Wednesday, January 10, 2018

IT (2017) (4K UHD Review)

IT (2017)
Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code:

Rating: R
Duration: 135 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos TrueHD Surround 5.1, English DTS0HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160 UHD Widescreen (2.40:1), 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1)  
Director: Andrés Muschietti
Cast: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lilli

I grew up with a mom that was a rabid Stephen King fan, she read all his books and thus I was ensnared by the King-bug at a young age, I credit just having the paperbacks of Peter Straub, Dean R. Koontz and Stephen King laying around the house to fueling the horror-fire that began to burn within me from a young age. I will say that the expansive It novel took me about five starts to finally sit down and read through, it's not one of my favorite King tomes, but when the TV movie hit was broadcast in the early 90's I was very excited, I loved Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and I though that  the Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: The Season of the Witch) did a great job for the era, limited by a TV budget and special effects that couldn't quite live up their aspirations, but Tim Curry was amazing as the menacing clown. Curry is near and dear to my heart having been Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Darkness in Legend (1985), just these three gigs alone have cemented the man as one of my favorites. When they announced that this particular King property was being adapted for a proper movie adaptation I wasn't as down on it as some, like I said, I love the TV mini-series but there was definitely A LOT of room for improvement, and when I heard that Mama (2013) director Andrés Muschietti was attached to direct I was even more excited about it.

Set in Derry, Maine in the Fall of '88 the movie opens on a rainy day with the story of stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) who while sick in bed has built a paper sailboat for his younger brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), Georgie immediately runs outside and chases the boat down the street as it is carried by the fast moving current of the running water down the street, chasing it until it goes down a storm drain. Peering inside the drain George encounter's a creepy white-faced clown who introduces himself as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård), enticing the young boy with the boat before biting his arm off with a gnarly set of multi-rowed teeth, and dragging the boy to his death down in the sewers, his body is never recovered. It's a great opening scene, I was in from the get-go, very well executed and creepy as all Hell.  Georgie's death destroys his family, his mom and dad are deeply grief stricken by the event, in their suffering they sort of grow distant from their surviving son, and he believes his younger brother to be missing but not truly dead, unable to accept the loss with an finality. 

Months later we discover Bill tagging along with a group of like-minded teen misfits at school, we have the mouthy Richie Tozier (Finn Woldhard, TV's Stranger Things), the asthma-inhaler sucking hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the timid Stan Uris (Wyatt Olef), all of whom are bullied by the local teen psychopath Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang of teen delinquents. The movie is set in the 8late 0's but has a serious Stephen King 50's vibe, both in look and in archetypes, the delinquents would definitely be the greaser bad boys of the story if it were in the 50's and they look of the era, too. The teen misfits acquire new blood by way of a new chubby kid named Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a home schooled black kid Mike Hanlon (Chose Jacobs), and the ginger-haired Beverly Marsh(Sophia Lillis)  - all of whom are outcasts in their own right; Ben is fat, Beverly has been unfairly dubbed the local teen-slut and Mike is the outsider, a black kid schooled at home. The kids band together and dub themselves The Loser's Club, protecting one another from bully Bowers while suffering their own personal Hell's at home. I likes the backstories and home life of each as we look into their lives, poor Eddie's mom is overbearingly protective, Beverly's father is a daughter-loving perv,  and Stan is troubled by the stress of his upcoming bat mitzvah and a disapproving father.

The kids in the group begin to share stories of being plagued by the diabolical evil clown that lives in the sewers of Derry, Pennywise attacks them through their fears, Mike sees visions of his parents being burned alive, Richie fears clowns, Stan is haunted by the image of a strange painting in his father's office, Beverly is attacked by a blood-spraying hair clog, and Bill it tormented by visions of his dead brother, including a rather creepy scene of Georgie showing up in the flooded basement, being puppeteered by a submerged Pennywise. This scene in particular is one of my favorites, with Pennywise lunging after Billy, only to flop on the ground, his eyes rolls back like a python swallowing it's prey and he recedes back into the water - there's something so under-the-skin about that brief image, it just sticks with me. Another phenomenal scene has Pennywise emerging from a slide-projector image in a garage, it's great stuff.  

