Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
It was worse than I thought.
I didn’t think that was possible, but it is.
As you may have seen, we have two reviews of The Dark Tower here on Dread Central. The other was done by Jonathan Barkan, who isn’t really familiar with the books. This one is by me, a bona fide Tower fanatic. The goal is to give you two views on the film, as we suspected this one might be polarized along the lines of fans of the books and those who just went to see the movie without knowing a thing going in.
After viewing it, I don’t think that’ll be the case, but more on that in a minute.
First, some credentials. I jumped on board the Tower Quest just before Book 4, Wizards And Glass, was released. I didn’t stop until the final book was released, seven years later. In that time, I didn’t read anything besides Stephen King, poring over every single work I could find, seeking clues and connections. Now, when you buy a Tower book, the inside pages contain a map highlighting which King books and stories are connected to it. Back then, it was up to us in the mostly pre-Net world to research and read and discover.
So yes, I’m a fan. A nerd, even.
Having read a lot of the coverage leading up the film, I was very pessimistic. Akiva Goldsman’s shooting script bore little relationship to the books. Set visits detailed events that never happened in the books. The casting of Idris Elba threw the nature of one of the key relationships and the entire plot of the second novel into question. I was pessimistic.
I couldn’t know, walking into the theater tonight, just how bad it was.
If you haven’t read the books, don’t read further. Go start the quest, cheat using the map, and burn through it all, marinating in what I consider to be the finest literary epic ever attempted by man, crossing thousands of pages and dozens of books and stories and now graphic novels as well. Go with knowing that a devoted fan says this isn’t worth your time; go read the books and see another movie instead.
Still here? You were warned.
Fans may be reading this wanting a Cinema Sins-style rundown of everywhere they got it wrong. I honestly wouldn’t know where to start, so you’re not getting that here. I’m sure someone will compile one someday. I will tell you that they threw the books into a blender and pulled out parts to put together an action film. There are bits from almost every book, if not in specifics then in tone; yet, huge chasms exist between the film and the works.
I’ll say one thing that will convince most fans not to see the film: Roland doesn’t give a damn about The Tower. Nope, he just wants vengeance for his father, killed by Walter. There IS no Tower Quest. Roland doesn’t seek it. Thinks it’s doomed. Pointless to protect.
So that should be that. What’s the point if Roland isn’t on the Quest? That’s literally the entire point of the series. Roland and The Tower and his obsession with it and reaching the top.
Much was made of Roland carrying the Horn of Eld in the movie, as if that was some sign this was “last time around” as King and others said. This is complete horse puckey. The Horn isn’t mentioned, and if his goal isn’t to blow it from the top of The Tower in triumph, why carry it? It’s a random souvenir he keeps in a pack. We see it many times in said pack, but it’s never referenced.
Much of the movie is loaded with these references, and they feel completely jaded and cynical. There’s ONE “thankee-sai” said in passing by an offscreen character. A woman is seen walking a St. Bernard with a small boy. Jake has a model car in his room; and oh, look… it’s Christine! Roland watches a commercial with talking raccoons and asks if animals on earth still speak. Pointless little nods to the books and the universe, as if dropping those in would distract us from the fact that the film bears very little resemblance to the epic.
Roland isn’t Roland. He walks around disavowing the title “Gunslinger” and the traditions of old. He’s depressed and hopeless and gloomy and just wants to kill Walter and watch the universe collapse. Walter is this weird, stiff, mostly invincible asshole who hurts people for fun, yet can’t seem to actually accomplish anything he sets out to do. He seems to exist mostly to get angry at his minions. He has all the charm and subtlety of a cartoon villain; he just needs a mustache to twirl. Jake is some uber-psychic, the most powerful psychic in all the worlds. Walter wants him because his “shine” is so strong he alone could break The Tower!
It goes without saying that much is missing. Everything from the Crimson King to the rest of the ka-tet are completely missing here, even though the events blow right past when they should be involved. This isn’t the first chapter in the story; we are DONE by the time the thing mercifully grinds to a very stupid stop.
Most importantly, and yes, I’m about to spoil the ending of the movie, Roland shoots Walter dead. Stone dead. How, precisely, this is to become a TV series and cinematic universe is beyond me. His plan is ruined, there’s no more threat to the tower, we’re all done. Roland and Jake walk off into the proverbial sunset. Any further appearance of Walter would be a massive cheat, and so would any further continuation of the series. Roland has his revenge, he has no interest in the tower, the Crimson King doesn’t exist beyond graffiti on the walls of Can-Toi locations in New York…we’re done. Thousands of pages crammed into 90 minutes. It’s insane.
Beyond all of this, beyond every way the creators of this film completely shit all over the books they’re based on, one simple truth can’t be denied that makes all of the above pointless:
The movie is terrible.
It’s a bad, bad movie. An example of everything bad about modern studio filmmaking. The screenplay has four credited writers, which means likely many more did rewrites and doctoring without union rules demanding a credit. It seems like none of them consulted the work of the others.
The movie that Dark Tower reminds me most of is the recent Lone Ranger adaptation. Yes, this is Johnny Depp with a dead bird on his head bad. Like that film, the plot is complete gibberish. Nobody does anything for a reason. Walter’s pursuit of Jake makes zero sense. Roland’s plan to reach Walter’s base is a complete contradiction of the rules already clearly established by the movie. Walter is seemingly invincible with the powers of Marvel’s Kilgrave/Purple Man with telekinesis and the command of fire, with magical relics (Merlyn’s Stones) that allow him to use those powers from a safe distance… yet, he sends Taheen and Can-Toi to do his bidding. Roland is immune to Walter’s magic, and that is never explained. Roland clearly has superhuman powers but only when it’s convenient to the plot.
And yes, it’s boring. Action scenes are few and far between, and handled poorly. They aren’t tense or exciting when they happen, and you’ve seen most of the action beats in the trailer. The first half of the very short film is just entirely dull. It takes forever to get Jake into Mid-World, it seems, and then the movie just sputters along the way to the conclusion.
A horrible script, bad performances, direction worthy of an Alan Smithee credit… it’s baffling that after ten years of development this was their idea of what to do with this property. It’s completely astounding. As one review I read said: Books will be written about how bad this movie is.
Let’s sum up:
If you’re a fan of the books, don’t see this movie. It’s faithless, jaded, and insulting. It’s also a bad movie.
If you don’t know the books, don’t see this movie. It’s just really badly made and a waste of your time and money.
I’m giving this one star for two reasons: (1) Our system won’t allow me to give less than that and (2) for the amazing Fran Kranz, in the hopes that he’ll select his roles better in the future. Even in a thankless role like Pimli, he deserved better.