I can see why Hollywood would want to adapt The Dark Tower into a movie series. It’s seven books, or eight movies, and Stephen King’s name is on the cover. That’s an easy sell. The problem is, the source material is anything but easy to adapt. It’s thick and dense, the characters aren’t always chatty, and the books tend to get Stephen King weird.
Really Stephen King weird. His best kind, but you know, hard to put to film. To faithfully adapt this series would mean hundreds of millions of dollars, which means general audience buy-in, which means major cuts, changes, the removal of Stephen King weird, and a new ending.
At that point, why even bother?
As someone who has read and loves the series, I don’t think it’s suited for the big screen. I’m not sure I’d put it on the silver screen, either. There’s a reason King’s books are hard to adapt.
But first we have to take a step back, because calling this an adaptation is being disingenuous. The Dark Tower is The Dark Tower in name only. Yeah Roland, Jake, and Walter are here, but their characterization, their plot, and their conclusion are so different from the novels that I’m left wondering why anyone even bothered.
The Dark Tower novels are about obsession first and everything second. Roland is searching for the tower, and it’s not made him a good person. Obsession is the key word. His quest only turns cosmic and world ending in the later books, and while he’s changed some by then, he’s still obsessed. Saving the world is always less important than simply finding the tower.
The Dark Tower movie is about a young boy who is having nightmares about the coming apocalypse and his quest to stop it. Along the way, he meets Roland, develops psychic powers, and becomes the key to both saving and ending the world.
It’s a young adult movie.
I suppose the question is: Is it a good young adult movie, but that’s a hard one to answer because I don’t really know. I saw The Dark Tower a few hours ago; however, I don’t remember much. It’s very generic—or the exact opposite of the source material.
The movie runs wild with young adult tropes, such as Jake hating his step father, the step father hating Jake, bad dreams that become prophetic, black-and-white morality, Jake getting super powers, and then some generic acclimation to a new world. In the books, Jake’s entrance into Mid World is an accident; in the movie, he goes there on purpose.
It’s up to him to find and convince the last Gunslinger that there’s still hope left.
If you take the adaptation away from the movie, I suppose nothing here is inherently bad. The acting ranges from fine to Matthew Mcconaughey, the action scenes are pretty cool, and the movie is shot competently. The problem is, it never goes beyond “fine” in anything it tries to do save Matthew Mcconaughey as Walter, who is wonderful to watch.
Matthew Mcconaughey is great. He kind of reminds me of Nicholas Cage, in that he can play some really strange, twisted characters and sell it all, even if the script is rather rote.
And to give credit to The Dark Tower movie, adding more Walter isn’t a bad idea. He’s pretty much a background character in the books, an unseen agent that we’re told is dangerous but is hardly ever shown. It works to a point, but seeing him cast actual spells and go toe-to-toe with Roland does a better job of selling him as a villain. Matthew Mcconaughey is deliciously evil in the role, and genuinely threatening to boot.
The rest is, as I said, fine. Idris Elba makes for a wonderful Roland, but he doesn’t get near enough screen time. Save for a dream sequence, it takes maybe twenty minutes for him to show up, and when he does, he doesn’t always feel like Roland. He’s obsessed sure, but it’s not the forefront. He cares too much about those around him, and he’s after Walter to kill him, not for information. Plus, seeing him enter Keystone Earth so quickly doesn’t jive with me, even if some of the plot points from The Drawing of the Three do show up.
That in itself is its own mess. If you know the books at all, you’ll be seeing little bits and pieces of every novel here, typically in the wrong order and with the wrong execution. It makes for a fascinating watch, because The Dark Tower movie is by and large a Frankenstein monster of parts. Roland gets a bad infection and needs antibiotics is from the second book, Jake’s mental nonsense is from the third, breakers show up, and that’s either book six or seven, and we get a bit of Roland’s past, which is book four. I believe there are elements of five in here as well, though no wolves.
All of this makes the movie a very strange animal, especially when it comes to pacing. It clocks in at 90 minutes, but often times it feels slower than that. A lot happens—basically every young-adult story beat you can think of is here—but it’s less rushed and more…plodding.
Never once is it confusing though, and given the development turmoil, that’s more interesting than the film itself.
Also of interest is how Jake’s powers show up; or rather, it’s less that they show up and more that “The Shine” is used in other Stephen King novels, so him having it feels less plot-stupid than it really should. I was less upset with the young-adult protagonist developing super powers and more with the fact that Jake doesn’t have The Shine in the books. It’s bad storytelling, but because it’s rooted in Stephen King mythology, it gets a pass.
Which is maybe the one thing the whole movie gets right, even if it does it in the wrong way.
The Dark Tower is a bad The Dark Tower movie. It does everything wrong, from the pot to the characters. I don’t know who asked for this or why anyone bothered. As a film on its own, it’s fine. It doesn’t do anything interesting, but the action is okay and Matthew Mcconaughey is a joy. I’m not sure if I’m more offended in that it’s a poor adaptation or that it’s so inoffensive in everything it does, but either way, I’d say skip it.