting in him slumping to the floor and bleeding to death. This, as a result, landed her to pack up her things and move with her aunt in Portland, ME. This was a huge difference from the book and miniseries, where Beverly still lived under her father's abusive wing, only for her to find out about his death when she came back to her old apartment in Derry as an adult.
The clubhouse and smoke ceremony never occurred in the movie until Chapter Two, and it was all in flashback. Furthermore, the smoke ceremony played out differently than in the book. In the book, the entire Losers’ Club tried it so that one or two of the members could've hallucinated to find the answers to what IT was and where IT came from. In the movie, only Mike tried it out after meeting with Native American elders, who recommended the smoke ceremony to him, and he did it as part of his personal quest to study more about IT.
Once again, unlike in the book, Beverly never knew about Ben writing her the haiku until after they met again as adults. Until then, Beverly thought the haiku was written by Bill. Then, as Beverly and Ben were being tormented by IT, she found out that Ben was the one who wrote her the haiku when he shouted out the lines to her.
For the second time now, Beverly deliberately allowing her six friends, in all their prepubescence, to rape her one by one wasn't carried over into the movie.
I think the biggest liberties these movies took was with the encounter with adult Henry Bowers in the library and hotel. In the book, Mike encountered Henry in the library first, and then Henry encountered Eddie in the hotel. In the movie, it happened the other way around. Henry stuck a knife through Eddie’s cheek (though Eddie survived that blow) before escaping to confront Mike in the library, and by then, he was killed by Richie, which again was a far cry from when only Eddie killed Henry. On top of that, in the book and the miniseries, Mike was victimized enough by Henry to be taken to the hospital, whereas in Chapter Two, he was not beaten down so much that he had to be taken to the hospital; he still tagged along with the Losers’ Club for the rest of the movie.
But, there are three more changes that I think should be worthy of mention because of what they added to the story.
First off, Audra, Bill's wife, went from being a worrisome, supportive wife who ultimately followed him to Derry into a self-absorbed actress who was snobbish with Bill. And Beverly’s husband, Tom Hogan, had his role shortened down to just beating her down before being beaten back by Beverly as she left him for good, and then we never see him again. The more I thought about it, I think this change on Tom’s role in the story was for the best. No disrespect to King, but his role in the original story felt almost pointless. After he was beaten down by Beverly, he left his house, beat her whereabouts out of one of her closest friends, made it Derry, came across Audra, and then bam! he became another one of ITs victims. So much for a threatening buildup.
What the movie did to the fate of IT was actually very well played. When the surviving members of the adult Losers’ Club continuously retaliated against IT, IT started to wither away into a small being who was close to dying before ITs heart was taken out by Mike. Then he, along with Bill, Beverly, Richie, and Ben, all placed their hands on the heart and squished it together, finally putting an end to ITs existence. Compared to only Bill squishing the heart from the inside in the book, I thought this was a big improvement.
And the third change? Well, here’s what happened: the news at one point said that Stephen King was going to have input on a new scene he suggested exclusively for Chapter Two, one that was never in the book. When I read about that, I was super excited. This is the author of the original IT having some input on the movie, and knowing that it's something not toyed around with in the book was almost unheard of, but nevertheless filled me with even more enthusiasm.
The closest thing I can think of to a new scene was when Bill ventured in the fair when he remembered that not only was a kid that he spoke with earlier going to be there, but so, too, would have IT. Because of this, he ended up in the Funhouse in search of the kid before IT reached him first. While he did, IT was also in the same room as the kid and, unfortunately, ate the kid in front of Bill. This was a slightly predictable, but nonetheless chilling and tragic moment that added to ITs devious nature and Bill's urgent will to keep other people safe from harm’s way. If this was the made-for-movie scene that Stephen King suggested, then it was a nice addition to the story.
Something else I thought was interesting was how in the book, it kept going back-and-forth between the Losers’ Club's adventures as kids and their adventures as adults. But the movies kept the two sides of the story to their own movies, the children’s side to Chapter One, and the adults' to Chapter Two (plus flashbacks to more of their adventures as children), and individually, they worked very well. Chapter One felt like a much grittier version of The Goonies, except with the kids banding together to find the enemy as opposed to finding treasure. And like I said, the kids all worked off each other very nicely, adding to the story’s heart. Chapter Two felt like it’s required to be seen after Chapter One, as it dealt with the Losers’ Club reuniting in Derry and slowly reacquainting themselves to the locale and to the present situations at hand.
Now, I've heard that many people had misgivings about this movie because one, it was too long, clocking in at over two and a half hours, and two, it was not as scary as Chapter One. That made me curious as to how I would feel about it, since I’ve read the book first. After seeing it, yes, I do agree that it was a little padded out, yet at the same time, I never thought it was too long. In the end, I welcomed the longer running time for Chapter Two because it meant that more more previously-unadapted content from the book could've been incorporated into the movie, and whereas the miniseries went on for a little over three hours, Chapters One and Two altogether ran for about five. The more, the merrier, as I see it. Also, I think the longer pace helped to let the reacquaintance of Derry and the main events sink in for us as easily as it did for the main characters. And, while I understand that it didn't have as many scares as the first one, the scares it did have still felt genuine and solid; it got to a point where it felt almost as plentiful as the Chapter One. Almost.
Outside of that, do I have any gripes with anything else about Chapters One or Two? Frankly, there’s not much I could think of. I know these two movies may not be perfect, but somehow the sheer scale and presentation of the story through these two movies were just spectacular. So much so, that that it made me gloss over the issues a little and just enjoy everything that they did right. I might be more observant of whatever flaws I'll catch on my second viewing, but that’s not the focus until then.
What is the focus is to reflect on what an astounding and expertly-horrifying roller coaster of senses these two movies evoked out of me. Whether you read the book or not, they embellished everything that was recognizable from Stephen King's classic novel and used them to striking effect, resulting in more hits than misses. This was one of the most fascinating movie versions of his work that I've ever seen, and in my opinion, Chapters One and Two knock the original miniseries with Tim Curry out of the sewer waters.
Whenever the opportunity to return to this terrifying adventure presents itself, I'll gladly take it. That's one vow I can easily make with these movies.
Chapter One: A- • Chapter Two: B+
Bradley, Laura. “Stephen King Came Up With an All-New Scene for It Chapter Two.” Vanity Fair, 1 Aug. 2019, https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/08/it-chapter-two-stephen-king-original-scene.