4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD copy; 2017; R for violence/horror, bloody images and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube and VUDU
Best extra: All four are good, but don’t miss “Author of Fear,” Stephen King’s interview
THIS IS Stephen King for a new generation.
The 1990 miniseries directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and starring Tim Curry as shapeshifting killer clown Pennywise boosted grease paint phobia to new heights. Its outstanding cast, both young and old, captured hearts and imagination – enough so older fans looked on a film remake with a certain amount of trepidation.
There was no need to worry. Director Andy Muschietti, who helmed the outstanding 2013 chiller “Mama,” was in charge. Writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (“Annabelle” franchise and the upcoming “The Nun”) adapted King’s book for its 2017 film release. Old scenes were deleted and new frights added. The book and miniseries took place in the 1950s, but Muschietti and crew updated it to the ‘80s.
There are still two parts to the story; each stand alone. The 2017 version covers the Losers’ Club first meeting with Pennywise; “IT: Chapter Two” will deal with the adult “Losers” in 2019. Curry may have traumatized an entire generation and their children, but new fans and old will appreciate the film’s new special effects. They are state of the art – really scary. Wallace and crew did a good job within 1990 limitations, but there’s no denying the disappointment over a badly constructed spider-creature. In Wallace’s version, the clown’s victims genuinely float.
The story opens in Derry, Maine, the setting for a great deal of King’s work. “I was about 30 years old and very ambitious … I wanted to take an American town … and then have the whole thing be haunted,” he says in “Author of Fear,” one of four bonus features on Warner Brothers’ disc. “I wanted the spirit of that creature, that entity that manifests itself most commonly as Pennywise the Clown, to have infected this whole town. It comes back every 27 years and more kids disappear.”
We first meet Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) at home, sick in bed, as he makes a paper boat for his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Boat in hand, Georgie heads out into the rain to launch it only to have it fall down a storm drain. That’s when Pennywise makes his first appearance, fiery eyes glowing in the dark. There’s a subtle transformation as he comes closer; his eyes turn from red to blue, but there’s nothing innocent about him. He charms the child with promises of popcorn and balloons. Then, as he severs Georgie’s arm and drags him into the sewer, he promises, “You’ll float, too!”
We soon discover Derry is under siege – and under lockdown as several children have gone missing. Bill and his family are devastated by Georgie’s loss. With his friends, a group of middle school outcasts called the Losers’ Club, Bill tries to solve the mystery, which becomes more and more terrifying. Pennywise exists on the fear of others and uses a variety of methods to break the kids down. Bonded by friendship, the kids – played by Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff – band together to confront him as well as a pack of bullies led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). To say more would spoil the surprises.
Made for a modest $35 million, "IT" was beautifully captured on 3.4K digital cameras (2.40:1 aspect ratio), and followed a post-production rollercoaster ride with a 2K edit and master, and then back up the resolution chain for its Ultra HD release. The 4K clearly exhibits an uptick of sharpness from facial markings on the teen-dominated cast (freckles, peach fuse, acne and hair strands), plus the clown’s razor-sharp teeth and antique costume textures, while, most importantly, providing clarity to the painterly summertime background scenes of tree-lined streets, houses and classic brick buildings.
Still, the biggest splash is produced with its HDR toning (HDR10 and Dolby Vision) for controlled light shading and color saturation. Many scenes were filmed in deep shadows and the HDR gives the deepest and purest blacks while keeping the surrounding environment intact. Exterior visuals are exquisite with a wide spectrum of color from reds, blues and earth tones as the camera follows the Losers’ Club along a rocky riverbed or riding their bikes along Derry's main street. Bright highlights are also much stronger, keeping the overall imagery away from a hazy and flat look projected by the other formats.
It’s hard to get over the change in watching the 4K and Blu-ray transfers at home rather than in theater. The experience is so much better with rich, saturated color; solid spooky shadows and black levels; and fine detail. You’ll see a difference in opening sequences when Georgie enters the basement. Background detail in darkened corners is best on 4K, but the Blu-ray image is also powerful.
You've got to ask why Muschietti and his Korean cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung didn't use old-school 35mm film to add an organic vintage feel of the '80s. There would have been a higher base resolution. Perhaps digital was more forgiving in the shadows.
There’s nothing like a horror film with its mix of dialogue, subtle- to room-shaking effects, and score to make the most of a sound system. The 4K and Blu-ray both get the enveloping Dolby Atmos soundtrack delivering one of the best dialogue/effects/score blend pushed to all speakers: front, back, side and above. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch ("Blade Runner 2049" "Hidden Figures") hits all of the right cues to enhance every moment.
The default DTS-HD Master Audio also provides clarity, and good balance and separation for an immersive home-viewing experience.
In addition to “Author of Fear,” look for two more interview features and several good deleted, extended and alternate scenes. Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård talks about how he approached the role in “Pennywise Lives,” while the young cast offers their observations. The kids were kept away from Skarsgård’s Pennywise until it was time for them to shoot their first scene together. Muschietti wanted their reactions to be authentic.
“What I remember most about first seeing his audition was that he put the make-up on. I don’t remember anyone else putting the make-up on,” producer Seth Grahame-Smith says. “Passion often wins the day, and Bill brought incredible passion” to the role.
“The Losers’ Club” extra explores the actors take on their roles and the friendships they made during filming. Sophia Lillis, who plays Beverly Marsh: “At first you think it’s a horror movie with a clown that’s trying to maul children, which it is. But it shows how to gather up the courage to defeat your fear. You need people with you, and you need friends. You don’t need to do it alone.”
Remakes don’t always turn out well, but there’s no fear with the 2017 “IT.” No matter if it’s your first time into Derry or a return, thriller fans will find plenty to enjoy. We all love a good scare.
- Kay Reynolds