Movie Review: "The Dark Tower" (2017)
Every so often you write a review that breaks your nerdy little heart. It's my deepest wish that I wasn't having to take that approach here, but so be it. Hopes and expectations are a dangerous thing, particularly for the Constant Reader (if you don't know, a "Constant Reader" is a Stephen King fanatic...his words).
We Constant Readers should be immune to the slings and arrows of poor structure, missed opportunities, bad pacing, & inept studio pressure- after all, we've been through some atrocious King adaptations (Tommyknockers, anyone?) that were as equally bad as the winners (Apt Pupil, The Green Mile, Pet Sematary) were legitimate masterworks. The Constant Reader has thick skin.
Still..........this one is tough.
"The Dark Tower" series is my single favorite series of all time, regardless of genre or author. The characters are rich and deeply imagined. The series takes elements of horror, fantasy, Western, action, and world-building to a level only equaled by the likes of "The Lord of the Rings", "Dune", "Game of Thrones", & "Harry Potter". It ties into many of King's other works, from "Salem's Lot" to "The Shining" to "It". It's so fucking weird and singular that you get sucked down into the abyss and you thank Gan for the suffocation.
I think that's what makes the careless way this movie was handled so infuriating. As the dust settles I find myself becoming more and more bothered by it. It's like a virus in that way.
2017's "The Dark Tower" reeks of studio interference, shoddy writing, & a lack of respect of for the source material. How much influence did director Nickolaj Arcel ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") have over this movie? Who knows, really. He wasn't the original director. At one point it was supposed to be Ron Howard in the chair. Oh, what if....
Okay, I'm going to stop bitching for a minute and talk about what worked. First and foremost, I was borderline stunned at the job Idris Elba ("Thor", "Pacific Rim") turned in (despite being crippled by the aforementioned piss-poor writing) as Roland Deschain aka The Gunslinger. And, no- it's not a race thing. I was surprised at the casting choice when it was announced (he is written as a white character), but that shit doesn't matter. He feels like Roland. He carries that sense of the weight that decades of searching for and protecting The Tower will do. He's dangerous and brooding. He's a total badass motherfucker. Great casting.
The casting was also great with Matthew McConaughey portraying The Man in Black aka Walter O'Dim aka Randall Flagg aka THE VILLAIN in the Stephen King universe (across many books/times). He brought out that unchecked evil glee and mean streak. He made it cool to be the guy who wants to destroy everything and let the ancient, demonic evil from outside the universe in. He was actually cool to a fault. You're not really supposed to like the guy who's out to kill you and everyone you love.
Young Tom Taylor did a commendable job as Jake Chambers, the boy whose powerful "shine" makes him the golden egg for The Man in Black. He's Roland's redemption and his ultimate choice to make and will, in many ways, decide the fate of his soul.
And that's where the problem is.
What they've given us is a movie about Jake Chambers where the Gunslinger is in the background. Please explain to me how in the fuck that happened! The relationship between Roland and Jake has it's place; don't get me wrong. There was good chemistry in what was essentially a 3-actor show. No complaint there, but.....but........
This is Roland's story! The focus was never supposed to be on the boy. He has a part to play, but he will not be the one ascending the steps to the room at the top of the Tower. That's a grave writing error. That decision was made to widen the audience and bring about some of those mainstream dollars. It's essentially a bait & switch.
The look and feel of Mid-World was mostly correct, but the production value could've been much higher. They did alright with what they had, but it all feels so uninspired. The little nods and shout-outs throughout showed that they at least read the source material, but they clearly didn't comprehend what they were reading. This is supposed to be EPIC territory here! You'd better believe the vast majority of folks who went into this were expecting exactly that.
So what did you give us in this day & age of two and a half hour long superhero movies and fantasy fare? You gave us a movie that is 95 minutes in runtime (including credits!) and feels more like a rushed 75 minutes. It flew by, and I mean that in the least complimentary way possible. You gave us good actors crippled by baffling storyline decisions, poor pacing, & a lack of respect for the enormity of the source material.
I can only hope that the long awaited TV show sees the light of day and has a chance to rectify this steaming dog turd. I think I'd be less disappointed if they went for a distinct vision and just whiffed it. Instead, they did the worst thing you can do-
They played it safe and formulaic. There's never been anything safe or formulaic about "The Dark Tower".
BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD!! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED IF YOU'RE READING THE SERIES!!
You had the license and ability to do damn near as you pleased with this "version" of "The Dark Tower" (given the way the books ended). It's the last turn of the Wheel of Ka! This was supposed to be checkmate in the most important game in the universe between it's two most formidable warriors. Writing this should have been a wet dream, even for a team of writers. They had the ability to play in the world of The Tower with fresh ink and a blank page. It's a continuation, a sequel for fuck's sake!! How could you not hit that 10-foot wide nail on the head?
Sorry to rant here, but the first shot in this movie (although I did like that merry-go-round symbolism) should have been the motherfucking HORN OF ELD on Roland's hip. It's reset. It's the final round. It's time to play the game and win (or die a glorious death).
As much as I want to see Eddie, Susannah/Detta/Odetta/Mia, Oy, Blaine the Mono, Mordred, The Tick-Tock Man, Gasher, The Cradle of Lud, etc, etc, etc........I was ludicrously excited to see something new. Who doesn't love a blank canvas?
I didn't know they'd fling generic, uninspired monkey shit at it instead of painting a masterpiece.
Goddamn you, Hollywood, quit shitting on my childhood.
Here's to hoping that someone like HBO can redeem this sinking ship.
For me, it's a 5/10 with a ton of missed opportunities and solid casting. IMDB has it at a 6.1/10. Rotten Tomatoes has it at an astoundingly shitty 19% Rotten. I don't know if I'd be that hard on it (although I have been rough), but it's near and dear to my heart. Mid-World and story of Roland's quest to save the Tower carried me through my darkest years.
It deserves more respect.