The Dark Tower
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I wish I had not waited until this got to the discount theater. I do not understand all the negative press it received before release, since it is much better than I had been led to believe. Surely it had a long and arduous journey to the screen, had been in development for years, with Ron Howard (one of the producers) on board to direct at one point, and four screenwriters is usually a recipe for disaster. It is not a direct adaptation of any of the eight novels and one novella that comprise Stephen King's literary epic, but rather an overview of the saga, and has been described as a sequel to all the books. Since I have only read the first book (reviewed here, and which I should probably edit a bit now), I only have a few theories about the rest of the story. A trilogy of films has been proposed, with a television series coming between the first and second films. Only time will tell if we see them, and while I'm anxious for more, if there are no further productions I still think they did an excellent job of crafting a coherent, stand-alone story.
Here is the basic premise plus a few of my theories. The Dark Tower sits at the center of the universes (yes, plural). Imagine it an allegory for Heaven or some other celestial force. It holds all the myriad worlds in balance, but there are forces which wish to destroy it, and if they are successful chaos will enter and destroy everything. Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last remaining Gunslinger, comes from one of the universes, and he has been pursuing Walter (Matthew McConaughey), aka The Man in Black, to avenge the death of his father and many others from his world. Walter has been kidnapping children whom he knows to have psychic ability, in order to use their powers to destroy the Tower. Perhaps the strongest psychic is Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who has had recurring dreams of both Roland and Walter, the Dark Tower, and the destruction to come. Using clues from his visions, Jake discovers one of Walter's portals, and he enters Roland's world.
I've heard that King has dropped in references to a lot of his other work in the Dark Tower books, and the same can be said for this movie, although with only one viewing I didn't catch them all. I can't verify all the ones mentioned in this Entertainment Weekly article are actually there, some may have been edited out of the final release, and I didn't catch some of them since I have not read particular books or seen the movies based on them. The first I can confirm is that Jake's ability is referred to as "the shine," and I did see the Pennywise sign. The books, and hopefully later films, would deal with a lot of what had gone on before, Roland's back story, before, during, and after his pursuit of Walter. There were a few hints of that in the first book, including a couple of women in Roland's life, and the war that destroyed his home and family. There are also many other worlds not presented here, all of which could involve interesting characters and plots.
I had read criticisms of the overuse of CGI, but that's another thing with which I can't agree. Maybe a couple of scenes, particularly the unique way Roland is able to reload his guns in the midst of the action, but every other effect serves a purpose. The short running time also does not do the film a disservice, since the story is simple enough to be told in a succinct fashion. Subsequent films can expand on the premise, just as the later books were much longer than the first. Two months after its release, it's not likely still playing in any first-run theaters, and a lot of towns might not have a discount theater, but the release date for the DVD and other formats is October 31. Not saying I will buy it, at least not right away, but I will want to see it again, and I recommend you check it out if you haven't already seen it. It won't ever make it very high on my favorite movies list, SF or otherwise, but it's better than its current 6 star rating on IMDb. I'd say more like 7+.
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