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The Dark Tower: Movie Review


After years of languishing in production hell, Roland of Gilead’s (Idris Elba) big-screen pursuit of the man in black (Matthew McConaughey) has arrived. The Dark Tower might not be the movie fans have been waiting for, but it’s the one they’ll get. It took Stephen King over 20 years to complete the seven-book series spawned by his 1982 novel, The Gunslinger, so Dark Tower fans are used to waiting. This film reinvention of the series takes notable liberties with the story, the chronology, and even the characters. Whereas strict adherence to canon for its own sake can be called lazy or safe, too much reinvention risks alienating longtime fans. In this case, strong performances from Idris Elba and Tom Taylor are cold comfort for fans who will struggle to reconcile this tale of the tower against the novels.

Before we go any further, this is the part where I confess my deep and unavoidable bias as a huge fan of the books. I first read The Gunslinger when I was 14 and never looked back. I revisit these books almost annually. Confessing my bias is as close as I will come to apologizing for it. No, I won’t apologize, but I will be honest about my perspective, one which I can no more step out of than Roland can cry off his pursuit of the tower. After so many years with this story’s vivid and complicated imagery, my mind’s eye has fixed some details in place. After years with these characters, I can’t easily abandon notions of what is foundational to their identities. Mess around too much with the foundation and the essential appeal of the story falls down.

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, with Ron Howard and Stephen King getting production credits, The Dark Tower, weaves the gunslinger’s (Elba) otherworldly pursuit of the man in black (McConaughey) with a boy (Taylor) who lives in New York City, but has visions of a distant threat. The film picks up elements from the entire series, but largely abandons much of the way the novels sets up the story and the characters’ connections. For better or worse, this tower tale makes its own way. With the exception of the first book, these novels are long. The sprawling story makes the running time of 95 minutes feel particularly abbreviated.

There are practical considerations that make a chronological approach to adapting these books impractical, no matter how much fans would prefer it. Book one is very different from book five. It’s crazy to expect a studio to green-light a franchise that becomes increasingly bizarre and unrecognizable with each movie. By cherry-picking bits from all the books, the basic shape of the story arc is clear for sequels. It’s hard not to see the unfortunate state of economics in Hollywood at work here. In an effort to make five or six profitable movies, they missed an opportunity to make one great one.

It’s such a cliché. For years, people have looked down their noses at film adaptations of novels, saying, “But the book was so much better.” This kind of statement often is a smug, self-serving shaming of others for not reading books. It’s also a pretty solid indication that by reading and loving a novel, people risk setting themselves up for disappointment when the movie adaptation comes out. I didn’t love this movie, but I can find a silver lining. I can live with not loving this movie because I can see it wasn’t made for me. I hope people watch and enjoy it, but the book was so much better.

The Dark Tower (2017)
 Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Studio: Sony
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Release Date: August 4th, 2017
Author: Jason Brown
Jason MBrown Seattle native Jason M. Brown traded liquid sunshine for the real thing when he recently moved to San Diego. Jason graduated from Washington State University with a Humanities degree focusing on English and has worked as a copywriter. An avid fan of comedy, horror, and almost any movie that started as a comic book, Jason lives in California, but still loves Seattle Seahawks football, apologies to the Chargers.