"A" Dark Tower, but not "The" Dark Tower.

by 7:52 PM 0 comments
Movie Review: The Dark Tower
 
I don’t do movie reviews, a statement that will no longer be true once I click “submit” on this post. The reason for that is that there are plenty of people that do a better job of it, and I’d rather refer you to them than to try to reinvent the wheel, investing time and effort into something that I know is a duplication of effort for no tangible gain.

The reason why I am breaking policy now, is because the movie in question is a film that began as a book series that I have read and reread multiple times over the past 20 or so years, and I feel I am in a much more informed position here than if I were attempting a deep dive into the latest Oscar bait. This review is not just about the film, it is about the books, and about everything surrounding the movie.
 
I am going to cover the portions of my thoughts that can be considered spoiler free first, and, following a very obvious disclaimer, continue deeper into what I liked, and what I did not about the movie. You know, in case you want to see the movie without knowing the twists and turns. I’ll try to be brief, but as you can imagine, I’m a huge Dark Tower fan and it has taken a few days to fully decompress the 95 minute adaptation, what it means to me, and how it made me feel.
 
SPOILER FREE SECTION
 
From the trailers and early reviews, I knew not to expect a faithful adaptation. At first, I was pissed off at the omission of Eddie and Odetta/Detta. I was pissed that, while an amazing actor, Idris Elda was about as far from the prescribed vision of Roland Deschaine as possible without giving him bionic implants or making him half Klingon.
 
The fact that this information slipped out early told me that they knew this would be a major point of contention for fans, and rightly so. So, in an effort to address the elephant in the room, my opinion of gender or ethnicity swapping characters skews old-school. As a writer myself, I’d want anyone attempting to adapt one of my works for film to attempt to honor the story I labored to craft as much as possible. This is of paramount importance on some characters, less so on others, and the reasons for it have little to do with the significance of the character. The reasons are tied deeply to perhaps my biggest criticism of the film, which I will elaborate more completely in the spoiler section. If the character , or their plot-based interactions with other characters of significance, is at least in part defined by their heritage, ethnicity, manner of speaking or culture, then it is my opinion that the person performing the adaptation leave them the fuck alone, and not attempt to prove that they know something about storytelling that the greatest storyteller of our generation does not.
 
Hollywood, in it’s never ending desire to keep making the same mistakes, continues to have no fucking clue what the audience of these books has invested in mental headspace and devotion over the decades. Book adaptations, especially as epic and sprawling as The Dark Tower series and the Lord of the Rings, need to have respect for the relationship between the fans and the material. Fans of Tolkien would find it ignorant if Bilbo or Frodo Baggins were swapped out for elves. A huge part of the story is their overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds as lowly hobbitses (*cough* GOLLUM *cough*).

A big part of Roland’s relationship with his ka-tet is influenced by his relationship with Odetta/Detta/Susannah. You don’t get to the mutual respect that they build for each other without starting off in the place where they did, with her deeply mistrusting/hating him due to the racial climate of the era in which she was drawn. The fallout from those early days of their relationship also helps bring Eddie and Susannah together. It’s a HUGE part of the story, all predicated on the fact that Roland is a white “honk mofo”, and the Detta half of the Detta/Odetta character hates him for it. It’s such a fundamental part of the story, that I don’t see how you can consider yourself a fan of the Dark Tower and defend the decision to cast Roland with an actor that blows this nuclear submarine sized hole in the plot and emotional dynamic of the books.
 
That said, Idris Elba is probably my favorite part of this film, but I had to fully divest myself of the notion that this movie had anything to do with the books I’ve loved in order to see it. Once I finally managed to let go of my hope that this movie had in any way shape or form been made for purposes other than to wring every last penny out of an IP that the studio did not understand or appreciate, I could see it and appreciate it for what it was-an entertaining cash grab.
 
That hundreds of other movies have been with a similar motive is obvious, and therein lies my point-they did not need to pillage one of the greatest literary accomplishments of our generation in order to make a summer popcorn flick. They could have just as easily grabbed a spec script off an end table somewhere, spent a few million on recognizable faces, and made a decent return on their investment, if that was all that mattered to them.
 
What I think happened was that the Director, Nikolaj Arcel, IS a fan of the books. I feel like he tried to do them justice, but was blackballed into making alterations because the Sony Studios lost faith in the source materials ability to turn a profit. When this movie was greenlit, Sony was hemmoraging cash, forced to admit that they needed help in making a Spiderman movie that could sell like the films that Marvel had been making. They needed a winner, so they hitched their wagon to Marvel studios and let them pull the cart across the finish line for Spiderman:Homecoming.  
 
Full of optimism over that deal, they picked up a bunch of properties in a binge and announced an ambitious production schedule back in 2015, The Dark Tower being one of those movies. No doubt, when they signed the deal for the rights with MRC Entertainment, the studio they would jointly be producing this film with, they did so believing that the partnership would be profitable as well.
 
