New Line Cinema's horror thriller "IT," directed by Andrés Muschietti ("Mama"), is based on the hugely popular Stephen King novel of the same name, which has been terrifying readers for decades. 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. "IT" stars Bill Skarsgård ("Allegiant," TV's "Hemlock Grove") as the story's central villain, Pennywise. An ensemble of young actors also star in the film, including Jaeden Lieberher ("Midnight Special"), Jeremy Ray Taylor ("Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip"), Sophia Lillis ("37"), Finn Wolfhard (TV's "Stranger Things"), Wyatt Oleff ("Guardians of the Galaxy"), Chosen Jacobs (upcoming "Cops and Robbers"), Jack Dylan Grazer ("Tales of Halloween") and Nicholas Hamilton ("Captain Fantastic").
Pennywise the Dancing Clown is back in Derry, Maine after a long hiatus and troubled production. Despite the production issues, this modern version of Stephen King’s IT is a success in many ways, but has a few tiny flaws. Let me just say that if you have a phobia or are scared of clowns in any way, this film will be quite frightening for you. Bill Skarsgård fills the clown shoes of a 1993 Tim Curry as Pennywise and does a very good job. It’s not the same playful Pennywise from the 90s TV movie, though. His outfit is different and this time around Pennywise seems more sinister and attacks his victims faster and more violently as we see in that first opening scene with little Georgie looking for his paper boat that went into the sewer.
Andy Muschietti took over as director here and mostly stuck to the book, which is a good thing. There were so many aspects and scenes that were not TV appropriate in the 90s that took place in the book, but now that we have a hard R movie, we can see the truly evil side of IT. The book takes place in the 1950s, but Warner Bros. and Muschietti thought it would be a great idea for the kid’s section of the story to take place in the 1980s from the success of Netflix’s Stranger Things. It’s fun to see all of the 80s references throughout the film, too, which brings me to the comedy aspect of the film, which is surprising. I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did during the film. That’s not a fault either, because the dialogue of the all the kids felt real and extremely funny. The way they talked to each other with their sex and mom jokes were all perfectly delivered. But on the turn of a dime, things could get serious and violent very quickly.
If you’re unfamiliar with Stephen King’s IT, the story is set in the small town of Derry, Maine, where a ton of kids consistently go missing and die. There is an evil lurking in the town in the form of a shapeshifting Clown named Pennywise who feeds on children – literally. A group of young kids in town band together to try and destroy it without their worst fears coming to life. The film works best when the group of kids are together. Their back and forth banter always hits the right notes and when they’re not on screen, you’ll wish they all were. In order to create some character development in this 135 minute film, we get to spend some one-on-one time with each character, experiencing their home life and their scariest fears come to fruition at the hands of Pennywise.
This is where the film feels cliched and rushed. Every scary scene has been done numerous times in other films and uses more jump scare tactics than it should. How many times do we need to see someone slowly walk down a dark hallway, open a creaky door, or see a creepy kid who laughs, which is when the music goes completely silent and the Clown appears with a big music crescendo and sharp teeth. It’s just redundant and gets tiresome. During the final act of the film though, things change for the better and becomes truly frightening. All of the kids do an amazing job in their roles of getting bullied, being afraid, and even gaining enough confidence to tackle their enemies and fears. With all of that, they still have time to be kids and very funny, too.
The book is split into two parts as was the 1993 TV movie. One section follows the kids, which continues into the second section of the kids who have grown into adults who come back to Derry to battle IT one last time. What this new film does is build the characters so well, that you can’t wait for the second part to release. If you’re scared of clowns, I have no doubt you will have nightmares here, but I didn’t find the film all that scary. I still find Tim Curry’s Pennywise performance scary-as-hell, but with Skarsgard’s take, while it’s still good, didn’t frighten me at all. This version of IT succeeds in a lot of ways and I can’t wait to see the second film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
IT comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc and a DVD copy of the film that is Region A Locked. There is an insert for a Digital HD copy too. The discs are housed in an eco-friendly, hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve too.
IT (2017) comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Most of the film is steeped in darkness with dim hallways, underground tunnels, basements, and other dark scenarios. You'd hope that the black levels are richly deep and inky, which most of the time they are here, but there are several instances where they bleed over and are a bit brighter than they need to be. In fact, the whole image looks to be brighter than its 4K UHD counterpart, which gives the image a certain haziness in some scenes.
For instance, in the first scene, where little Georgie goes down to the basement to get wax for the paper boat, there is some murkiness in the shadowy corners, which gives way to some video noise. Other elements in the tunnel scenes do the same thing. Also, detail can looks little hazy at times, when at other times it can be very vivid, showcasing individual hairs, makeup textures, and gory wounds nicely. There isn't a digital look to this image at all either, which is nice, but occasionally it can appear very soft, like you're watching a DVD. It might be a stylistic choice, though.
Colors stand out more here on the Blu-ray with deep reds on Pennywise's face and deep yellows on Georgie's raincoat. They look excellent here. The orange hair on Pennywise also looks sadistically scary and bright, too. Skin tones all look natural for the most part as well. While the image here may be brighter overall, it doesn't look as realistic or sharp as the 4K UHD version.
This release comes with a Dolby Atmos track that brings down the house. What a fantastic and scary audio mix this film has conjured up. I had chills as the film progressed, due to the sound effects and score. This is a fully immersive soundtrack and sometimes you wish it wasn't...it's that good. Things start off great with a powerful thunderstorm where it sounds like it's literally raining inside your viewing room. The height speakers send down the rain drops, thunder, and lightning strikes with great directionality here. Of course, when Pennywise shows up in the sewer, you can hear the natural reverb it brings, as it does when the Losers club are traveling in the sewer tunnels.
There are many moments where a character is walking slowly down a hallway or in a large room where the sounds get eerily quiet, but then crescendos with a loud bang of sound, which is never over bearing or brings shrills. Other demonic sound effects, low growls or toddlers singing brings deep and haunting atmospherics at every corner, which will make you look over your shoulder to see if something sinister is lurking behind you. Other ambient noises, especially in the school, have students chattering and walking around, along with other small town noises of wind, rustling trees, and even cars driving by.
The score by Benjamin Wallfisch has that scary stinging sound that lingers like The Shining has, but with a deeper growl of bass to it. In addition to that, we get some excellent, if not cheesy 80's music to go along with it that suits every scene and makes us laugh as equally as it scares us. The dialogue is always clear and easy to follow along with, even with the fast-paced delivery of the kids. Lastly, there are no pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills in this excellent audio presentation.
Most of the time, remakes don't work well. That's not the case with the remake of IT -- it's equal parts terrifying and funny. Each character is given their time to shine, which helps us form a bond with them over the course of the movie and witness their deepest fears come to life. The soundtrack is excellent, Pennywise is scary-as-hell, and the kids all seem very genuine. It's the horror movie we've always wanted and a great adaptation of King's work. The Blu-ray video presentation has some problems, but still looks good with all of its stylistic features, and it also sports the Dolby Atmos track as heard on the 4K UHD presentation. The extras are all worth watching and cover the best aspects of making the film. With the Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and the Digital Download, this package comes Recommended, but the 4K UHD option with Dolby Vision is the way to go.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.