Published on August 3rd, 2017 | by gareth0
The Dark Tower
Adapting Stephen King stories for the screen has long been a difficult problem for Hollywood. For every “Misery” and “The Shawshank Redemption”, there are many others such as “The Mangler”, “Cell”, “and Graveyard Shift” and many more where things did not go as planned.
The big issue is that King often creates detailed characters with complex backstories and puts then in fully developed worlds that despite their supernatural nature, often are easy for readers to relate to.
Also as any reader of his books knows, King is not one to spare the paper and his books can be very lengthy offerings. This is an issue for Hollywood as they are forced to condense a 400-800 page plus story in many cases to fewer than two hours of screen time. The solution has been to try television movies such as “The Langoliers”, “The Tommyknockers”, “The Stand”, and “It”. The problem with this format is that while spreading the story over multiple nights allows more time for the story, they gore and adult content which is often the core of the story has to be greatly watered down.
Which brings us to “The Dark Tower”, an adaptation of King’s largest offering as the series covers seven books and a novella, not to mention a Prequel comic and more. The series rolled out from 1982-2004 with King often saying that he might never finish the series. Fortunately for fans he released three books from 2003-2004 and was able to declare the story told.
The story tells of a world like ours, but different that has “moved on”. It is a dying world where Roland (Idris Elba), is pursuing a wizard named Walter (Matthew McConaughey), who is responsible for laying waste the world and killing all that come into Roland’s life. The books follow his unrelenting chase of The Man in Black over countless years and how he has become a cold and driven individual who thinks nothing of using people to get his revenge.
Roland is the last of the “Gunslingers”, a Knight like group who protected the world and who used guns that were rare in their world to keep the peace. Roland is highly skilled and unlike his now dead companions, is impervious to the magic of Walter which has allowed him to remain alive and continue his quest.
The Man in Black is fixated on destroying the Dark Tower, which protects the many worlds in the universe from the outside evils that look to destroy it. Along with a young boy from Earth named Jake (Tom Taylor), Roland must find a way to save the universe and exact his revenge.
The film keeps the conflict between Roland and The Man in Black but greatly condenses the story as it includes references to things in the first two books but omits much of the backstory and plot of the novels to tell what I would call a story that was inspired by, but not based on the books.
This is at the core the biggest issue with the film. I have read the books and while I wanted an adaptation that was closer to them, I did find myself enjoying the film more than I expected to. The leads were very good and even though they had a very watered down script to work with, they did a good job and the finale does have some nice visuals and action to it.
People I know who have read the books have naturally been very disappointed with the film but those who have not read the books have mentioned that they enjoyed the film and accepted it as a fun bit of escapist adventure.
There has been talk of a television series that would focus more on the third book onward which hopefully would include how Roland gained new followers from our world who were trained to be future Gunslingers. That remains to be seen as the success of the film will likely hold the key. I hope we do get to see it as there are countless stories and characters yet to tell in this universe and I think fans deserve to see them as King wrote them.
3 stars out of 5
Second Review by
Joseph K. Saulnier
I don’t know where to start. I’m sitting here, staring at my computer screen, not knowing where to start. How to start this review. This has not happened to me before. But I’m still trying to process the movie I saw only a few hours ago. The more I sit here and stare, and think about the film adaptation of The Dark Tower series, the more I think that maybe I wasn’t the right person to review this film. Before we continue, you should know that the book series is my absolute favorite of all time. It holds a special place in my heart for many reasons other than just being a very well written sci-fi adventure for Stephen King. So you may want heed this information as you read what I am about to say.
First, though, let me talk about the good. Well, no first the synopsis. Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last gunslinger in midworld, and he is also locked in an eternal battle with the Man in Black, Walter O’Dim. Roland must prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the one thing that protects their world, and ours, from bad, evil things that lurk outside the universe.
Now for the good. Two of our three leads, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, were phenomenal. McConaughey actually did a better job than I anticipated in the role of the antagonist, and I felt he captured the essence of the character as I know from the books very well. I was also very skeptical of Elba playing Roland Deschain when I first heard about the casting. He is an amazing actor, but he’s not how I envisioned Roland. Before you assume, skin color has nothing to do with it. I just didn’t feel that Idris Elba was old enough to play the character. Roland has lead a long and harrowed life, and Elba just didn’t look the appropriate age to me. Now, I still feel that he is too young for the role, but he performed the character written into the script very, very well. Also, for the booklovers, there were so many hidden Easter Eggs in the movie. Very subtle details in the background, and some staring you right in the face. From the twins that reference the shining, the family (and dog) from Cujo, even the car from Christine can be seen. Hell, you can even see Pennywise and balloons at about the 1:29 mark in the trailer. This was a really cool and subtle touch that I am glad they included in the film.
That’s what I can tell you is good about it. What’s bad? Well, for me. Too many things to list. I knew going into the film that it was not a direct adaptation, but rather it would be “another turn of the wheel.” Instead, this film set out to reinvent the wheel. If you’re not getting all this “wheel” stuff, it’s probably because you haven’t read the book series. If you’re going around talking about shine, and feel that the focus of the story was Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), you probably haven’t read the books. I am sorry if what I am saying, and am going to say, sounds like cocky fanboy complaints, but the studio, writers, producers, director and just about everyone involved with the film had to know how huge a fan base this series has, and the criticism that would be laid on.
Let’s talk about Tom Taylor. Tom plays Jake Chambers, a character who is portrayed as teen, possibly a tween, instead of closer to 6 or 7 as the source material describes. The way the film follows him, talks about his “Shine”, and generally places him in peril at every turn, you’d think the film was about Chambers. Taylor was flat and emotionless in the role of Jake, and when he needed to show the emotion, it was far from believable. But, then so was his friend who lived next door. It almost makes think that this was some sort of commentary on the youth of today.
I’ve told you what I liked about Roland Deschain, and Idris Elba’s portrayal of him, but here’s where we talk about the bad again. For me, the Roland in the film was far too likeable. Roland Deschain was a hard ass. And while he did show some soft hearted tendencies eventually, we’re talking deep in the series, he was not this likeable a character in the beginning. And there’s no way in hell that he would have called Jake a gunslinger after the events that took place in the film. Then there’s the gunslinger’s creed. “I do not aim with my hand. He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.” And so on. This is a creed recited by students who are working to become gunslingers. It is to remind them, and teach them, of the importance of the gunslinger and the way they think. It is not something quoted by father and son on a battlefield to help them focus on the task at hand.
This trip to the Tower has taken some weird turns, from using children as weapon to destroy the tower, to incorporating elements from all books into a film that changed the angle of the wheel, to an ending that leaves you feeling that there will be a continuation. In what form, we don’t know, but there is a rumored TV show. There are so many other things going through my mind, and things I want to say, but I also do not want to ruin the outcome of the film, and the path there, which, if it isn’t clear by now, is far different than the source material.
Maybe I’m “too close” to the material, as it were. Maybe I need to go back and read the series again because I have forgotten much in the 6 years since I last read it. My fiancé attended the film with me and absolutely loved it. She thought it was intriguing, imaginative, and very well put together. She’s never read the series. So maybe that’s it. If you’ve never read the series, or have forgotten much of it, you will enjoy this film. If you remember much of what made you fall in love with the series to begin with, you may be harshly disappointed. Just as it was for me.
2 stars out of 5