Quick Hit: Fair warning – if you’re reading this, you may or may not be subjecting yourself to a rant, a ramble, and many other shifty words. And an extremely personal one at that.
“The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”
That is the opening line to Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, which turned into over 4000 pages of writing from King across eight novels, an accompanying comic book series, and a literal encyclopedia (Robin Firth’s excellent Dark Tower Concordance). There is so much story telling contained in that line that it’s nearly overwhelming, especially when you have read all the books multiple times and realize all the story-telling that this line sets up. I’ve been struggling with writing a post on The Dark Tower for a few days now. Today is August 4th, and I’ve seen it twice in two days (once on August 2nd, once on August 3rd). I still haven’t completely parceled through all my feelings yet, so each and every one of you reading this will get to see my “creative process”, so to speak (aren’t you all so lucky?).
The best thing about the Dark Tower movie is, first, and foremost, that it got made at all. Few movies can speak of such a troubled production, that bounced directors, writers, producers, and studios for years. So many different things have happened to this film, it really is a wonder that we got to watch it on the screen. Anyways, had to note that just a bit before I tear into the real brunt of the film.
Another disclaimer: as stated previously, I have read these books multiple times. To further on that, I love these books, and consider it the best series that I’ve ever read. It’s both extremely complicated and extremely simple. The movie is radically different from the books, in ways that would be hard to understand to the non-reader. It’s both an adaptation and a sequel to the books, which at first glance I really, really hated. But as I continued upon my Dark Tower movie journey, I realized it was a sound decision. In order to drawn those that haven’t found themselves in Midworld before, it was necessary to either do a completely faithful, word for word adaptation, or do something very different.
Ok, let’s get to the movie – it’s not what I wanted from the film.
Roland, to me, is the main character in the books. His journey revolves around Jake quite a bit, but the journey to the Tower begins and ends with Roland. The decision was probably made to set Jake as the main character in order to make the movie more relatable, but it robs the film of a lot of the magic that is supposed to be there. I mean, let’s look at what Roland is and try to understand that magic is imperative to the successful interpretation of the film – he is the last of a company of travelling knights, who are both peacekeepers and democrats; he is descended from King Arthur himself, whose guns are crafted from the literal sword Excalibur; he was trained to be part of a selective group that are tested to their limits in order to have skills far beyond any other. Magic is inherent in that description, and so with the decision to have Jake be the center of the film, you rob some of that.
Not that I didn’t think Tom Taylor didn’t do a good job portraying Jake Chambers. While he starts the books as a pretty standard character, Jake grows into something quite different by the end of the series. With the way that the movie was adapted, it allows Taylor to tie into the series at different points.
Speaking of actors, I really liked Idris Elba as our hero Roland Deschain of Gilead that was (I love the Dark Tower language). He gives just the right amount of stoic, and his wry humor in the “fish out of water” scenes in New York is just perfect. I was actually pleasantly surprised in the humor shown throughout the film, because I thought it would be the first thing to leave from Mr. King’s books. Elba and Taylor have just the right amount of Father/Son chemistry that it balances out the scenes where they have a lot of exposition to deliver.
Bouncing off that comment (I’ll get to McConaughey in a second), that is the largest problem I think I had with the film. The run time was famously announced as being 95 minutes, and that worried me because it’s such a massive tale. For once, I was proven right – there are quite a few moments that fly by. That is really unfortunate because I think it could have been much approved to allow a beat and a breath every once in a while. It would have fleshed out the characters a bit more, as well as allowing emotional connections to form. And, perhaps most importantly, it would have actually made the Tower seem important. With the change that Roland is more focused on the Man in Black than the Tower, it almost seems as if the Tower is one of those things like gravity – Everyone knows we need it, everyone knows we would die without it, but no one really seems to care about it.
Back to the infamous Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey. I really can’t decide whether I like his portrayal of Walter O’dim or not. He at points looks really, really bored. He keeps referring to his “magicks”, which drives me nuts. On the other hand, he gets the menace right, and he also gets the humor that Walter is full of correct (particularly in one scene inside the Chamber’s apartment). I’m not sure what is going on here. Either McConaughey really, really understood the role, and was acting bored due to the fact that he is a near immortal supernatural being that is bored because (spoiler) he may have done this whole thing before and knows it, or he just actually was bored. We’ll know after the box office totals are tallied and the blame finger starts to go around.
Finally, let’s talk about the action here. Outside of maybe one scene, I thought it was terrific. The scene in the Dixie Pig in the finale is exactly the type of scene I wanted to see from the last Gunslinger. There is so much going on you can hardly take it in, and that’s why I was glad I had the fortune to see it twice. If there’s one scene that gets everything right it’s this one. You truly understand how powerful an army of gunslingers would have been, which in turn puts into perspective the power of an army that defeated them. But no one kicks ass like Roland Deschain.
In conclusion, thanks for sticking around this far. It’s taken me three days (it’s now August 7th) to get my thoughts onto paper, and I know I left some out. But it’s extremely hard for me to divest myself of the extreme joy I felt when I saw these characters on screen. I will never be able to completely separate that part of myself – it’s why movies are a subjective medium, and anyone that tells you otherwise is lying to you. However, I don’t think The Dark Tower is completely deserving of all the trash that is being thrown at it. I don’t think it’s a terrible movie, but it’s also not a perfect one. It’s an average one, which is disappointing, but it’s ok, because there is time to make it right in the future. Until then, Ka is a wheel, and Ka serves all things. I’m giving it an average “C”, which hurts my heart, but feels right (so I’m speaking to you da dinh).
One more thing: I alluded to the fact that there were probably some cut scenes. Will it be the same as Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will eventually release a longer cut that makes the movie better by filling in some of the holes?
Ok. I promise I’m done being a nerd. Thanks for reading.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"