The Dark Tower (a review)

The Dark Tower books’ movie adaptation was … a mass of contradictions, let’s put it that way. I’ve spoilertexted where necessary, but for real, it’s hard to talk about this movie without spoiling either movie or books, so get busy on either or both, or prepare to get left behind.

So what did I think?

I liked it and will give it a solid 8 out of 10 (not that I’ve ever given a movie a score before), but I fully understand the masses of people who left it with such a bad score on assorted aggregate sites.

I had no idea what to expect, and yet it was exactly what I thought I was going to get.

I’m glad I saw it, but wasn’t quite satisfied by the way it wrapped up.

I enjoyed it, but was underwhelmed by it.

See? Contradictions. I could go on. The main point here is, I think, that this story is too huge and has too many moving parts to ever make it as a movie[1]. The prevailing thought at this stage is that there is going to be a TV series to accompany the movie (this really seems to be a thing, which is great, but like the movie itself I won’t get my hopes up until it really truly happens), more about that later … oh, and possibly there will be a sequel movie, but who really knows?

[1] Amusingly, we’ve been talking about this for a long time here and I was initially pretty doubtful it was ever going to happen at all, for precisely these reasons. I was also pretty sure it would flop, again, for the same reasons. I’m just glad they didn’t let that challenge stop them. We need to have risk-takers in the movie industry, otherwise we will never get anything good.

This is why I was left unsatisfied, because this movie ends right at the beginning, and if the TV series and the sequel movie don’t get made, then wow. What a disappointment.

So, I’m still not entirely sure where to start. I guess we can start with what “other people” are saying? Is that a thing people care about? Apparently it is. And the film’s box office success and critical reception is important to the continuation of the project and its perception in popular culture, so fair enough. Let’s see.

lets_watch

Well?

Wikipedia quotes some critic or other as saying that The Dark Tower was “a dull disappointment without any set audience: incomprehensible to newbies, and wildly unfaithful and simplistic to fans of King’s books.” Well, I didn’t consider it a dull disappointment, although I tend to agree on the audience. In trying to catch both readers and non-readers in its web, Game of Thrones-style, it’s sort of missed both.

I can’t speak to how a newbie would take it but I guess it would be pretty nonsensical (although if I’m being honest, I find it hard to care about what they think – they can read a goddamn book as far as I’m concerned[2]). I wouldn’t say it was unfaithful to the books, though. It’s completely faithful to the world and situation, and the execution is marvellous.

[2] That’s unfair, because the point of making a movie – even a movie adaptation of a book – is to make it into that new artform and for it to be accessible as an example of that artform. Regardless of whether you’re a reader or not. But it’s just a fact in this case. If they’d made The Two Towers first in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, it would have been a misstep in the story-telling (and that’s not quite what I’m saying necessarily happened here) … and yet at the same time, I would not really give a shit if people who hadn’t read the books complained about being lost.

It’s unfaithful to the plot of the original seven-book series, because it’s not that. And it’s only simplistic in the way it has to be, to be a film adaptation of seven volumes’-worth of world-building.

I know, another contradiction. How do I dismiss one criticism because it’s not the books, and the next because it is the books?

Okay, so let’s dial it back.

tower2

Here’s a poster to enjoy while we’re dialling.

The Dark Tower book series ends with Roland arriving at his goal, and striding into the Dark Tower … but he ultimately fails in his quest, because he’s supposed to stride into the Dark Tower while blowing on the Horn of Eld, a mystical item he had with him earlier in his quest and then let fall by the wayside despite his promise to sound the horn when he reached the Tower.

Without this critical piece, whatever conditions are required to actually end his quest (and whatever that means, apparently it goes beyond simply protecting the Tower) are not met. And so when he steps into the room at the top of the Tower and the door closes behind him, he finds himself back in the desert of the first book. He screams in realisation, then he forgets he was ever at the Tower and he begins his quest anew with the famous words “the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Only this time, at the very end of the book series, Roland had the horn with him by some tweaking of fates. Giving us some hope that the next time he reaches the Tower, it will be a win.

