2017, Alien Worlds, Based on a Book Series, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Demons, Fantasy Films, Good vs. Evil, Guns, Gunslingers, Idris Elba, Magic, Matthew McConaughey, Monsters, Other Dimensions, Sorcery, Stephen King Movies 0
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE DARK TOWER (2017)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a barren western landscape. Three figures stand across from each other, ready for a gun duel.)
MAN IN BLACK: Your bullets can’t hurt me.
GUNSLINGER: I don’t shoot with my gun. I shoot with my heart.
L.L. SOARES (spits a huge wad of tobacco juice into the dirt): I don’t shoot with my gun. I shoot with my cannon.
(Camera pans back, reveals LS aiming a cannon. He fires and blows the other two figures into cartoon puffs of smoke.)
(MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the scene.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: I’m psyched that the Gunslinger and the Man in Black will be joining us today as we review THE DARK TOWER (2017). Wait. Where are they? (Notices smoke and two pairs of empty shoes.) (To LS) What did you do?
LS: I just showed those two gunslinger wannabes how to win a gun battle.
MA: With a cannon?
MA: Well, that’s just great! We just lost two guests for today’s Cinema Knife Fight!
LS: Guests are a dime a dozen. Let’s just start the review.
MA: Sure. Try not to blow anyone else up while we’re at it.
LS: You see anyone else here?
MA: Yeah. Me.
LS: Heh heh.
MA: Anyway, today we’re reviewing THE DARK TOWER (2017), the new fantasy thriller based on the series of epic novels by Stephen King. I believe there are seven novels in the series all together.
MA: What? You’re a little hard to understand.
LS (spits out his chewing tobacco): Man, I hate this stuff. I said eight.
MA: No, I haven’t ate yet. We can get something to eat after the review.
LS: Where? We’re in the middle of nowhere.
MA: I think there’s a village up beyond that hill.
LS: We might as well walk in that direction while we do our review.
MA: Anyway, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m guessing that there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed Dark Tower fans after they watch this movie. I haven’t read any of the books, but this short movie—just over 90 minutes long—doesn’t play at all like something based on an eight-book series. It’s quick and inconsequential, not at all representative of a literary epic. In fact, supposedly it’s a sequel of sorts to the series, as the events in the film take place after the book series ends, and I also hear there’s a possible TV series in the works.
LS: Yeah, how can it be a sequel? That makes no sense to me at all. Why not just adapt the damn books already! That’s what people wanted. But I guess we should be happy there’s a movie at all. A film version of THE DARK TOWER has been in the works for decades, and several directors have been attached to it over the years, directors who eventually gave up and walked away from the project. If nothing else, director Nikolaj Arcel deserves credit for finally getting this thing done, where so many other filmmakers failed. And yeah, supposedly a TV series is also in the works, with Arcel involved in that, too.
MA: Now, a television series makes sense to me. That’s exactly the kind of canvas needed to do a book series proper justice. The movie we’re reviewing today would barely do a short story justice.
LS: There have been movies based on Stephen King short stories that were longer. So, that’s pretty sad. Supposedly the DARK TOWER books are filled with numerous characters and storylines and callbacks to his other books, and we get very, very little of that here. Probably the most obvious callback here is the fact that Jake has psychic powers—called “shining” here—which, of course, is a callback to King’s famous novel of the same name.
And you’re right, TV is the perfect medium for this kind of thing, especially if it finds a home somewhere like HBO. They’ve done an amazing job bringing George R.R. Martin’s epic series GAME OF THRONES to the screen. THE DARK TOWER series deserves as much room, and care. A TV series would allow the creators to fully flesh out the novels, with at least one full book portrayed per season, and give it a chance to be judged fairly. As is, the cinematic version seems like a bare-bones rush job.
(A young Clint Eastwood as THE MAN WITH NO NAME suddenly arrives on the scene, on his horse)
MAN WITH NO NAME: Have you seen some bad hombres ride through here? I’m gonna HANG EM HIGH!
MA: No, no one’s ridden through here at all. It’s pretty quiet.
MAN WITH NO NAME: That’s really too bad. I could have sworn I saw THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY go this way.
LS: Well, you’re mistaken. What’s your name anyway?
MAN WITH NO NAME: I don’t have a damn name.
LS: Why not?
MA: Yeah, did your mother not love you enough to name you?
LS: Did you have a name, but you forgot it?
MA: Or maybe it’s embarrassing, so you conveniently misplaced it.
MAN WITH NO NAME: No, no. I just don’t have a name. That’s all there is to it.
LS: That’s just stupid.
MA: Everyone has a name.
LS: Maybe your name is Clint?
MAN WITH NO NAME: I don’t have time for an inane conversation with you two idiots. I’m moving on. (RIDES AWAY)
MA: In a nutshell—and that’s what this movie felt like, really—THE DARK TOWER is about a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who’s struggling to cope with life after the death of his father. He’s haunted by recurring bad dreams in which he sees a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and it seems this Man in Black is trying to destroy a black tower, and the Gunslinger is trying to prevent this.
LS: I thought Johnny Cash was the Man in Black!
MA: Jake’s having a hard time at school and gets in fights a lot, so his mom, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), arranges for Jake to spend a weekend at an institution so he can get help, but Jake runs away and finds a portal which leads him into the world of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black. There, he befriends the Gunslinger, whose name is Roland, and helps him in his fight to stop the Man in Black from destroying the world, which will happen once the dark tower is destroyed.
LS: You forgot the rat people who do the Man in Black’s bidding for him. They wear masks to appear like humans, but it’s easy to spot them, since they have seams on their face where the masks are attached.
