Film critic Emad El-Din Aysha hates remakes, but he couldn't resist the opportunity to watch 'It' and 'Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars' and be less than enthused.
It seems Hollywood is stuck in a retroactive mode. The only movies on offer at the moment are either sequels or remakes. It (2017) and Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (2017) being a case in point. Not to forget the latest Transformers movie with its lame attempts to reenergise the franchise and find more excuses for the storyline – didn’t like it and didn’t think it was worth reviewing.
Alas, I’m a Stephen King fan and a fan of the original Starship Troopers movie, so I simply had to watch them, whatever my misgivings about Hollywood. So here’s my verdict!
The Comeback King
It (2017) tells the tale of a band of childhood friends trying to defeat a monster – Pennywise the Dancing Clown – that gobbles up little children. The story takes place in the town of Derry, in the state of Maine, which is typical for a Stephen King adaptation. For some reason the story takes place in the 1980s, while the original Stephen King novel has the kids fighting the creature in the 1950s, with the final showdown happening in the 1980s when they’re all grown up – I wonder why?
I’m not a big fan of remakes, and It (2017) illustrates that point ‘quite’ well. I could guess that it would be gorier and more special effects heavy than the original 1990 mini-series. The pacing is also all off, which is to be expected of a movie which has to compress everything that happens in a novel, leading to an overkill sensation where you’re freaked out and desensitised too early on. Having your emotions compressed is ‘not’ a fun experience.
That being said, it’s a very competently made movie. There are cheap thrills galore, you are on edge half the time, and the visuals are very good. Admittedly, the film does feel authentic to that era, with the hairstyles and pop music and terminology – I don’t know if they had fanny packs back then, though. The performances and casting are good and the emotional sincerity of the kids comes across very well. Special mention should go to Sophia Lillis, who plays the role of rapidly maturing Beverly Marsh, with her gorgeous orange hair.
Special mention ‘should’ also go to the kid who plays the monster, Bill Skarsgård, but I don’t see why they needed a teenager to play someone who torments teenagers. He does a competent job, but I still like Tim Curry from the 1990 It TV series more. He’s an expert at playing a bad guy and he also knows how to come off as charming and disarming, before he turns nasty. Bill Skarsgård, is creepy from the word go, and looks even creepier in real-life without the makeup on!
Ditched in Space
The Starship Trooper sequel is much better, thank goodness. It’s set on Mars, with a bug infestation on the red plant getting out of control. The hero from the first movie, Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), is on the case and refuses to give up despite the fact that the entire battle fleet is, by pure coincidence, in another solar system. And also, by pure coincidence, there is an election going on, with a female Skymarshal (Emily Neves) running for public office.
It’s a computer graphic movie, just using voices of real actors, which has advantages. Like watching a cartoon, it gives the actors the opportunity to focus on their voices and beef up their characters vocally. I couldn’t believe that it was Casper Van Dien doing all the talking. He sounded so butch and manly. Nothing like what’s he’s like in his surfer dude-type roles.
A total CGI movie also gives the filmmakers the opportunity to do incredible stunts and invent great battle tech that might not work so well in real-life. It’s not as good as the original movie, naturally, but its rip-roaring fun and full of nice meanings too. The battle scenes, from the very beginning of the movie, are great. I thought the Arachnids looked better in the original movie, but the planetary visuals and the set designs were superb. They looked very real, and the metallic suits are especially nice. Not just because how cool they are, with all the gadgets, but because of how hard and metallic and personalised they look.
It’s only facial expressions and exaggerated bodies – boys and girls – that are a drag here. And the story is very straightforward, since they pretty much tell you what the themes are; democracy and not succumbing to military dictatorship during war time. Not to forget freedom of the press and access to information (via the internet).
You are What You Fear
The themes residing in the belly of It are both more sophisticated and harder to get at, one of the few plus points of the movie. The focus on the 1980s was to make the film a little less innocent. In the remake, you have child sex abuse and old men leering at underage girls; you see Beth buying tampons, and smoking, in secret, and ‘blood’ is an issue with her – things that polite society didn’t talk about in the good old days. You have teenagers beating each other up and doing all matter of disgusting thing at high school – assuming nothing like that happened in the US in the 1950s, or in the novel. You also notice the horror movies showing in the movie theatres in the film, many of which are sequels; gory slasher movies to be specific.
The 1980s, then, is when American lost its innocence and began to flirt with ‘fear’. There’s a police state quality to the town. There’s a curfew on because of a girl who got kidnapped. The abusive father of one of the violent teenagers (Henry Bowers) turns out to be a cop himself. When Henry kills his father, It encourages the boy through the TV set; an allusion to the corrupting influence of television.
One of the heroes, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), is a hypochondriac because of his paranoid mother. At one point, he yells at her and goes off to face Pennywise with his friends, arguing with his mother about how she makes him feel afraid all the time. The pills he’s forced to take turn out to be placebos; being fed placebos is like being fed lies. And its’ fear that gives Pennywise its power. Beth convinces the kids to stay together because unity gives them strength.
All this is in reference to the world of today, post-9/11. The terror threat, carefully stoked and exploited by the authorities to keep the country in line. The kids clearly are stand-ins for the American people. One of them is Jewish – the son of a Rabbi even, who gets picked on for not being Christian – while another is an African American.
Don’t take my word for this political reading. One of the kids, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) did a historical study of Derry and found that the original founders of the town – they signed a declaration like the Magna Carta – were all killed by the creature. In an earlier scene, Ben gets attacked by Henry and he screams out for help at a car passing by. The people inside see what’s happening and keep on driving anyway. You also can’t help but notice a red balloon, the present Pennywise always gives to kids to sucker them into his fangs. See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, as the saying goes.
But that’s still no excuse for watching little Georgie crawling for his life after having his arm cut off, and then being pulled back into the sewers. That didn’t happen in the 1990 version, and in the original novel. The gore gets in the way of the storyline and frankly American parents shouldn’t let their 5-year old kids out in the middle of a rainstorm to sail a paper boat.
Social restrictions here can be so comforting, and Americans have nothing to complain about when it comes to police curfews. All the more reason to go and watch the movie!