Everybody got that?

Okay.

Alright. So, the idea, apparently, with this movie was that it would take up the thread more-or-less directly following this, and tell the story of Roland’s next cyclic run at the Tower. Or the cycle after that, or whatever. I choose to be okay with this, because it does rather excuse the divergence from the books even as it excuses its simplification of book-related super-complexity. As to whether Roland has the horn now, I have to confess I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t really see it, and I saw a lot of little references and nods. He certainly didn’t blow it. Maybe it was just there in his gear and I blinked and missed it.

Anyway, let’s say it’s there.

tower1

According to this Twitter-tease, it was there. If it was anywhere near this prominent, though, I fell asleep for ten minutes and it passed me by.

tower3

And according to this cap it was there. So maybe it was just really subtle.

I’ve never been quite clear on how the Resumption works. Yes, the timeline resets to that point where they start into the desert, admittedly a significant time-loop even if you don’t take the possibly-thousands-of-years-long palaver Roland and Walter have at the end of The Gunslinger. So presumably everything else resets to that point as well … but then, other things also reset, way further back. For example, he winds up carrying the horn, even though he didn’t reset that far back and pick it up. So, the timeline changes.

That basically covers all the things that are different in the story. If the Resumption kicks off a whole alternate series of Mid-World events all the way back to Jericho Hill and possibly further, anything goes. And the changes are relatively minor, and yet – another contradiction – ground-shaking. It’s basically the Star Trek reboot, with the Romulans travelling back in time and destroying Vulcan.

Are we starting to see why the spoilertext is so pointless yet?

Let’s start at Jericho Hill. In the movie version, we see some of this (or what I assume is this) in flashback. Only Roland is fully-grown, and his father is there, which I don’t think was a thing in the books. Walter kills Roland’s father and confesses his magic doesn’t seem to work on Roland. This is a new thing too, really. So, could be different, might not be. It was the last defeat of the gunslingers though, and presumably this is where Roland has the horn from.

I’m not entirely clear on what happened to Steven Deschain in the books. He was killed sometime around there, along with Roland’s mother (by Roland’s own hand).

Walter has lots more glitzy Hollywood X-Men magic at his disposal in the movie but it’s still within the realms of acceptability for the character. Roland’s skill and strength are spot-on.

Jake’s story is solidly different, his father being dead and his mother being forced to live in the classic “cheap apartment with low-key abusive boyfriend” trope. Jake doesn’t get pushed in front of a bus and end up dying to get to Mid-World, and he doesn’t get killed / left for dead by Roland only to be time-travel-saved later on and then slowly come unravelled because he’s dead and alive at the same time and living in two different time-streams. That would be too difficult to pull off in a movie anyway. What we have instead is that Jake has the shine (which, you know, good), and he starts to dream and draw pictures of Mid-World, slowly coming unhinged and his mother things he’s nuts. Acceptable re-imagining, and it leads him to the house on Dutch Hill.

Instead of Roland, Eddie and Susannah drawing him through into Mid-World through a Demon circle, the house simply has a Sombra portal in it, as well as the house demon. So Jake steps through to the edge of the desert and meets Roland. All fine.

The movie, therefore, is a new cycle through The Gunslinger, where these minor changes alter everything that happens thereafter. The Sombra portal network is more prevalent, and Walter is directly in charge of the Wolves’ Grand Central portal station and Algul Siento, where the Breakers work on destroying the Beams. Oh, and Walter seems to have several of the glasses of the Wizard’s Rainbow in his possession, and uses them throughout the movie. Perhaps accounting for his advanced powers.

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I’m not even going to bother explaining this in more depth.

