The Dark Tower
I have been hearing about film adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower book series for many years. Nothing ever seemed to come to fruition until now, and it isn’t even an adaptation, but rather a sequel of sorts. Anyway, since the release of this film that is based on the story and characters of the famed novels of Stephen King, I have heard nothing but bad. Currently with an 18% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a 6/10 rating on IMDB, 78% of Google users are reported as liking this film. I am one of the 78%.
In the center of the universe there is a giant tower that protects all of the realms of the universe from monsters. If the protection afforded by the tower were to ever fail, hideous monsters would enter the various worlds causing death and destruction on a huge scale. Walter O’Dim, an evil sorcerer also known as the Man in Black has made it his mission to bring down the tower and unleash the evil forces that await. Walter uses children that he connects to a weapon as a power source to shoot energy bolts at the tower to destroy it. Fortunately, Walter hasn’t found the single child that can bring the tower down, yet.
Roland Deschain has made it his life’s mission to avenge himself upon walter for the killing his father. Roland is the last of his kind, the Gunslingers, a highly trained knight-like band that were used as law enforcement in Mid-World. Unfortunately for Roland, his world has “moved on” and become a bleak and desolate place that is populated by people who exist through subsistence. If Roland can catch the Man in Black and kill him, he will not only get his revenge, but he will save the universe.
The catalyst that brings Walter and Roland together is a deeply disturbed young man named Jake Chambers. Jake is a middle school aged kid that has disturbing dreams and draws pictures of the images he sees in those dreams. Following an incident at school, Jake’s already concerned mother decides that Jake should attend a psychiatric “camp” that will help Jake cope better. When Jake recognizes that the people from the “camp” are actually the same as those in his dreams, he bolts and manages to get away. Jake tracks down an abandoned house from his visions that contains a high-tech transport device that can open portals to the other realms. Jake enters the portal and arrives in Mid-World.
Jake then happens upon Roland and they begin traveling together. Roland explains his purpose and what Walter is about and then takes him to a village to have his visions interpreted. It is discovered that Jake has strong psychic abilities that Walter can track. Walter then unleashes another attack against the tower that opens a small rift allowing one of the monsters to enter Mid-World. Roland kills it before it can kill Jake, but is wounded in the battle. Roland’s wounds are beyond the medical abilities of Mid-World’s healing methods. The people of the village have a portal machine and Jake uses it to transport Roland back to his world to get him medical treatment, and more ammunition. When Jake tries to contact his mother to let her know that he is okay, he discovers that she has been killed. Now he also has a stake in Rolands mission of revenge.
Walter detects the use of the portal and captures Jake and hooks him up to the machine to destroy the tower knowing that he is the one child that can. Roland sets about rescuing Jake by battling Walter’s minions, killing them all, and finally killing Walter with a trick shot.
In the aftermath, Roland tells Jake he has to return to Mid-World and since Jake has nothing left for him in his own world, he should accompany Roland as his companion. Jake accepts and they transport back to Mid-World together.
Now, if you are a fan of the books series, you may be among those who do not like this film. It is so different and off the beam of what was the books, you may not even recognize a lot of it outside of the names of the characters and the setting in the first parts of the film up until Jake and Roland transport out of the village. Outside of that, there isn’t a lot that a staunch fan of the Dark Tower series that is canon. This film takes a completely different direction.
As one might recall from the books, When Roland reached the tower and opened the door at the top of the tower, everything reset and went back to the beginning of The Gunslinger. The last line in the last book was the same as the first line in the first book, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I have read and heard in some of the social media that I follow that The Dark Tower is intended to be a sequel to the last book in Stephen King’s series of the same title. I am just guessing that when Roland opened the door and reset the story, it was thought that perhaps everything may not repeat as it did before, but rather allowed for a whole new story to be told. This film is a whole new story unlike anything that Stephen King wrote. I have always felt that while there have been many adaptations, with a very few exceptions, King’s books tend not to translate into visual media very well. Stephen King writes in such a way that the words he puts together makes pictures in the reader’s mind that are eminently more terrifying than anything that can be shown visually. As far as I am concerned, many times when the horrors in the writing are brought to the screen, they are laughable at best.
One of the things I liked about this film was the way the characters were portrayed. Matthew McConaughey makes Walter’s evil palpable. Walter has zero regard for life or the needs of others and is bent on bringing about the apocalypse. Anyone who tries to get in his way, he kills by simply telling to “stop breathing.” He does this to Steven Deschain, Roland’s father, as well as to Jake’s step-dad. But the way he does it is just so nonchalant and without feeling that it embodies evil. It was a great performance.
Idris Elba represents the good opposite Walter’s evil and does it with class, as one might expect. Roland is an expert at handling weapons, but he is lonely. The world has moved on and has left him behind to pursue the Man in Black across the world. Elba shows this in his expression so well. He looks tired and sick during most of the movie and one has to wonder if he actually has the strength to defeat Walter when and if he ever catches up to him. When Jake takes him to New York and has him treated, he revives and becomes stronger thanks to a bunch of pills he is given at the hospital. His strength and vitality return and he is part of some incredible scenes.
Jake is portrayed by Tom Taylor, a young British actor who is 16-17 years old and is more mature than what he is supposed to be, which is in the sixth or so grade. It is pretty obvious that he is older, but he turns in a convincing performance as a scared kid who is experiencing disturbing things beyond his control. He is confused and alone and latches onto the only pillar of hope for understanding, which is Roland.
Together the cast clicks even though they spend a lot of their screen time apart, one can see that there is going to be a huge conflict in the end, and one hopes that good triumphs over evil because the survival of the Earth, as well as the other realms, is forfeit if Roland fails. To this end, the action scenes are well put together and always moving, but not at too fast a pace. The pacing of the action scenes and camera angles affords the viewer an opportunity to be amazed at what Roland can do. The visual effects are amazing and add a lot to the story, especially in the final ten or so minutes that Roland battles Walter’s minions, and finally killing Roland. If there were real gunslingers, one would see some amazing feats of marksmanship. But even as one can see that they are visual effects, they are done so well as to be believable.
Among other aspects that I appreciated in the film were the location shots filmed in South Africa. The locations they chose were accurate to what I would have pictured in the books with the wastelands and rocky terrain that was featured. I also thought the film’s score was well done and appropriate to what was happening on the screen. Some of the music was quite epic and heroic in scope which accompanied the action scenes very well.
If there was anything that would have me picking nits, it would have to be the closing scene of the film. Jake and Roland are back in New York having a hot dog (Roland assumes that the wiener is made of dog meat) and Roland tells Jake that he has nothing left there and should accompany him back to Mid-Earth. As that ended and they headed off camera, the scene felt more like the ending shot of a television show than a major motion picture. I was almost expecting to see something like “Join us next time for the adventures of Roland and Jake on The Dark Tower.” While keeping in mind that there is actually plans in the works for a television series and perhaps other motion pictures, perhaps it was appropriate, but I thought it was a little cheesy and made me kind of feel like we were watching the pilot episode for a television series.
All-in all, in spite of what the critics say, I thought The Dark Tower was a great film with some excellent direction, acting, and action scenes. The length (just over an hour and a half) was perfect for a diversion on a summer afternoon.
Well, there it is…
Edited By Benjamin Arrowood