(MA YAWNS widely)
MA: The plot for THE DARK TOWER isn’t going to win any awards for the most compelling screenplay ever written. The story is simple and isn’t fleshed out in the least. And four writers worked on this thing: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel. Not that it mattered.
The story, as told in this movie, left me with so many unanswered questions. Who is the Man in Black? Why is he hell-bent on destroying Earth? Who is the Gunslinger? Why is he the man in charge of killing the Man in Black? The movie provides no back stories on these characters. I also wanted to know more about young Jake.
LS: I didn’t. I think Jake was okay but the kid’s perspective, especially “the kid who finds out he has super powers” thing has been done to death at this point, and I was much more interested in knowing more about the adult characters.
MA: Things happen too quickly and too easily. Jake finds his way into the Gunslinger’s world with about as much effort as entering a neighbor’s front door.
LS: And, supposedly in the process of finding the portal, Jake kills a “house demon” which we barely see, and which is never really explained at all. It acts as some kind of security system to protect the portals, but it doesn’t seem very formidable, since Jake defeats it in a matter of minutes. I wanted to know more about the portals and the house demons and all of that. But the movie zips right through it.
The thing is, at 95 minutes, they could have actually expanded the movie a little to give us more of a clue of what’s going on here. They could have fleshed out the characters a little more. And what are those monsters that live beyond the darkness? At one point, the Gunslinger gets injured by one and the wound is all ugly and infected looking, as if it’s significant, but that doesn’t go anywhere really, either.
MA: Again, for a movie based on an eight-book series by Stephen King, the story it tells is about as skeletal as you can get.
Nor did I find it impressive visually. Director Nikolaj Arcel vision of the Dark Tower and its surrounding world is meh. Not much too look at, and not much going on. The scenes which take place in New York City work better, and the whole film plays better when the characters interact in modern day surroundings. Every time they enter the world of the Dark Tower the film slows to a crawl.
LS: That’s because the world of the Dark Tower, Mid-World, is just portrayed as this sprawling wasteland. It’s nothing to look at, and even less interesting. It’s just the Gunslinger and Jake walking around a lot of the time. Which is kind of boring. And if he’s a real gunslinger, shouldn’t he at least have a horse to ride instead of having to walk and walk for days?
MA: I’m a big Idris Elba fan, but he continues to land film roles in which he just isn’t allowed to do much. He’s terrific in the lead role on the TV series LUTHER (2010-2018), but he’s yet to land a movie role in which he’s allowed to show off his talents. Still, I enjoyed him here as the Gunslinger.
LS: I’m a big fan and liked him here, too, even though it felt like he was struggling at times to make his character interesting. He’s just a very watchable actor, so I cared about the Gunslinger and his story, but I wanted more. And Elba is given very little to work with.
MA: Likewise, I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black as well. He was sufficiently cold and nasty, a decent villain. Although his power to make people do whatever he says has been done a lot lately, especially on TV, from the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the Netflix Marvel series JESSICA JONES (2015), to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) in the AMC series PREACHER (2016-).
LS: Both of those TV shows do a much better job at giving us a complex story with compelling characters than THE DARK TOWER does. I liked McConaughey, too, though. It’s not the best role of his career by a longshot, but he’s entertaining enough.
MA: In fact, my favorite part of THE DARK TOWER was watching Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They’re the best parts of the movie, although neither one made me really like this movie all that much. But when they’re on screen, and they’re actually engaging in dialogue rather than running around in bland action scenes, the film is much better. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do this all that much.
Tom Taylor is decent as Jake Chambers. Seen better, seen worse. The rest of the cast is okay but hardly memorable. Speaking of the TV show PREACHER, Jackie Earle Haley who was so memorable in Season 1 of that show, barely causes a stir here in a thankless role as one of the Man in Black’s minions, Sayre.
LS: The rest of the cast isn’t very memorable because no one is fleshed out much. Like I wanted more of Katherine Winnick as Jake’s mom, but she’s underused as well.
MA: I was fairly entertained by THE DARK TOWER, but for an adventure fantasy thriller based on an eight-book series by Stephen King, it’s pretty sparse. Sadly, it’s yet another example of an inferior adaptation of a Stephen King work.
But it’s not awful. It’s just not that good.
I give it two knives.
LS: Yeah, we’re pretty much in agreement here. I liked Elba and McConaughey, but both of them were better than their characters, and neither were given much depth from the script. With less talented actors in the role, it would have been downright boring. Tom Taylor is okay as Jake, but nothing special. And it’s more like a taste of Mid-World and THE DARK TOWER rather than something we can really sink our teeth into.
We also get a taste of the sometimes-odd vernacular of Mid-World, but because it’s not enough to really resonate, it just sounds kind of hokey. A better script would have made it sound like genuine speech. And there are other characters I’d heard about, like Oy the “billy bumbler” who I hoped to see in the movie, but didn’t. There’s so much left out here that could have been included and fleshed out. The whole thing just feels like a missed opportunity. That said, I hope it does well enough at the box office so that the TV series really happens. Maybe that will be more satisfying, because THE DARK TOWER movie feels kind of like the CliffNotes version of the story. I give the movie two knives as well.
(MA and LS reach the top of a hill and look down at the village below. They see a giant Christmas tree with strange creatures holding hands around the tree and singing.
SINGERS: Fah who for-az! Dah who dor-aze! Welcome Christmas! Come this Way!
MA: Hey, that’s the song from HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS.
(CLOSE UP of LS’s eye, where there is a tiny tear)
LS: Wow. That means that village below is Whoville!
MA: Does that make you the Grinch?
LS: Don’t be silly…but I do still have my cannon. We could blow them up real good.
© Copyright 2017 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives THE DARK TOWER~two knives.
LL Soares also gives THE DARK TOWER ~two knives.