Comfortable and Furious

The Dark Tower: Sorry Stephen King, you are just wrong.

In regards to THE DARK TOWER, I think that Stephen King is becoming more deluded and less picky as he grows older. The author, who hated the film adaptation of THE SHINING, (he had some good points) has, incredibly, given the recent dim and dismal adaptation his blessing. This, from a man who called THE DARK TOWER his “magnum opus.”

Of course he is under the delusion there will be sequels. Not only is this made impossible by the movie’s structure, but most likely by the box office, which has been fairly weak.

You see THIS poster below?

This is what COULD have been, but in the end, was not. *No Ka-tet of Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy.

*None of the iconic imagery from the books. *Not even a mention of a Father Callahan.

Oops! Wrong Callahan.

(well, the character of the Gunslinger is inspired by Eastwood’s Man With No Name…)

King has alluded that these characters and elements will pop up in the sequels. Oh Stephen, Stephen, Stephen! Hate to break it to you, ye of misguided hope, but there ain’t gonna be no sequels.

How could there be? The movie takes elements of all 8 books in the series and advertises itself ALREADY as a sequel. Is this a weird, LEONARD PART 6, kind of thing?

You can’t call something a sequel when it’s not. There are rules that decent human beings must follow, if you don’t want chaos; multiverses colliding; humans turned into Fluegelhorns; a vain, self-centered, ego-maniac, blow hard, puppet, elected president!

Ah…now it all makes more sense…

You can’t call an onion, a radish. You can’t call a cat, a dog. (unless they are a catdog) You can’t call FEELINGS by Morris Albert, music! It’s just not done old sot!

Imagine Entertainment calls their movie a sequel.
I call it something else.

(Note: there is a television series planned. Yet, the movie has so very little to do with the actual novels and so badly botched, it might kill the chances of that series ever airing.)

In full disclosure, I am one of those rabid, “small, sub-group, Dark Tower fans” King talks about. The literary series is epic, emotionally rich, and endlessly enthralling. It is, for all intents and purposes, King’s LORD OF THE RINGS (though THE STAND, THE TALISMAN and BLACK HOUSE-the latter two with Peter Straub- are a close second). The series is not only an important work but, like the Dark Tower itself, is a hub for many things. References and characters from THE DARK TOWER series appear in many of King’s other works.

The movie throws in some “Easter Eggs” but chooses not to mention ANY of the major connections, vastly changing the dynamic of the novels so the focus is on Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) a young boy, who happens to have a little thing called “The Shine“.

This alteration turns Roland Deschain, The Gunslinger, (Idris Elba), the main focus in the novels, into a secondary, one-note character. Roland is a man who has suffered immensely, has lost everyone he ever loved in incredibly brutal ways, and was part of an order of knights that King Arthur himself founded. The movie doesn’t give you a sense of that weight; of the years of cruelty and despair. It gives you footnotes.

The actors do their best with the skimpy material. The two leads, especially, are quite good but, try as they might, there’s just no meat on this screenplay’s bones. The brief flashbacks of the (watered down-film is PG-13) death of Roland’s father, for example, are “visions” that “The Shine” brings to Jake. They are not even filtered through Roland!

Then there is Roland’s adversary. (Matthew McConaughey) Walter O’Dim, The Man In Black. Elsewhere, he has held many other aliases including Randall Flagg and Nyarlathotep. (the latter, a clever nod to H.P. Lovecraft) His origin story is in EYES OF A DRAGON. (not a DARK TOWER novel) He appears in nine King novels all together.

Though defeated many times, he always seems to escape, until that is, the 7th DARK TOWER book, where he meets a grisly and disturbing end. Not at all like in the movie.

In the movie, The Man In Black dresses as stylishly, and possesses the casual cruelty of a third season MIAMI VICE thug. (albeit one with major magic mojo) His goals and motivations are altered to the point of being illogical.

The books have often been called “unfilmable“. I disagree. You just have to do it the right way. There is simply NO way you can do justice to the books as one stand alone movie. This needed to be a series like the excellent AMERICAN GODS (favorite Neil Gaiman novel) or even a mini-series like IT and THE STAND. (Jamey Sheridan was a great Randall Flagg) Not only is all emotional investment gone, but the most interesting thing about the novels (especially THE WASTELANDS) is the journey. The movie finds lazy contrivances to jettison that journey, and therefore, jettison everything that made the novels interesting, like Blaine: the psychopathic, suicidal monorail.

Yeah, sure, the movie has moments of “Hey, that’s kind of neat…”

But they are brief and far between.

The movie poses questions it never answers: Why are children capable of bringing down the Dark Tower? The Crimson King is referenced often in graffiti on walls and doors. Who, or what is he? Why does The Man In Black do what he does? Why does he hate Roland so much? How is it that Roland can kill him but no one else can? (not true by the way) Why does a major studio buy the rights to such an iconic work and then completely ignores what made that work so great in the first place?

The DARK TOWER books may be a pastiche of Western, Fantasy, Action and Horror tropes. But they work. They work because they have deep emotional foundations. Because we come to truly care for the dented good guys and truly despise the bad guys. The characters are colorful and well shaded and the motivations make sense.

In this DARK TOWER FOR DUMMIES movie version everything has been altered to be grasped by the most simple minded of viewers. The violence is only implied and bloodless. (fine, if like me, you usually abhor gore for gore’s sake, but here, it also dilutes the horror in many cases) Deep characterization is replaced by tired CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL dialogues. The action sequences are mostly dimly lit, frenzied and confusing. The bombastic score, often intrusive.

Bottom line: if the books did not exist, this movie would just be a slightly higher class of derivative drivel you see in the bottom bins of HULU or NETFLIX. It is not entirely bad, but it’s just not very good, and for true DARK TOWER fans, as big a slap in the face as the finale of the TV show CASTLE. Ah…but that would be another review…