The Dark Tower

This is dangerous ground for me, dear reader. What I want to write is a review. What I risk doing is a rewrite of what's unfortunately a lackluster addition to the King body of films, barely rescued by three fantastic actors and some echoes of a truly fantastic series of novels. But I'll control myself and delve into my thoughts about the latest entry in the mythos.

NONSPOILEREY REVIEW:

If you haven't read the books, you might enjoy the movie; it's rushed, but fun, with some good special effects. If you have, and are expecting a replication of the books, you're going to be disappointed.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

If you prefer a spoiler free environment, leave now. This link will take you to a safe review with Sam T. Cat.

THE SPOILEREY SECTIONS ARE STARTING SOON

I found The Dark Tower when I was fifteen, digging in my school's library. I didn't like the first. Wizard and Glass was not yet published. The Drawing of the Three was, therefore, the Dark Tower novel which first got my attention. I began the story with the lobstrosities and wound up reading the first book fourth. The characters and story still speak in my head. Long story short: I'm a book lover. I love great books. I love great film adaptations of great books.

That being said, I'm also the guy who loves it when people completely redo comics. Yeah. New version of the X-Men, Generation X? Sign me up. Supergirl is actually a clone of Supergirl? Awesome! Yeah, sometimes they suck, but sometimes, yes, they fly. Sandman is a perfect example. So I also love great revisitations. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is like the greatest thing ever. TL;DR: I'm openminded. It's a fun place to be.

Many film versions of books and series try to follow either path. This movie either does both or neither, depending on King's motivations as a writer, and the fact that we question those motivations leads me towards one of those answers. But I'm a cynic. Here's my options.

A. BOTH

This is the good answer. The one I want.

In this answer we're very closely following the book narrative. At some point, Roland has entered the Tower, climbed to the top of Can Calyx, the Hall of Resumption, and has opened the final door. This movie is about what happens next, or before, or sometime: is another round of the story that leads to the Tower. You dig?

Evidence for this view? Here's some direct evidence.
  • The numbers. Throughout the Dark Tower books, it's 19-99 which is the numerical sigul that leads to the tower. In this movie it's 19-19. Could be an earlier loop, could be a later loop.
  • The locations. Throughout the books, specific places have very specific locations. Not the kind of thing you change offhand, wouldn't you say? In the books, the Dixie Pig was on 61st and Lexington - in Manhattan. In this film, it's on Pearl and Plymouth - in Brooklyn. In a way the boroughs are another piece of evidence for me - when Pére Callahan crossed worlds in his story, when Eddie or Jake crossed worlds, they saw places switch boroughs.
  • The names. I didn't catch this more than once, but wasn't Jake's father called Elmar Chambers on his ID, with an a instead of an e?
  • Jake's life. In the books, his dad was an accountant, his mom and dad were wealthy, pill-popping and distant, and Jake was taken care of by a British housekeeper who called him 'Bama. In the plot of the film, Jake's father was a fireman who died, and so Jake didn't have an abusive father, but an abusive step-father.
  • Roland himself. Roland is Black. What does this mean? Well, as for the color, simply that at one point or another in history a Black man or woman married into the Eld family. Race is present in King's world in the books, but while there were some negative words race relations seem to have evolved differently there. There've been complaints about the racial difference, but hold on my response to that below. 
  • The taheen, can-toi etc. now seem to exclusively take children. 
Suppose we accept this view? What does this mean?

That this is a world where Walter, not the Crimson King, is the most powerful creature in the worlds. He's not only decimated Gilead, but has the gunslinger hopeless and at a dead run, and has gone even further than the Crimson King. The Beams aren't mentioned because they've been destroyed, and the assault is now on the Tower itself. He still has all of the Wizard's Glasses, and uses two during the film.

That a whole bunch of people aren't going to like the movie, because people go to movies to see adaptions, really. I was hoping to see our Jake and Eddie and Susannah. This is why, I think, so many complained about Idris Ebla (who truly brought a presence to what I feel is a limited role for reasons I'll describe next.) People wanted the music of the book language, wanted to re-experience the Clint Eastwood presence, the blue bombardier eyes.

That this movie has to be recognized as having a huge flaw in a) not helping the audience to properly transition to this world and b) not being long enough to adequately describe all this stuff in a way that makes sense. It's about 90 minutes long and there's very little time spent learning about Mid-World and End-World - most of the time is spent running around New York, or away from a rightly terrifying Walter. It could be two and a half hours and still not be enough. It's barely enough time for Jake and Roland to form a friendship.

Matthew McConaughey does the best job at being the Man in Black, I think, that there could be. He's amused and malevolent at the same time, and far, far more powerful than the Walter of the books. That creature is a sorceror; this creature is something closer to the Mordred we read about, with unstoppable mind control and telekinetic powers, and control over fire.