I know I've seen Bill Skarsgård in other smaller supporting roles but this is the breakout role for me, his portrayal of Pennywise is creepy, it feels to me like a nightmare version of Bugs Bunny, dressed as a Victorian era clown, his demeanor is delightfully absurd and gets right under the skin, he does this thing with his lower lip that is quirky and alarming for some reason, and I dig the make-up design of his visage, another scene of him again revealing his toothy mouth shows us the "dead light" to great effect, I loved most of the special effects here, in the cinema I sort of took umbrage with the shaky-frame effects used throughout but on 4K I took more of a liking to it. The movie sometimes gets knocked for not being R-rated enough, the gore is minimal, but this just isn't a story that requires a lot of bloodletting and guts so I had no issue with it whatsoever, the main focus is childhood fear, and it does alright in that respect.    

The film certainly captures that 80's Stephen King vibe with a 50's sensibility, sort of like Stand By Me by way of Stranger Things, a series that certainly mines the King aesthetic, perhaps the inclusion of Stranger Things' alum Finn Wolfhard as the mouthy Richard adds to that comparison, but I dig it a lot. This cinematic adaptations only covers the first half of the story when the group were kids, there's a chapter two on the way, and I couldn't be more eager to check it out, this was a knockout of a film and one of the best 2017 had to offer. 

Audio/Video: It (2017) arrives on 4K UHD and Blu-ray combo from Warner Bros. in 2160p UHD Widescreen framed in the scope (2.40:1) aspect ratio, and it looks stunning. This is a wonderfully crisp image, the details pop and the colors are vibrant. Close-ups reveal some very nice texturing and the Pennywise make-up is nicely detailed. Black levels are nice and deep with great shadow detail, the sewer scenes are wonderfully gross and damp feeling, accentuated by a strong and deep Dolby Atmos TrueHD audio presentation, the Benjamin Wallfisch (Blade Runner 2049) score coming through powerfully, and the surrounds get some great use on this one, a very nice spatial mix. 

Onto the extras we get some cool stuff for those inclined to watch 'em, beginning with Bill Skarsgard in the 16 min "Pennywise Lives" giving some insight into his portrayal of the demonic Pennywise, and how that thing he does with his lips is something he's done for years and was glad to incorporate it into the character. The kids come together in the "Loser's Club"  and speak of how they bonded during the production, becoming real friends, and low and behold Stephen King himself shows up for a real interview, the man rarely does extras/interviews for any of his adaptations, so this speaks volumes about how he feels about the movie, speaking about the how he created the character in the 14-min "Author of Fear", using the geography and legends of Bangor to craft his story, in addition to drawing on his own history of playing in the sewers. There's also eleven minutes of deleted/extended scene, the first one is funny, a gag-version of the opening scene that made me chuckle. There's also some more of the Henry Bowers stuff, making his turn from Bully to murderous villain slightly less jarring. A commentary from the director and writers would have been appreciated, I think it would have been interesting to go in-depth about the adapting process for this one, from a beloved book to a beloved TV minis-series onto the film, that's about the only thing I would have wanted that's not included.

Special Features: 
- Pennywise Lives! -  Discover how Bill Skarsgård prepared to portray the primordial creature known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (16 min) HD
- The Losers’ Club - Get up close and personal with the teenage stars of “IT” as they bond together during the production (16 min) HD 
- Author of Fear - Stephen King reveals the roots of his best-selling novel, the nature of childhood fear and how he created his most famous monster, Pennywise (14 min) HD 
- Deleted Scenes – Eleven deleted or extended scenes from the film (15 mins) HD  

It (2017) exceeded all my expectations, fast becoming one of my favorite Stephen King cinema-adaptations of all time - this was a blast at the theater and creepy as hell on home video. Warner Bros. put together a top-notch 4K release for home video with some fun extras, highly recommended. 

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