The difference between the two partnerships, the Sony/Marvel one and the Sony/MRC one, was that Sony NEEDED Marvel, and Marvel basically told them that if they wanted their help, to keep their hands out of the damn cookie jar. MRC, a much smaller studio, was not able to wrangle the same autonomy, and the resulting mashup amounted to a “too many chefs in the kitchen” approach that left the film being bounced around during rewrites, casting, and editing.
 
Originally, Javier Bardem was rumored to be up for the role. Then, Russell Crowe. Finally, Idris Elba was cast. Having been rumored to be in the running to be the next James Bond, there was a pervasive feeling that Idris was a great actor being done the disservice of being crammed into roles that had been exclusively viewed as white. He deserved better, as he is one of the best actors in the business today, an extremely talented guy who deserves a shot at his own vehicle. I love the man as an actor, but I didn’t see a way that his casting could convincingly navigate the Odetta/Detta/Eddie dynamic that made the series so meaningful. Would they make Odetta/Detta a white woman? That would be fucked up, for the same reason.
 
In other words, they were hoping to cast a great up and coming actor, alongside Matthew Mcconaughey, who is almost always great in whatever he does, throw in some explosions, and sprinkle the mythos of Stephen Kings greatest work in to give it a minimum of gravitas as they backed the Brinks truck up to the back of the theater.

To be clear, I do not blame Nikolaj Arcel for this shit show. I blame Sony, and I blame MRC. There are so many reports of studio meddling with this film, it has become undeniable that it actually taken place, despite it being denied by the studios and a (likely threatened with blackballing on future jobs) Arcel.
 
Sony has proven time and time again that it has absolutely no fucking clue what it is doing when it comes to making movies. Oh, they hire the right people, give them great properties, but they can never seem to resist sticking their pecker in the pickle jar. It’s amateur hour over there, and has been for a long time. The movies get made, but the people in charge have so few people making decisions that know anything about what makes for a compelling story, that the good things from their movies end up being things that directors have to fight for. I have zero faith that Spiderman will be a viable property once their current agreement with Marvel expires. Enjoy Tom Holland while you can, because they will recast him with Justin Bieber or Jayden Smith as soon as the last of their agreed upon films hits BluRay.
 
Having vented my frustrations with those responsibly for costing me, the entitled book snob, the movie I had envisioned, I’ll quickly explain my thoughts on the film before delving into spoilers.
 
I enjoyed the film. I did like it. Like I said above, I had to fight through the umbilicus that kept me tethered to the story and characters that I had fallen in love with, and sit back and enjoy it as a Dark Tower themed action extravaganza. It was like a fan film made by some wannabe auteur straight out of film school that has a degree in Adobe After Effects and a vague memory of the plot of a book series that he read 12 years ago. He never read The Wind Through the Keyhole, because he’s not really a huge fan of the series. He doesn’t so much care about the story, but there were a few moments from that film that, once he’s done mining the few bits he needs from them, will make a sequence of action scenes that should be pretty dope. He’ll get to run them through his VFX pipeline though, so that will be cool.
 
Not caring about the characters, he only makes a superficial attempt to hold them to their motivations from the book before twisting them to his own ends like the minimalist plot of a big budget porno:
 
Oh, my car broke down in this scary field that I have no reason to be at in the first place. I just had a bad breakup with my boyfriend and drove off to “find myself”, and now I’m here. I better ask this guy working on the Monte Carlo under the tree next door for help, he looks like he can…oh! And now we’re having sex.
 
In short? If yo haven’t read the books, or can separate the books from this film in your mind, there’s enough going on, coupled with a good performance from Idris Elba, to keep you entertained. If you can’t do that, you’re gonna have a bad time. And with that, let’s get to the spoilers:

SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT

Alright. Time to take the leash off. This section will be much shorter, but there will undoubtedly be vulgarity because I am coming back to this piece at 12:37 at night (morning?) and I’m tired. I promised I would finish this and I’ll be away from my machine for the majority of tomorrow, so you get an angry, tired cut of this. Apologies in advance.

First things first...there is absolutely no way they can pull this story back to where the books ended if any sequels should get greenlit, which, if you’re as big a fan of the books as I am, you will hope that someone at Sony manages to reach around and grasp one butt cheek firmly with each of their hands, apply gentle pressure to lift and separate and push their head back out of their butthole so that they can hand this property over to HBO or someone that can devote the time to it moving forward that it deserves.

If you haven’t guessed, this portion of the review is being written by the part of that cannot establish a disconnect between the books and the movie, and is basing it’s review purely on my feelings regarding the adaptation from the source material (which necessitates SPOILERS).

I’m not sure I’ve seen a movie take such liberties with a book it was based on before. Everything from Roland’s ethnicity, his relationship to his father, even his motivation when Jake meets him are different.