In this analysis, though, what score do I give the movie? I'd say 2/5. I went with friends who had fun. As the deep and almost spiritual experience people got out of reading the Dark Tower, it didn't live up, and it was far, far too short. It's given a point for great acting, and a point for being... at the very least a fun sort of visual crossword puzzle or treasure hunt piece, if you've read the books, where you catch bits and pieces from the novel for fun and make up your own story. 19-19! What the heck does that mean?

B. NEITHER

This is the bad answer.

This movie was basically a commercial re-chop of the first book with elements from the last book so that there would be one movie. Jake's story was simplified for sympathy and made more powerful than Roland's so there would be an interesting white character. The whole thing was done for money, and badly done.

Any evidence for this argument?

A little. In the books, it was made clear that the whole circular life repetition thing centered around the Mohaine Desert. That is, time repeated for the duration of Roland's life. For A. to be true, we'd have to see a reboot of the entire universe. This is a little out of the line of Summa Logicales.

Walter. He's ridiculously overpowered now.

Elements missing, like the Beams and the Guardians, which helped the original story make sense.

Elements there, like the Crimson King, which aren't present in the story and don't make sense in this cycle.

In this analysis, it's 1/5. It feels like some idiot director read the books pulled out the elements he liked and maybe had some one or two things he HAD to do in the movie ordered from On High by King himself, but otherwise turned it into a Hollywood version of the Dark Tower series. It's bland, and even the clues we think we saw in Version A are just re-rolled red herrings with new stats and

I hope it's A. I sincerely do. Even a badly-done A would be an attempt to honor and evolve the material of the original books - something King has done with additional novels, comics and short stories.

And if Stephen King ever reads this: I'm sorry for knocking the movie, but you need a better screenwriter, and I'm available and would love to do a real adaptation of your books for film. They deserve serious treatment.

ADDITIONAL MOMENTS I LOVED AND HATED

I like the gunslinger mantra, and always have. I do not aim with my gun... 

Walter walking in on Jake's mother and step-father. He was an asshole, but wow, good actor; he pulled off moving from aggressive to completely terrified in a half second, and made it genuine. It was also a horrific moment; Walter in this film is such an unstoppable force of evil.

The parts in the town. This town was like a combination of the Old People and the Calla from the books. I did think that Roland being or not being a gunslinger was annoying, as it was clearly telegraphed that he was going to start rescuing people from the git-go, and could have done without that plotline.

I hated the portals in this film, but could sort of explain them to myself as being an example of how superWalter has impacted the world. Sort of.

Realizing this movie was not going to have Susannah Dean was a horrible moment. I rarely think that women or POC are drawn well by white male characters, but I feel like Susannah Dean could be an exception as someone with agency and power. AND she's in a wheelchair? She was a hero of mine for a long time. Maybe still is.

And your thoughts, Dearest of Readers?


3 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

I choose option B.

I feel like you found a lot more to like--a lot more depth--in the movie than I did. Your thoughts on 1919 vs 1999 are really interesting, and I love that you noticed the switch from Manhattan to Brooklyn (which I totally didn't notice).

But, since I choose option B, I agree that these changes are less thought-provoking and more of a grab-bag of references and tweaks meant to satisfy fans with "easter eggs" that don't add up to a full basket.

In the books, it was made clear that the whole circular life repetition thing centered around the Mohaine Desert. That is, time repeated for the duration of Roland's life.

Hmm...Does time reboot for all of Roland's life, or does it reboot at the point in time when he is following the Man in Black across the desert? In other words:

1. Does Roland's childhood remain the same through multiple reincarnations?

2. Is the "man in black fled across the desert" moment the point at which it all resets?

3. Is the battle in which Roland's forces lose the Horn of Eld the pivot point?

The Beams aren't mentioned because they've been destroyed, and the assault is now on the Tower itself.

Yes! What's going on here? When Roland drew the picture of the Tower in the sand, it had spokes coming out of it. So there's an implication that the Beams still exist.

But if the Beams still exist (which they must, if the world isn't experiencing an apocalypse of entropy), why is Walter shooting his psychic laser beam right at the Tower?

Did they decides to just sacrifice mythological nuance for what turned out to be a very stupid-looking special effect?

Jake's story was simplified for sympathy and made more powerful than Roland's so there would be an interesting white character.

Wow! I hadn't thought of Jake's story that way, but you've convinced me.


I knew going into this that we wouldn't see Eddie, Susannah, or Oy, but I expect(ed?) that we will see them in future iterations. The TV show is apparently still happening and will focus on Roland's time in Mejis. Perhaps whatever is supposed to come after that will bring back Team Roland.

Logan Cox said...

How the hell do you have a Dark Tower movie and not include Oy?

Well, I need to finish those books anyway. I left off on Song of Susannah and haven't picked it up since.

Josie Kafka said...

I really like the last book, Logan, and I thought it ended perfectly, so I'd not-so-subtly urge you to give it another try. :-)

Song of Susannah was a bit too long, which is weird to say, since it's actually insanely short by King standards.