The Dark Tower
By: Alex Elias
The Dark Tower, a new fantasy adventure from Nicolaj Arcel (the writer of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), is quite possibly one of the most interesting additions to the genre of book-to-film adaptions we’ve seen to date. Rather than using its original source material as a bible, The Dark Tower instead uses it as a stepping stone, merely borrowing the title, general setting and some key bits of terminology. For all intents and purposes, The Dark Tower is a film reimagining of Stephen King’s first novel and while not a “true” adaptation of the book, a darn good movie.
In 2012, Neil Gaiman did a series of interviews with fellow writers. Stephen King has this to say, “[I] saw The Dark Tower series as a first draft. I planned to rewrite it to eliminate continuity errors and possibly remove myself from the later books.” King penned his first novel at the tender age of nineteen and like most books written by teenagers, the ideas may be imaginative yet the writing left a lot to be desired. That’s why for The Dark Tower, the movie, King instead sold the title of the book to Columbia pictures, rather than the actual story, as he has done in the past with others of his works. Columbia then presented King with a script, likely not written by a 19-year-old, to which King then approved. Unfortunately, this whole process of finding the right director, script and cast ended up taking thirteen years as The Dark Tower was originally slated for release in 2007 by J.J Abrams.
In the story of The Dark Tower, there are many worlds, all of which are connected by a Dark Tower that only children have the power to enter. The movie begins us in New York City on Keystone Earth (our world), where a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has been having all-too realistic dreams of distant world, under assault by a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) intent on eliminating all threats to his power. The Man in Black has been kidnapping children from other worlds and using them to power a weapon directed at the Dark Tower. Jake’s dreams also show him of a gunslinger (Idris Elba), the last of a breed of warriors from this other world that for generations served as the protectors of the Dark Tower until all but one was eliminated by the Man in Black. Jake knows that these dreams are visions; however, no one believes him. In a turn of events that can only be described as fate, Jake manages to enter this other world while escaping pursuit by people he believes to be agents of the Man in Black who are sent to kidnap children. There he meets his gunslinger and in combining his visions with the slingers skills in combat, they work together to thwart the Man in Black and prevent the destruction of the Dark Tower, which would in turn leave the many worlds vulnerable to otherworldly threats from beyond the protection of the Tower.
If that sounds a little bit convoluted, don’t worry – I agree. Many of critics’ complaints about The Dark Tower stem from the degree in which it differs from its source material. I chose to start this review by informing you of the truth behind that decision so that we could instead focus on the film itself, which I happen to have found quite fantastic.
The Dark Tower delivers a near seamless blend of fantasy with reality. One you can accept and move forward with, sparing the need to facepalm yourself. While The Dark Tower does not necessarily break any new cinematic ground, what it does provide is of the highest quality. In a similar fashion to 2011’s The Adjustment Bureau (one of my favorite movies), people are able to travel through doors which instantly connect to different place. In the case of The Dark Tower, those doors instead connect to the other world – thus literally pinning together a fantasy world with that our own, side by side. This may seem like a very literal method of blending fantasy with reality, but All-World, the realm of the Tower, the Slinger and the Man in Black are not all that different from our own. It’s just a couple hundred years in the future where some really terrible things have gone down, leaving it pretty barren. Speaking of barrenness, All-World is quite beautiful. You’ve got endless deserts, dense jungles and haunted forests all with the beautiful expansiveness of an Icelandic escapade.
There are three main characters in The Dark Tower, Jake, the protagonist and our vehicle into All-World, The Gunslinger, our action-hero and potential savior of humanity, and The Man in Black, our antagonist and the threat which spur the other two into action. But these three characters a lot more than the archetypes they represent. Well, the Gunslinger is fairly flat as characters go, but both Jake and The Man in Black were extremely well written and likable. Actually, Jake was pretty great. He’s quick on his feet, capable and clever! Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey evokes both fear and power in a commanding performance as the Man in Black (not to be confused with the character of the same name from “Westworld,” but just as evil). Let me first say that I am typically not a fan of McConaughey. The way he talks, like everything is a carefully calculated whisper with a slight southern drawl has always infuriated me. Here, it really works. Can’t deny the man is a great character actor and this script was made just for him. The Man in Black is truly a bastard. He’s more powerful than Killgrave from “Jessica Jones” and practically runs All-World, killing everyone who stands in his way and using children as guinea pigs. But damned if he doesn’t present himself with the unique swagger that comes from being an all-powerful villain. He’s the voice in your head telling you your conscience doesn’t matter in the end.
Having a cool setting and great characters is half the battle, but it doesn’t stop there. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know one of the first and most important factors I consider in a movie is that it has a clear beginning, middle and end and that these sections transition seamlessly into one another while building towards a climactic ending. The Dark Tower really nails structure. Like Valerian, it made great usage of the other worlds to provide a true sense of adventure. There was never a dull or pointless scene in the movie and the pacing felt just right. Parts of All-World felt a little under-developed and rushed, but in contrast The Man in Black had a network loyal soldiers operating in Keystone Earth that seemed like a really cool concept which I wish they’d explored even more. They all had a unique look to them and operated out of this bar/hideout in an abandoned building that felt like something out of Hellboy or The Last Witch Hunter.
Lastly, what is a fantasy/action/adventure movie without the action? The action sequences in The Dark Tower were unfortunately few and far between, but when they did happen they were quite beautiful. I suspect a number of people may have a problem with the level of power they attributed to the Man in Black. He’s a powerful telepath with telekinetic powers, capable of moving things with his mind and devastating mind control. He’s basically Matilda if she spent every day since 1996 training her mind to use as a weapon. So with that in mind, how does a “gunslinger” face off against someone like that? Well, normally they couldn’t but our gunslinger, Roland Deschain, is a direct descendant of Arthur Eld (All-World’s version of Arthur Pendragon) and his guns were reforged from Excalibur (of course they were). So, when you factor in a little bit of cheesiness and some obviously convenient abilities, you’re able to sit back and relax as you watch The Man in Black deflect bullets using shards of glass as the Gunslinger reloads his revolvers in mid-air and changes the trajectory of bullets … with other bullets. All in all, there were some very cool, very flashy fight scenes that were somewhat reminiscent of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I wish there were more, but the fact that there were only a few didn’t harm my overall impression of the movie, which by the end sat at around a 92%.
Don’t let the general negative reviews sway you from seeing this fantasy adventure. If you know what kind of movies you like and this sounds like one of them, then I highly suspect you’ll enjoy it because it really is quite well done. However, if you’re one of those people who can’t stand when they differentiate from source material, you’ll probably find this to be just about the worst case of that you’ve ever seen. In other words, this movie was really intended for people who either haven’t read the book or did read it, but a long time ago and forgot everything that happened.