Roland’s relationship with his father is a big part of who he is as a character. How his father withholds praise, how he is harder on him than almost anyone, how he shapes him into the man he will become, even though he’s not there most of the time. Between him and Cort (seriously, this is not a story you want to start in situ), Roland is beaten bloody and criticized almost constantly, but it makes him the toughest SOB around. In the movie, his father acts his equal in their one scene together, something he NEVER did in the movie. Roland always had more to learn, harder to work, more to consider.

Even that was forgivable, though, compared to the changes to the motivations of Roland and the Man in Black. The man in black kills Roland’s father right in front of him with the wave of a hand and two words. Stephen Deschaine dies whimpering on the ground not having fired a single shot. The same trick doesn’t work on Roland. Why? No idea. The movie never explains it, just says it doesn’t work on him. The only person in the books that ever seemed to be tougher than Roland is his father. I’m not just speaking about the ability to suffer physical abuse, but mentally tough. To see him die like that made me sad.

This entire movie isn’t even about saving the Dark Tower. Yes, you heard me right. Roland doesn’t want to save the Dark Tower, he wants to kill the Man in Black for killing his father. Saving the Dark Tower is something that will simply happen once he accomplishes his goal. The Stephen Deschaine of the books would have bawled Roland out for something like that, told him that it was “unworthy” of him, made him feel like a child for letting his emotions cloud his judgment.

And this brings me to the biggest problem I have with the movie. A lot of the changes I can accept, if not understand, but one scene, a small, throwaway scene, cemented in my mind the idea that the people making this movie have absolutely zero concept of who Roland is.

There is a scene, about half to three quarters of the way through the book, where Roland and Jake are eating dinner with the Manni folk in their village. Someone accuses Roland of not honoring his vow as a Gunslinger, actually saying the words, “You are no Gunslinger”, essentially telling him that he has forgotten the face of his father.

WHAT????

This would have NEVER happened in the books. I don’t care if Roland was down to one leg and an elbow, he would honor his role as a Gunslinger. If someone asks for help, he would provide it. Never in the books is it questioned that he is anything but the epitome of his code. And worse? He doesn’t, and thanks to his desire to kill the Man in Black to avenge his father, CAN’T deny it. This is not the Roland from the books, even if you discount all of the ticky-tack bullshit that they changed.

They go to Algo Ciento in the first ten seconds of the movie, a location that is so close to the Tower that they only go there in the last couple of books. Shit, they don’t even find out about the Crimson King’s plan to use the children as “breakers” until the fifth book, “The Wolves of the Calla”. To skip right to that eliminates thousands of pages of story, and neuters any need to “save” the Tower.

The movie also could have done with the missing half hour of footage that separated it’s runtime from a typical summer blockbuster. Everything went by so quickly that, unless you read the books, you probably had a hard time understanding half of what was going on. This was a movie that had no niche, no audience that could both understand it and appreciate it. Those that could fully understand everything that was going on could only shake their heads in mute horror at everything that was changed, and those that could appreciate it, because they weren’t invested in the entire NOVELS of shit that was cute or bastardized, saw tails and tips of interesting locations and story before they were dragged off to the next set piece.

My initial thought when I heard this was being adapted was, “This would make a GREAT series, Game of Thrones style six or seven season epic adventure. Give a season to each book, 10-15 hours to adapt each story. That’s enough time to do it justice. In the first book, where less is going on? Insert flashback scenes from his youth to fill the story out. Those can happen anywhere in the story. The Wind Through the Keyhole and Wizard and Glass are almost entirely flashback books, bits and pieces of Roland’s story that can be doled out when needed. What I’m saying is, that there are ways to adapt what they couldn’t seem to find time for in the film. There was no need to turn this into what it became, a rushed, disjointed, and ultimately harmful to SK’s legacy movie.

There is talk that audiences reacted favorably to the idea of The Dark Tower continuing on as a TV series, and Sony and MRC must still be thinking along those lines, because they conducted the exit polls themselves. I wished they would sell it to HBO, and not try to “partner” with them. MRC and Sony have lost their shot to adapt this by proving that they have no respect for the source material. There were always going to be changes made to adapt the story from one medium to another, but there was still a way to keep the essence of the story and characters intact, of which they did neither.

I’m not even sure how they would move forward with this series, taking into account how bad they butchered the plotline in this film. This movie has certainly forgotten the face of it’s father.

In closing? If you’re a fan of the books, don’t bother seeing this film if you can’t set aside your love for the books, short of a desire to see a few things you remember from them on screen. This movie is The Dark Tower in name only, and it fucking breaks my heart. I enjoyed the movie, but only because my expectations had been sufficiently lowered, but it’s one of those things that the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off.


If you’re a fan, you will see this movie, regardless, but you’ve been warned. Here’s hoping that they plan to pretend this movie never happened, and they sell the property to HBO or Netflix, someone that cares enough to make it right. 

Chris Godsoe

Developer

Christopher Godsoe is a science fiction author in Central Maine. A single father, he spends his time enjoying video games with his son, cooking, and is an unrepentant film buff.