So, yes. It’s simplified. It has to be. And yet it pulls a lot of stuff together in a very short time, very much optimising the audience’s exposure to the Dark Towerverse. It brings in a lot of disparate elements – the Taheen, the Low Men, the Dixie Pig, Algul Siento, the Wolves, the little communities surviving in the ruins (possibly Calla Bryn Sturgis), the Bends o’ the Bow – from throughout the series and makes them happen here and now, as they could be expected to if Jake and Roland met in slightly different circumstances, returned to Keystone Earth sooner, and if Walter was actively hunting Jake to use him as a Breaker. It all hangs together, but it’s a giant, teetering, gloriously surreal assemblage.

Which brings us to the ending.

The end, essentially, brings Walter’s and the Crimson King’s plans to the point just after the Battle of Algul Siento, where the Breakers are free(ish) and the Beam-destroying apparatus is dismantled. The Tower is safe for now, Walter is mostly-dead, and Roland’s vengeance-quest can make way for the actual Tower-quest. The Dixie Pig and all those minions are wiped out.

But, we’re still only really at the end of The Gunslinger in terms of story arc (remember, we were pretty sure Walter was dead then, too). And that brings us to the sequel, and the TV series.

I certainly hope these get to happen, but I’m worried at the way this movie tanked. It may mean they get shit-canned as an unsafe investment. But if they work, then the idea is that the TV series will show some sort of back-story akin to the Wizard and Glass book. It will also incorporate The Drawing of the Three, bringing Eddie and Odetta / Detta / Susannah into the story.

And the sequel movie will bring us to the end.

Maybe.

The more I explain about the movie, the more I realise I really, really enjoyed it. Sure, it’s going to baffle mundanes. And it’s going to enrage a certain set of readers, maybe a massive majority of them. I’ve come to realise I don’t care. They were pissed off at the ending of the book series, too, but I thought it was great.

Fuck ‘em. I’m with the author on this one, and for all that Mr. King is notoriously easy to please when it comes to movie adaptations of his story, he apparently had solid input on this one and was well-pleased with what they ended up with. If the movie upsets you, I guess it sucks to be you. For my part, I think I need to see it again in order to really figure it all out.

In the meantime, kudos to them for throwing a St. Bernard in there, along with a “Tet Corporation” logo at the start, and a whole ton of other stuff.

tower5

Including this.

I will now hand over to dreameling and BRKN to tell us about how they really haven’t read any Stephen King.

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14 Responses to The Dark Tower (a review)

  1. JonathanBloom says:

    I thought their biggest mistake (out of the many they made) was having Jake be the lead character instead of Roland.

    • stchucky says:

      That’s fair. I was sort of bemused and not particularly gripped by Bastian, I mean Jake. They really didn’t have time to make his relationship with Roland work out, and the result was that he was way too lingeringly front-and-centre.

      • JonathanBloom says:

        There was an earlier draft of the script that was slightly closer to the book in that —

        SPOILERS!

        — Roland actually kills Jake to stop Walter, which would have at least been a bit closer in tone to the Gunslinger, but apparently Sony got cold feet from test screenings and scrapped the whole thing. Shame.

      • stchucky says:

        Ah man. Yeah, I was thinking that might have happened, but it would have taken a lot of re-writing.

        Now I’m imagining a Shyamalanic twist where it turns out his mental issues, dreams and drawings at the start were because it turns out Roland already killed him and then time shenanigans. It would have been hella complicated and lost them the last remaining non-reader audience base, but it would have been pretty amazing.

      • JonathanBloom says:

        Jake pulls off his face to reveal Jaqen G’har, and Roland pulls off his to reveal Arya.

  2. dreameling says:

    I have ever only read one novel and one short story by King. I have not seen this movie, and know next to nothing about the characters, story, and mythology.

    I think Elba is a handsome dude.

  3. brknwntr says:

    I have never read a single Stephen King book and was interested in this on the fact that it had Idris Elba alone. I now give zero ducks and will not be seeing this.

  4. aaronthepatriot says:

    Cool, thanks for the review! I’ll absolutely watch it from Netflix. Possibly even not whilst gaming.

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