Guest blogger Craig Joseph Pisani compares an iconic moment in both filmed versions of Stephen King’s It in today’s guest post.
A variety of factors aid the creation of an effective opening scene, originating in pre-production with the script and transforming into a crucial moment for the filmmaker’s to capture an audience. It (2017) director Andy Muschietti’s version of the “Georgie Scene” adapted from Stephen King’s novel not only does just that, but it blows away its predecessor the beloved 1990 made-for-television version starring Tim Curry as Pennywise. Here is a look at the scene broken down from the moment Georgie approaches the sewer drain:
In the 2017 version, after Georgie’s boat sails into the sewer he is dug in like a tick on a dog with no intention of leaving without that paper boat. With his face particularly near the ground we see evil yellow eyes appear, giving Georgie a startle. Georgie’s attention is initially gained through visual followed by audio of a creepy voice saying “Hiya Georgie” then emerging fully from the darkness to see that scary clown face. The 1990 version provides the opposite effect using audio first as Georgie pulls away from the sewer drain, given up on his boat. The voice draws him back followed by Pennywise’s face fully popping up in front of him. There’s no fear in Georgie. Quite honestly, the Tim Curry Pennywise looks and sounds like a drunk who wants to ask the kid for a buck to buy more booze. If it weren’t for a good soundtrack the scene would be laughable. Creepy, yes. Scary, no. The 2017 version pulls off both.
The 1990 version tries too hard to show contrast. The sewer is pitch-black except the extremely white face of the clown. Behind Georgie the sky looks too blue and clear. I don’t believe that it’s raining as hard as it appears to be at that point where in the 2017 version is not so in your face. It shows half the Pennywise face (mouth area) lit up and half in the shadows but just enough to see his eyes are now blue (comforting) not yellow (scary). The 1990 Pennywise has black eyes. We also have some of the garment lit up but and the surrounding area behind him as black as can be. Outside the sewer, the DP did a fantastic job lighting the scene as it appears dark and grey and chose to shoot with tree foliage as the backdrop for Georgie rather than open sky, providing a much more horror-like atmosphere.
The 1990 version uses Georgie’s knowledge of not being allowed to talk/take things from strangers as the scenes conflict. Georgie needs persuasion from Pennywise before reaching his arm in the sewer. The “kids will be kids” mentality here as the clincher is he really wants the balloon, not his boat. The 2017 version raises the stakes a little as Georgie wants to take the boat back because “Bill (his brother) will kill him” as restated by the clown after hearing Georgie say so himself. Keeping with the “kids will be kids” mentality here as he thinks losing a paper boat is a big deal but giving it a little more urgency than 1990’s attempt.
In the 1990 version, Georgie doesn’t seem too phased by the clown in a sewer. He actually seems pretty ho-hum about it. 2017 Georgie has the whereabouts to ask “what are you doing in the sewer?” This allows Pennywise to respond with an answer that sets up my next point.
5. Genuine Fear Factor
Pennywise responds that the “storm blew me away, blew the whole circus away” implying that the whole circus was down in the sewer with him. He proceeds to talk about cotton candy, hot dogs, etc. until he tricks Georgie into telling him his favorite was popcorn. Pennywise tells him that is his favorite too, now they have something in common. He makes popping noises which gets Georgie to laugh along with him and feel completely comfortable at this moment until he suddenly stops and stares at Georgie with an awkward silence. The facial expression on Georgie’s face quickly changes to utter concern and fear. Recently I’ve been studying how to write children’s books. What I came across is that when a bad guy can flip flop their personality so quickly it scares a child even more than when a character acts one way consistently. This technique works perfectly in the film. Pennywise loses himself in the moment, knowing he has accomplished trapping his prey. The 1990 version does not contain this element as Pennywise remains consistent in his personality. Georgie never scares or show much concern either.
6. Full circle
The 2017 scene is so well constructed that the opening image and the final image mirror themselves. Pennywise’s eyes subtly turn yellow again once Georgie reaches for the boat.
Craig Joseph Pisani is an avid moviegoer and aspiring screenwriter with Bachelor’s degrees in both Cinema and English.