In an environment where Adam Wingard had to quit Twitter over violent reactions to his adaptation of Death Note, simply expressing an unpopular opinion can make you a target for ridicule. You might get accused of “stirring shit up” for no reason, or of being contrary for the sake of controversy. So, when I found myself having issues with Andy Muschietti’s IT, a film that’s been breaking records and garnering almost universal praise, I decided to sit on my concerns for a couple weeks.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved IT; I absolutely agree it’s one of the best horror movies of 2017, perhaps in the Top 10 for the entire decade. But it’s not perfect; in fact, there’s one area where IT falls incredibly flat. Perhaps the overall quality of the film has made fans forgiving of its weaknesses, but I for one was blown away be IT’s godawful CGI.
Warning: Below There Be Spoilers!
I’ve been accused of being a CGI hater and a practical FX purist, but that’s simply not true. As technologies advance, I’m increasingly impressed with what can be accomplished. The recent War for the Planet of the Apes, for example, was nearly seamless, even though much of what appeared on screen was computer generated. I think CGI works best when it’s used in conjunction with practical FX; I also believe it’s best when depicting things on a grand scale, things we don’t have a frame of reference for (like a spaceship or a city being destroyed by a tidal wave). In general, I find CGI least effective when it’s used to portray human faces (like they did to Freddy Krueger in 2009) and blood-splatter; used in this capacity, I’m always reminded that I’m watching a movie, making complete escapism more difficult.
Related Article: The Scene from “IT” That “Scared the Shit” Out of Stephen King
Before the film was released, a picture emerged of Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgård) biting Georgie’s arm; I was struck by how cartoonish it looked [Below]. “Surely he won’t look that cheesy in the film,” I told myself, but I was wrong. The opening scene, as well as the scene where Pennywise emerges from a projected image and another scene where Pennywise shows Bev (Sophia Lillis) his “Deadlights” all look incredibly fake.
I would have much preferred to see Pennywise’s clown face grow sharp teeth and elongate using particle FX, and what’s sad is that this technology has existed for decades; the transformation of David Kessler in An American Werewolf in London (released in 1981) is a perfect example. So, while I absolutely rate Muschietti’s IT above the 1990’s miniseries, I found Tim Curry’s sharp-toothed Pennywise (a look achieved with practical makeup FX) much scarier than Skarsgård’s.
There are other examples of really bad CGI that are less offensive but still annoying: The mummy bandages that wrapped Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Pennywise’s wacky-dance are examples. But the one use of CGI I found most unnecessary was the “I Love Derry” balloon that appeared and popped before Patrick Hockstetter’s (Owen Teague) is murdered. It’s like I mentioned before about CGI failing when it’s used on small and familiar objects. That balloon looked completely cartoonish and probably cost a million dollars to make. I have no doubt a real balloon would have been more effective, and could have saved the production a grip of money. It was a poor use of technology in a situation that didn’t warrant it, and it destroys the mood of an otherwise terrifying scene. You can see the effect in the teaser clip below.
IT was produced for $35M, which is actually a very small budget for a major studio release. This explains why there were no big-name/A-list actors in the cast, and could also explain why many of the CGI FX fall flat. Perhaps they did the best they could with what they had. Is it possible that it’s now cheaper to use CGI technologies than to create practical FX like the great Rick Baker? Either way, the success of IT Chapter 1 likely means the budget will be much more substantial for IT Chapter 2. When money is no object and new and classic filmmaking technologies are used in tandem, the results can be epic.
If you haven’t seen IT for yourself, check out the trailer and synopsis below.
Official Synopsis: When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, neighborhood kids band together to square off against Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), an evil clown whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.
In addition to Skarsgård and Jacobs, IT stars Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Nicholas Hamilton.