This horror film had a great opening weekend with $91 million in ticket sales. The second most popular movie, released two weeks earlier, sold $6 million in tickets.
There are several ways to look at this. Maybe It Chapter Two is 15 times better than everything else being shown now at cineplexes. Maybe other new film releases were delayed to avoid competing with this one. Or maybe any movie release that is based on a Steven King story — his books have sold more than 350 million copies, after all — is certain to be more popular than anything else available.
The source material here is a thousand-page book published in 1986 about encounters between a malign, sewer-dwelling clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, not that you’d recognize him) and a group of citizens of Derry, Maine — first in their early adolescent years and then 27 years later.
A first movie, called It, was released two years ago and covers the earlier part of the story when the children, who call themselves the Losers Club, battle with Pennywise and also local bullies.
It Chapter Two tells the rest of the story. It opens with a nasty event (reminiscent of an actual one 35 years ago that I hope would not be repeated today.) The only member of the group who has stayed in Derry, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa,) sees that Pennywise is back in Derry and then calls his old friends to tell them they are needed. He reminds them that they promised long ago that they would return in the case of such an event. The other losers don’t want to do it, but they travel back to their hometown.
There’s a nice scene early in the movie when the losers meet over dinner in a Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal, their fortune cookie fortunes spell out a scary message, and then other fortune cookies sprout creepy creatures, and then a lot of slime bubbles up and covers their private dining table. When a waitress checks on the group, all the menaces have disappeared.
This introduces the main point of the plot (and presumably of King’s book) which is that the horror each loser faces has its roots in a childhood experience. Now that they have grown up, they must deal with those matters and, by extension, Pennywise’s personification of them. Is there any other possible reason why the book and films are called It instead of Pennywise?
This makes for a more interesting story than one in which, say, a bunch of zombies just happen to strut into a town and normal citizens must get rid of the zombies because — what?
That’s my view, but I’m not a big horror fan. Critics’ typical complaints about this movie are that first, it’s not scary enough and, second, that it spends too much time on the personal back stories of the now middle-aged Losers Club members.
Certainly the movie is long, at 2 hours and 50 minutes. Even at that, it seems to have compressed and eliminated elements of the King novel, which is understandable, given the limits of theatergoers’ patience.
(I have not read the novel version of It: The longest novels I have read are Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is of similar length; Tolstoy’s slightly shorter Anna Karenina, and Joyce’s Ulysses, which is shorter still but seems longer. To my knowledge, none of those three has been made into a successful movie.
Properly done, a feature film can do justice to the narrative of a short story or novella. But a novel that clocks in at 1,010 pages? No way.)
Still, if you are determined to see a movie and are willing to pack a nap pillow and shell out $25 for enough soda and popcorn to sustain you, this is the film to see this week.
The two 2017 and 2019 films’ retelling of King’s It story clock in at five hours and 15 minutes.
A few years after the book’s release, a two-episode television “miniseries” told the story in a more efficient three hours and 10 minutes.
Next up, apparently, is a longer dramatization of the story, probably to appear on one of the dozens of current television streaming services.
“It” the Word
I didn’t go to fancy schools as a child, but by the time I was in third grade I was pretty clear on when to use the adjective “its” as opposed to the contraction “it’s.” If I hadn’t learned it, I wouldn’t have made it to fourth grade.
Last week, when I was reading about and deciding whether I wanted to see this movie, I ran across a story published in an online review that talked about the evil force in It and It Second Chapter. There were repeated references to “It’s” power and “It’s” evil nature. As if “it” were a character in the film.
I have read magazine articles by Steven King, if not his horror novels. The man is a wordsmith whose writing is distinguished not just by competence but a fine written style. I can only imagine his distress — horror? — if he came across that same published report.