‘It’ v. ‘It’: Which clown wears the crown?

Photo courtesy of IMDB

Clowns: You either love them or you hate them.

Of all the individuals whom I have spoken to throughout the years, I’ve yet to find any middle ground when it comes to clowns. Appropriately, the original “It,” a TV mini-series released in 1990 based on the popular Stephen King novel, yields either love or hatred from most.  So whenever an adaptation or remake floats into theaters, such as the new “It” film, it is impossible to not compare elements of the old and new.

With a movie as divisive as “It,” everything from the blood to the balloons must be analyzed and compared. So without further ado, welcome to the joust of the jesters, the combat of the clowns — Which “It” iteration is the better, more terrifying Stephen King experience?

The old: It (1990)

Let’s start at the beginning with the original mini-series, generally viewed as an edited-together, three-hour film. Now to be candid, I only saw the film recently; therefore, I have no nostalgic attachment or fondness that many hold for the 1990 “It.” For my own sanity, I have to believe that this nostalgia is the reason that many claim that this movie is “scary” or, even worse, a “great movie.”

The script of the original “It” is cheesy, and it’s a terribly acted disaster of a clown movie. To make matters worse, the film isn’t even that much of a “clown movie.” Tim Curry is admittedly the best part of the film, as his performance is consistently entertaining. However, out of the movie’s lengthy runtime, Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise is absent from the majority of the film.

So what makes up the majority of the original film? Impossible dialogue between thinly developed characters, that’s what. The acting in this movie is some of the worst that I have witnessed in recent years. The child actors are more impressive than the adults, somehow, and as stated before, Curry’s Pennywise provides the only consistent performance out of the entire cast. Overacting, underacting and a large helping of “can I even call that acting?” fill the insultingly long film.

One of the main issues in the original version is that the movie is trying to tell two very different stories. One is the children’s encounter with the evil clown, and the other is the telling of the same children, all grown up after 27 years, coming back to face the clown once again. This makes for atrocious pacing and jumpy, rushed scenes. The new “It,” however, simply tells the story of when the children did battle with Pennywise, allowing the film’s pacing to be both clean and well-written.

Speaking of writing, the script from the original film is as tired and corny as one of Pennywise’s puns. Both obvious and lazily structured, the script allows audiences of all ages to understand the sequence of events that occur but does not allow them to receive anything of substance from it. On a technical level, of course the new film is going to be superior due to the 27-year gap. However, outdated technology does not excuse the shoddy camerawork that plagues the original movie. As the film goes on, there are some decently composed shots, but they are few and far between. The only other positive that can be found in the original “It” is a memorable music sting that makes up a portion of an otherwise forgettable score.

All in all, the old film does not reward those who like to think about the film but, rather, rewards mediocrity. There is a critical question I always ask myself when viewing a horror movie: If the monster or antagonist does not scare me, what else does the movie have to offer? In the 1990 “It” film’s case, audiences are offered an entertaining, albeit overacted performance by Tim Curry, one or two mildy creepy scenes and a waste of three precious hours.

The new: ‘It’ (2017)

Fast-forward almost three decades later and the story of “It” receives a new telling, and Director Andy Muschietti goes above and beyond to breathe new life into the horrific tale.

First and foremost, the new movie immensely benefits from Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise, the dancing clown. Just as the best part of the original was Tim Curry’s portrayal of the killer clown, Skarsgard’s rendition is, arguably, the crowning achievement of the remake. Not only is Skarsgard more intimidating than Curry, he is also more charismatic, more unpredictable and more entertaining. There was a bit of a controversy between fans of the original when images of the new Pennywise were released before the new film came out. Many stated that the new clown was too outwardly scary or intimidating. The claim came from the fact that many fans of the original believed that Curry’s strengths as Pennywise came from his ability to be terrifying without looking it. However, even with Skarsgard’s more frightening appearance, the new Pennywise is still able to come across as charismatic, especially to vulnerable children. He speaks in an unpredictable and almost poetic fashion and is able to disarm audience members with his hypnotizing mannerisms. Skarsgard’s ability to transform into this character is beyond impressive, and all of the makeup and costuming accentuates the subtleties in his presentation instead of stifling them.

Another notable improvement in the new film is the main heroes. The group of children that Pennywise terrorizes throughout have tangible chemistry, and there’s not one sub-par performance in the mix. The audience is given actual time to get to know the children and to truly understand their motivations and their fears. We know and like these characters by the end of the film; therefore, during their triumphs, as audience members, we are excited alongside the characters, whereas during their failures we feel equally defeated. In the old film, the movie does not take the necessary time to create that bond so the emotional connection is never created.

The dialogue for the heroes is also vastly improved in the new film. The writers do away with the cheesy, unconvincing scenes that made the first film so unbearable and chock the new movie full of intentionally humorous quips and exchanges between the leads. Rather than the characters simply becoming friends because of the situation they are placed in, the movie allows the characters to bond and grow together, creating palpable rapports between the children. Essentially, the characters in the 1990 “It” are used in service of the hackneyed and rushed story. The story in the 2017 “It” is used in service of its well-developed and entirely realized characters. This difference is critical.

The 2017 iteration also benefits from the creativity that the director and writers display in the film’s scares. The movie itself is as unpredictable as the titular clown, and most of the frightening elements go deeper than simple jump-scares and intense musical stings.  The new film actually produces solid scares, whereas the old never reaches past sporadic creepiness.

Which ‘It’ has it?

While some might disagree, the new “It” is a better-made film than the 1990 version in every conceivable way. The 2017 version feels like an actual vision from a filmmaker rather than a cash-grab, devoid of substance.

The new film contains striking, well-composed cinematography, and the old contains flat, uninspired shots. The new film allows the characters to grow and develop, and the old rushes the maturation of the characters, despite its ridiculous runtime. The new film is entertaining, while the old is dull and juvenile in its attempts at scares and heady themes.

I, personally, have never harbored a fear of clowns, and the new “It” forced me to nervously examine every shadow as I walked from the theater. However, as mentioned before, the film provides more than just scares. If you are not afraid of the clown, you can still find yourself entertained by the charismatic performances, the unpredictable thematic elements and the attention to horrifying detail.

As a film, the 2017 “It” had big shoes to fill, wordplay intended. Fortunately, the movie is able to seamlessly juggle what the 1990 film could not.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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