After years of rumors, planning, and re-tooling, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower, has finally hit theatres! The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed…but will its audience? I guess you’ll have to check out our spoiler-free review after the break, thankee-sai!
I’ve been a Dark Tower fan since I picked up The Gunslinger around 2004, so I’ve been closely following all of the rumors of possible film adaptations–and there have been a lot of rumors. When it was finally picked up and plans finalized, I was beyond excited, but there was also a lot of trepidation. After all, The Dark Tower saga spans eight full books along with numerous comics. Would the filmmakers be able to negotiate a story this large and make a good, coherent movie or series? At the outset, it looked like they had it figured out: multiple movies along with a supplemental TV series; however, and it breaks my heart to say this, based on the first film in the series, I’m not sure if the rest of these productions will ever see the light of day–not because it’s a bad movie, but because it will likely not meet the lofty expectations of fans and studio brass.
The Dark Tower is about Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), a Gunslinger (sort of a knight/samurai/policeman conglomeration) from a ruined plane of existence called Mid-World. He is on a quest of vengeance, endlessly tracking the man responsible for the fall of his world as well as the death of his family and close friends: The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughy). In our world (Keystone Earth, as dubbed by the film), a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is troubled by visions of these two characters which manifest themselves in drawings. Jake also sees a giant structure, the titular Dark Tower, as it is relentlessly attacked by McConaughey’s Man in Black. When the Tower is attacked, it’s felt in our world, and if it should fall? “Fire and darkness,” says Jake.
The plot of the film revolves around Jake searching for Roland, Roland searching for The Man in Black, and The Man in Black searching for Jake, with each one having their own reasons for hunting their prey, whether it be for salvation, revenge, or destruction. Their journey takes them through various locations in Mid-World, filled with “ancient ruins” that look awfully familiar, and to New York City in our world. And while nothing is groundbreaking, I did find it to be an entertaining film, if not exactly what I was expecting.
Long-time fans of the series (myself included) will likely be torn on this film. It is not just a re-telling of the original series. A friend of mine summed it up perfectly by calling it a “New Game+” movie. People who have read the books should understand why this doesn’t have to be a faithful staging of the books in order to make sense; however, that can be a hard sell to those who have been waiting over a decade to see these characters finally come to life on the big screen.
Another issue that has people worried is that the film only clocks in at 95 minutes. If you’re familiar with this series, that might seem a bit odd–how will they fit all of that story in only an hour and a half? Well, the answer is…they don’t. Remember, this is not a re-hash of the books, so a lot of the events of the first book are not present in this film. Instead, we have the ideas, mythology, and characters from the book, but a lot of original plot points. What is fit in can also feel very rushed–at times I felt as if scenes just didn’t have the weight that they should have because things were being moved forward at such a brisk pace. If directly comparing this film to the books, I noticed plot elements from The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, Wolves of the Calla, and Song of Susannah. That’s a lot to cram into 95 minutes.
Those two main gripes aside, I cannot stress enough that this is not a bad movie. Idris Elba makes an excellent Roland no matter the color of his skin, and McConaughey’s performance is ruthlessly blasé, killing without giving it a second thought–you get the impression that The Man in Black has done this before. The action scenes are well done, and it’s nice to actually be able to watch Roland kick ass instead of reading about it. There is some humor sprinkled throughout the film–I found myself chuckling out loud a few times, and there are a NUMBER of Easter Eggs that you can catch if you’re watching closely, although these will only make sense if you’re familiar with King’s other works. If you’re worried about being lost in the mythology, don’t worry about it too much: I asked a few people after the showing if they had read the books (they hadn’t) and if they understood the storyline well (they did), and they also said they enjoyed the movie.
The Dark Tower is a strange adaptation in that, well, it’s hardly a true adaptation at all. Had the filmmakers decided to be more faithful to the books, we’d probably have a much longer, more comprehensive movie. What we end up with is a bit short, a bit rushed, and a bit lacking; however, looking at it as a standalone entity, it was entertaining and relatively well-done–this could very well be the base of a good series. Where we come into difficult territory is that hardcore Dark Tower fans might have beef with it for not being 100% faithful to the source content, and there might not be enough here for newcomers to sink their teeth into. Unfortunately, what’s left runs the risk of being a movie for nobody in a world that has moved on.
+ Idris Elba is great as Roland!
+ It finally made it! Dark Tower is on the big screen…and it doesn’t suck!
– …but it’s not great either.
– Roland doesn’t get enough screen time at the beginning.
– Too fast-paced–gives the feeling of being an inch deep and a mile wide.
– As much as I like this movie and the series of books, I just don’t know if they did well enough for the sequels/TV series to take off.
What did you think? Are you a fan of the original series? Was this your first meeting with Roland and his ka-tet? Either way, let us know what you think in the comments!
Andrew is a writer/editor for The Geekiverse, and he’s a long-time fan of The Dark Tower series. He doesn’t type reviews with his fingers. He who types reviews with his fingers has forgotten the face of his father. He types reviews with his heart.
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