Like most of Stephen King's stories, IT begins in Derry, Maine. It's the year 1988, and a young boy named Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) is lured into a drain by a strange, yet seemingly kind, man dressed in a clown costume named clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Georgie is murdered and soon enough his older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), finds himself stalked by the clown as well. To do something about this, he gathers up six of his friends: heavyset boy genius Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), resident comedian Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Calling themselves the Loser's Club, each one of these kids has had some sort of experience with Pennywise and they're savvy enough to know that something needs to be done about ‘it.'
Complicating matters for them is the presence of a bully named Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) who, along with his pals, tends to make life tough for the kids. Knowing that Pennywise lives in the sewers, the kids take the battle to him but are followed by Henry and his two cronies. But Bill, he's bound and determined to find his little brother. He thinks Georgie just might still be down there, in those sewers and while none of the adults in his life believe him his friends do. As they dig into the town's history, they realize that there's a history here that ties into not only Georgie's disappearance but a lot of other similar crimes throughout the Derry's surprisingly dark past.
Directed by Andy Muschietti, IT proved a pretty huge box office hit last summer when it played theaters. While this is only the first part of the two-part story, dealing only with the ‘childhood years' of the Loser's Club, it works quite well as a self-contained story. The film is well paced and does a very good job of establishing the characters really well. The talented cast of young actors all do a fine job bringing their respective parts to life and the bonds of friendship that develop between them as they work together to deal with Pennywise feel believable enough to the audience to pull us in. There's a nice mix of humor and drama here to balance out the film's more horrific elements. As is usually the case, it's the human element that is, in some ways at least, more interesting than anything else. The different personalities of the kids mesh well, they bond the way that the less popular kids at school tend to bond when free from the pressures of their peers and left to their own devices, and of course, once it's time to face Pennywise, that bonding comes into play in a big way.
It's also worth talking about Bill Skarsgård's performance. As Pennywise he's very strong, genuinely scary at times. His take on the character is quite a bit different than what Tim Curry gave us in the 1990 TV mini-series version. Just as playful but a fair bit darker, aided by advances in digital FX and technology to become something considerably more demonic in nature. Skarsgård really does a great job in the part, playing it with no shortage of sinister enthusiasm.
As to the production values, here's where the film makes a misstep or two. The movie looks great. The cinematography is consistently excellent and the set design does a great job of capturing much of the original novel's darkness. There are, however, some moments where the aforementioned digital FX look just like digital FX, taking us out of the film just a bit. The movie also goes overboard with its sound design at times, opting for ridiculously loud, low end effects aimed not at building atmosphere or a feeling of dread but instead cheap jump scares. There are times where, especially in horror movies, less is more but Muschietti doesn't seem to subscribe to that theory.
IT arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.40.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc in a transfer that looks just as good as you'd hope a brand new big budget major studio production would look. Detail is excellent throughout and as this was shot digitally, there's obviously no print damage, dirt or debris to note. Skin tones look nice and natural when they're supposed to (and appropriately sickly when they're not!) while black levels are spot on. Color reproduction is pretty much flawless and the disc is well authored, meaning that there are no noticeable issues with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or related problems. Really, it's difficult to find anything to complain about here, this is a fantastic looking picture.
Also impressive is the English language Dolby Atmos track, which comes with optional subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. Right from the opening scene with Georgie chasing the paper boat through the rain, this is a fantastic listening experience. The surround activity is near constant, but the mix is ‘smart' enough not to overdo it when the movie doesn't call for it. That means that attentive listeners will be rewarded even during the film's quieter moments with some impressive discrete surround activity. Really though, it's the scenes where Pennywise goes on the attack that the mix really shines. It's here that the mix pulls you right into the middle of the action and bombards you with an impressive array of surround sound effects. Score placement is also impressive, frequently using all channels to heighten tension. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easily discernable and there are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion. Again, it's hard to find anything to complain about. This mix is excellent.
Alternate audio options are offered up in English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1.
Extras on the disc begin with a sixteen-minute featurette entitled Pennywise Lives! that does a pretty decent job of explaining how Skarsgård got prepared to play the film's iconic antagonist. Not only do we get plenty of input from the actor but we also explore the development of the character and the various incarnations he appears in throughout the movie. A second featurette, the sixteen-minute The Losers' Club, examines the relationships and friendships that developed between the young cast members as they worked together on the film. In the thirteen-minute Author Of Fear we get a quick interview with Stephen King that allows him to explain where he got some of the ideas for the story from as well as what went into creating the town of Derry and, of course, creating Pennywise.
Also included are a selection of eleven deleted/extended scenes that were shot for but not used in the theatrical version of the feature. We won't list everything that happens in this material as it's more fun to check it out yourself, but there's just over fifteen minutes of content available in this section. These play out in one fifteen-minute chunk, though titles cards precede each scene to give each one some context.
Menus and chapter selection are also included and a few unrelated trailers for other Warner Brothers properties play before the main menus load. Sadly there are no theatrical trailers for the feature presentation included anywhere on the disc.
As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie included inside the case alongside an insert card with a download code for a digital HD version of the movie. The standard sized case fits inside a nice cardboard slipcover.
Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's IT isn't perfect, but it is very good. The cast are all solid, Pennywise is at times genuinely frightening and there's a lot of good character development to anchor the story quite nicely. Warner Brothers' Blu-ray release is honestly a little light on the extra features given how popular this proved during its theatrical run, but it looks and sounds fantastic. Recommended.