By Chris Zuver, A and E Editor
BEWARE: There will be spoilers for both the film and book series “The Dark Tower.”
While “IT” has been the movie people were caught up on these last couple of weeks, there was another Stephen King-based film that has been in the box office and has received little attention. And after seeing it, I can understand why.
Now do not get me wrong—“The Dark Tower,” in my opinion, is a decent movie on its own, but it certainly does not succeed in taking a series that spans seven books and cramming them into a 95-minute flick. Instead, there are many characters–both major and minor–whom are cut, on top of several events and locations that are left out. This was to be expected, considering the running time. Yet, as a fan of the books, it is my opinion that “The Dark Tower” should not have been targeted at a mainstream audience whom tend to get antsy in their seats when a movie runs over two hours. Instead, director Nikolaj Arcel and company should have stretched the movie out and divided it into parts, as is the popular custom these days in Hollywood.
However, if I consider looking at the movie through the eyes of someone who has never read the books, I would say that the film is a mediocre sci-fi/fantasy feature with a lot of details that will be lost to the viewer. While a lot was left out from the books, there was still a lot that was left in, though these details are not given a strong significance in the overall story arc. There are some subtle references for hardcore fans, like the rose painted on the door at the end, several famous quotes which are repeated throughout, or the portal code “19-19,” but they will be lost on outsiders to this particular Stephen King cannon.
The overall story is about how Roland (Idris Elba), the last “gunslinger” and Jake (Tom Taylor), a boy from New York city, travel together between worlds in pursuit of Walter Padick (Matthew McConaughey), a.k.a., “the man in black.”
Walter controls a sinister organization which kidnaps children to harvest their telepathic powers in an attempt to destroy the Dark Tower. The tower is the only thing that stops monsters from outside of the multiple worlds that encircle the tower from entering them. Walter and his minions think of the apocalypse as inevitable and so they are trying to speed up the process. Walter finds out about Jake’s extraordinary telepathic abilities and sends his cronies after the boy.
Now, one of the interesting differences to point out is that while Roland is the main character in the books, it is Jake whom the film revolves around. The movie starts with him, as he spends his days coping with disturbing dreams he’s been having about struggles between the gunslinger and the man in black. It is explained in the film that Jake has the “shine,” a telepathic ability and clearly a reference to King’s classic “The Shining,” though in the film’s original story, it was referred to as the “touch.” Jake spends his time constantly drawing these dreams out on paper and progressively becomes concerned, as he starts to see strange creatures disguised as humans who seem to be after him.
Soon after, he finds a portal which he uses to warp to Roland’s world where the two finally meet. They quickly band together and travel to a village where they use a portal to travel back to New York City to infiltrate Walter’s underground outpost, which contains a portal to his base of operations in Roland’s world. If that sounds absurd, that is because you have just read a constricted version of a plot that was far broader and nuanced in the books.
But on a positive note, the acting is pretty good for what they had to work with. Roland, the gunslinger, is played by Idris Elba, who does a decent job of portraying the character, whom like in the books, is a stoic, obsessed with revenge against Walter for killing his family and friends.
Taylor does a good job as the skeptical child who is given abilities he never asked for. He is stubborn, courageous, and very smart for his age. Taylor gets the emotions down well, as we see his fear, anger, courage, and even disappointment at a point when he questions whether Roland can still live up to the title of “gunslinger.”
The man in black, McConaughey, does a great job as the film’s version of the character, which is radically different from the book version. In the books, Walter was an arrogant trickster, who had abilities similar to those of a street magician, used mostly for aid in his storytelling. The film’s version of Walter is arrogant and dark, like in the books, but is overwhelmingly more powerful, able to kill people simply by waving his hand and saying “stop breathing.” While this did not really bother me, other old-school fans may find this disappointing or even insulting to the original Walter.
In the film’s epic showdown, Walter, who spends his time throughout the affair avoiding direct confrontation with Roland, is cornered and finally faces off against him. Walter’s powers are strong, enabling him to catch Roland’s bullets and manipulate objects to attack him with. Yet, when Walter drops a pile of rubble on Roland and thinks he has won, the gunslinger fires two bullets at him, one deflecting the other, which Walter is unable to stop before it pierces him through the chest. Roland then rises to his feet and fires several more shots into the man in black until he lay dead on the ground.
In the book, Roland never gets this satisfaction, as Walter is instead killed by a rogue monster. In fact, the entire ending is completely different in the books, whereas in the movie, after Walter is killed, Roland asks Jake to travel with him, which Jake agrees to, and the two leave through a portal before the credits start to roll.
While I think most of the movie is passable, this ending is not. There was bound to be a blatant weak point in a film that sold itself short from the start. By attempting to pack as much extra personnel and information as it has into an hour and a half, most of the details are left hanging with little significance to the viewer. So, the ending comes and goes with little impact.
If you are willing to accept the small portion of a greater story, then I suppose this is not a bad movie. However, if I can quote Jake from the series’ first book: “there are other worlds than these.”