Saturday, October 28, 2017

IT

(you'll float too)

It, 2017. directed by Andy Mushietti; screenplay by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman; based on novel by Stephen King

" A group of bullied kids band together when a shape-shifting demon, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children. "(IMDB)




Well let's get the obvious out of the way: this was a redux of a highly popular work repackaged for today's audiences that played heavy on the nostalgia factor to entice older fans into seats, and it seemed to work. According to Scott Mendelson at Forbes, most filmgoers on opening weekend were females above the age of 25 (!) The marketing campaign was pretty brilliant---a solid, everyday object (red balloon), an easy-to-remember tagline ("You'll float, too!"), and a bigger, scarier clown all launched just in time for October, when everyone, present woman-over-25 company included, starts going through the horror list.

Did he "wear" it better?
Fans of the book have said the changes in decade and liberties taken with locations, dialogues, and character development weren't great; fans of the original 1990 miniseries, while admitting its cheesiness, have expressed preference for Tim Curry's more personable clown and insight into the characters as adults (as opposed to a separate film sequel, as this filmmaker has chosen). The book, for me, was way too long and I had a pretty big problem with the "group bonding activity" (aka 12YOGB) at the close of the kids' segment, but still a great story. The mini-series was poorly acted, poorly produced, and cheesy as hell, but understand that it was all we had, back in the day. Many of us needed a good remake of this, and I suppose the bottom line is that you'll never please everyone, especially when it comes to book adaptations or remakes and let alone both. My personal take on this (2017) production is that it competently told the story, tamed the edgier violence themes, and played successfully to the strengths of its young actors.

Setting the story in the late 80s instead of keeping with the original 60s opened up a ton of new possibilities for fashion, banter in dialogues, and best of all, music. The Cult, NKOTB, and Young MC provided a secure anchor for the era, but there were several other significant throwbacks from previous decades as well. The filmmaking captured a great balance between the dark inner worlds of the children Pennywise exploits (Ben's library, Beverly's incestuous apartment and bathroom, Stan's father's office and evil painting) with the bright, wide open landscapes where the kids learn bravery, compassion, and enjoy occasional light-hearted moments and humor. 

Bev shows inner strength

The horror parts were carried mostly by the creepiness of Bill Skarsgaard's not very personable Pennywise, the aforementioned dark environments through which he flourishes, and several well-placed jump scares. Truth be told however, the most disturbing segments of the film weren't when the kids were battling a killer clown but were dealing with real-life danger such as bullying, incest, and the death of a sibling.

One of the first films I saw, at age 6, and I'm
COMPLETELY normal.
Which brings me to the social aspect of all this, but first I'll throw out the disclaimer that we have 4 neurotypical non-nightmare-suffering kids who all singly expressed desire to attend this film (which afterward they all said they enjoyed). Many people are politely horrified when they hear what we let our children watch, and this film was no exception. Our youngest is 8, oldest 13, and though they all grew up watching Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba, Dora, Diego, and all the other kid shows, they've gravitated toward the television and films that Matt and I watch, which is exactly how my brother and I experienced media growing up. They can appreciate Disney films, they have been exposed to silent and foreign films, and they've learned to ask questions and to make comparisons and connections. Where this film is concerned, they had seen half the scenes online before we ever set foot in the theater, so there's also something to be said for familiarity and prepping in stages.

It's my opinion that empathy and humanity aren't only learned from the people in one's life, but in the stories of others, too, outside one's circle. The best way to experience this, for me, is through books, but in a lot of ways, films and more recently, television, have provided opportunities for this as well. Do we teach our kids what honor is? Or bravery? Yes, we do, or at least we try. But having specific memories, verbal or visual, to which they can attach abstract concepts might be helpful someday should the occasion arise.

On a basic level, this film can facilitate discussion about:

1. How to respond to bullying
2. How friends or loved ones can support you when times are tough
3. How being different is okay

Of course I can't say that every horror movie has this ability; I'm hard-pressed to identify any kid-specific, useful life lessons imparted by The Shining or Psycho, (other than maybe "Survival Through Avoidance") but whatever.

I won't shield my kids from the world because I expect them to take an active part in fixing it someday.





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