It is an enormous 1,138 page novel from Maine’s maestro of the macabre, Stephen King. It was released in 1986 and remains one of the most iconic horror novels of all time. It spans eras, time, dimensions and, frankly, is close to unadaptable. That hasn’t stopped people from trying, mind you.
In 1990 the US ABC network had a crack with a 3+ hour miniseries that was released in other territories as a really long “movie”. It featured a bloodless, bare bones retelling of the book’s biggest beats – but was too truncated and toothless to capture the menace and suspense of the novel. Although Tim Curry was fun as the villain.
In 2009 director of the “good season” of True Detective, Cary Fukunaga, attempted an ambitious take on the book that ultimately fell through due to that most nefarious Hollywood monster, “creative differences”.
That brings us to 2017. It, directed by Andrés Muschietti (Mama) is finally here, and the result is likely to have Stephen King fans and general audiences alike riveted. After 31 long, grumpy years they finally made an It adaptation worthy of the source material.
For those who haven’t made the literary journey into King’s masterpiece, It tells the tale of a group of kids – a self described “Loser’s Club” – who live in the strange and eerie town of Derry, Maine. Children have been disappearing in Derry and when Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is taken by something lurking in the sewers, it begins an adventure that is part coming of age story/part unrelenting horror rollercoaster.
From the arm-ripping opening sequence It lets you know it’s not fucking around. This is a horror movie with a capital “H” and isn’t trying to pretend otherwise. Bill Skarsgård delivers an eerie performance as the main form of the titular menace, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. His drooling, wall-eyed Pennywise manages to straddle the line between absurdity and fear; making him a fascinating monster to watch.
The Losers are also fantastic for the most part, with superb takes on the characters of Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer). Of course with a cast this large some characters get short shrift, and sadly Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) feels relegated to a near cameo, with most of his character work given to Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), which will have ardent fans of the book baffled.
While we’re talking negatives it has to be said that not all of the horror beats land. There’s a sense that director Andrés Muschietti really wants to make sure everyone in the damn audience is scared, so he’ll often machine gun the horror right into your face, noisily and prolifically. That said, when it does land it does so beautifully, often cleverly juxtaposed with a moment of laugh out loud humour or genuine pathos.
It is not a perfect adaptation. At 135 minutes It is long for a movie and yet doesn’t even cover 50% of the book. While the book becomes a strange, surreal tale of interdimensional chaos, the movie veers more towards a pulpy popcorn horror experience. The good news is: it’s a really bloody good pulpy, popcorn experience.
Ultimately It is a big, ballsy, crowd-pleasing monster movie with wonderful characters, creative scares and a sense of style and place that anchors the tall tale. It’s dense with wonderful little touches, stylish flourishes and pathos that actually works. Put simply, It is very likely to be the best wide release horror movie of 2017 and the best executed Stephen King adaptation in a long damn time.
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower book series is epic in every sense of the word. The eight volumes span time, dimensions, other worlds and close to 5,000 pages. It’s strange, majestic and occasionally infuriating, but it makes an unforgettable impact. It’s puzzling then that The Dark Tower movie adaptation is so bland that a mere 24 hours after watching it you may find you struggle to recall any of the details.
The story revolves around 11-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) a young man with a powerful “shine” aka psychic power. He dreams and draws pictures of a tower, a sinister Man in Black, Walter (Matthew McConaughey) and a heroic Gunslinger, Roland (Idris Elba). Jake believes his dreams are real, but his mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) fears for his sanity.
Leaving aside its bastardisation of the source material, this isn’t a bad set up for a fantasy movie. The problem is that before your bum has had time to settle into your cinema seat, and certainly before an effective tone can be established, Jake whisks himself off through a portal into Mid-World and meets Roland with minimal audience engagement. This, sadly, is a recurring theme in The Dark Tower. Stuff just seems to happen in a blur of murky CGI and underwritten characters.
Director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) directs the film with scant flair and absolutely zero atmosphere, delivering a product that manages to make monsters wearing human skins and concentration camps full of psychic teens dull. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey try valiantly to breathe some life into Akiva Goldsman’s shallow, derivative script but are defeated at every turn by wince-inducing dialogue and baffling character decisions.
Ultimately the best thing that can be said about The Dark Tower is that it’s short. At a mere 95 minutes including credits you won’t have to endure it for long, but one can’t help but feel the sting of wasted potential and misused actors. Stephen King fans will be disappointed, obviously, but it’s hard to imagine even the most forgiving general audience finding something to love in this disjointed, inspiration-free enterprise.
The Dark Tower is a bad film, certainly, but even worse it’s a profoundly ordinary one. An utterly generic take on one of fiction’s more unique tales? Thankee-sai, but no thankee-sai.