Friday, September 23, 2016

STEPHEN KING'S IT (1990) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Warner Bros. 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 17 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Cast: Tim Curry, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, annette O'Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Seth Green, Emily Perkins, Adam Faraizl, Brandon Crane, Marlon Taylor, Jonathan Brandis, Seth Green, Ben Heller

When Stephen King's It debuted on TV in 1990 as a two-part mini-series on ABC I was sixteen and already a rabid Stephen King fan, my mom was too and it was because of her that I found myself picking up his novels from a very young age. As a fan I was ready and well-primed for Pennywise to leap from the page and onto my TV.

The movie opens on rainy day in Derry, Maine, the year is 1957 and a young boy named Georgie (Tony Dakota) is floating his paper boat down a flooded street when it disappears down a storm drain. Peering down into the drain he sees a clown who introduces himself as Pennywise (Tim Curry, Legend), whom at first speaks nicely to the boy before baring his gnarly teeth and murdering him. Georgie's older brother Bill (Jonathan Brandis) is also haunted by the diabolical clown who has been killing children in the area and turns out to be supernatural in nature, though no adults seem to be aware of or suspect that there is a murderous clown on the loose. As young people continue to be mutilated by the demonic clown Bill teams-up with six other local youths, each of whom have had their own nightmarish and surreal experiences with the other worldly clown. We have fat-boy Ben (Brandon Crane), wheezy Eddie (Adam Faraizl), every boy's crush Beverly (Emily Perkins, Ginger Snaps), funny-kid Richie (Seth Green, Idle Hands), shy-guy Stan (Ben Heller) and what appears to be only black kid in town Mike Hanlon (Marlon Taylor). Branding themselves The Loser's Club they band together to take on the clown-faced menace in the sewers. Thinking they've defeated the clown-demon they promise each other that should it ever return they will come together again and face-off against the clowns sinister evil once again.

Thirty years later the clown returns to Derry and young people are murdered, most of the Loser's Club have long since left Derry in pursuit of their careers except for poor Mike who has become the town historian and still seems to be the only black guy in town. He calls each of his now older childhood friends, asking them to return to Derry and fulfill their youthful promise. The older kids are now played by 80s and 90s sitcom and movie stars, including Night Court's Harry Anderson as Richie, Dennis Christopher as Eddie, Richard Masur from License to Drive as Stan, Smallville's Annette O'Toole as Beverly, The Waltons star Richard Thomas as Bill, and Three's Company star John Ritter as Ben. Reunited the Loser's Club must deal with the suicide of one of their own and their own personal demons as they once again face-off against the demonic clown Pennywise. 

The first half of the miniseries which takes place in the 1950s with the younger cast is fantastic, set in a small town it really channels some of Stephen King's best stuff about life in a small town which has been touched by a dark presence, like a nightmarish Norman Rockwell image, the young cast is overall solid with some nice performances from Seth Green, Emily Perkins and the late Jonathan Brandis who sadly committed suicide in 2003. This half of the mini-series feels a bit like Stand By Me as the misfits kids band together, also having to deal with a menacing bully named Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) who loves to make the kids miserable both as youths and again as adults. 

The second half of the movie concerns the reunited kids now grown up, the individually cast is strong but don't have the group chemistry of the younger actors, not helping is that some of the kid grown up look nothing at all like their younger counterparts. The seasoned cast of older actors are not awful by any means, but they just do not have the same magic that young actors had together. A lot of his might have to do with the fact that screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen was not around for rewrites for the latter half of the film, leaving director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch) on his own to handle those chores, there's certainly a tonal shift and it is more than just the characters have aged, there's a magic missing from the second half. 

Made for TV the movie is pretty light on blood and gore but not without some suspense and moments of supernatural eeriness, a recurring gag involving blood only the kids can see was weird and unnerving, as was a book that comes to life and then bleeds. Some of the effects are just awful though, no one kindly remembers the final reveal of Pennywise's true demonic-spider form which was just corny, but sometimes the run-up to the finale is the best stuff and such was the case with Stephen King's It. The true menace of this movie comes straight from the mind and talent of actor Tim Curry who brought Pennywise the clown to life with a minimal amount of makeup special effects, he is straight-up unnerving and his portrayal of the demonic clown may be the reason so many kids are freaked out by circus clowns these days, he is terrifying and magnetic throughout the entire series, it is just sad that the movie sort of fizzled out at the end, over-extending the made-for-TV budget on the home stretch. 

Audio/Video: Stephen King's It arrives on Blu-ray at long last from Warner Bros. with a new HD master and presented in the original fullframe broadcast aspect ratio, the previous DVD was reframed for widescreen (1.78:1) but this fullframe presentation is the original and correct aspect ratio. The new transfer looks wonderful, very crisp and clean but with a nice layer of grain and along with a fair amount of fine detail. The colors really pop and the black levels are nice and deep, a definite upgrade in picture quality. Audio comes by way of an English language DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track that is nicely balance, crisp and has some good depth to it. Channel separation is good and there are optional English SDH subtitles in addition to a plethora of alternate audio and subtitle options. 

WB carry-over commentary with director Tommy Lee Wallace, and cast members Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter, and Richard Thomas. Carried  which appeared on the previous DVD release. The track is quite good with director Wallace giving a very candid and open conversation about the making of the movie, adapting the source material, and the limitations of the made-for-TV format, 

While the commentary s good who I would have loved new interviews with the cast and crew, including Tim Curry or the cast from the movie, including a young Emily Perkins who was still a few years away from her turn in the Ginger Snaps series. I also would have enjoyed the option to watch the movie in the original two-part broadcast format with the original opening and closing credits for Part 1 and Part 2 which extend the scene of Stan's wife screaming after she discovers his suicide with Pennywise's creepy laugh over it. Part two should open with Bill driving into Derry and checking into his hotel before going o the cemetery. Wish list aside, the Blu-ray we have available to us is pretty great, with a crisp new HD transfer and lossless audio and an easy-purchase price tag that makes this no-brainer HD upgrade for fans of the miniseries. 

Special Features:
- Commentary by Director Tommy Lee Wallace and Actors Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter and Richard Thomas

Stephen King's It continues to scare with varying results twenty-six years after it initially aired on TV. The first-half is still a first-rate watch with the second half still suffering from a drop in quality and a tonal shift, but I still love it and Tim Curry as Pennywise is truly iconic. The new Blu-ray from WB looks and sounds fantastic, highly recommended.