One of the largest-scale works in Stephen King’s massive catalog has received a proper, feature length film treatment with real star power – but is it enough to win over franchise fans and create new ones in the process? The results are mixed.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
Unfortunately, the writers and production staff weren’t paying attention.
I am a Dark Tower and King fan. I do need to refresh my knowledge of the series as it has been some time since my initial read through of the source material, so I am by no means an expert on the ‘Tower Universe’ but I will say that I know more background than the average theater-goer will have about The Dark Tower.
On paper, this was going to be a tough one to sell to audiences. I think it was cast phenomenally well, with Matthew McConaughey as the antagonist ‘Man in Black’ and Idris Elba as his rival and only true match, the protagonist ‘Gunslinger’
The premise of the books pits the Man in Black, an evil sorcerer who is trying to acquire enough ‘shine’ to break through the supernatural barrier that keeps inter-dimensional evil out of the plane of the living. The books underpin the dimensions that connect a lot of King’s other works in a complete universe. The problem with this movie is that it faced a tough choice – adapt from a set of dense, mythology-heavy novels that would almost certainly be an incoherent mess, or attempt to create a new story for the screen based on the events and characters from the books. Unfortunately, the attempt fell flat, and the series probably cannot be recovered.
In summation, there are seven novels in the Dark Tower saga, and this movie managed to skip a lot of great material. It cut out so much in order to create so many convenient shortcuts that it crippled the potential stories that could be told in future movies. I think this hampers the audience’s ability to appreciate how truly impossible the task that the Gunslinger faces to protect all realms from the evil of the Man in Black and his boss, the Crimson King. The movie focuses and combines elements from the second and last three novels, essentially lifting the climax of the saga out of the source material and re-configuring the plot to make it fit in a linear fashion.
I really wanted to like this, and there was a lot that I did enjoy – particularly the casting. I think Elba and McConaughey are perfect opposing forces in this fantasy epic. The series is just so difficult to translate from novel to screen, and that’s nobody’s fault. It is a thankless and nearly impossible task for writers, and they get disparaged more often than praised. I don’t want to come off as jaded toward their efforts because of the nature of this story doesn’t lend itself well to brevity, and that usually means it wont translate well to the screen. With the resounding commercial failure of this jumping off point, we aren’t likely to see another attempt with this universe for some time. I’m hoping they find a way to salvage this story, because a lot of King’s works have made incredible moves on to film – IT (both the original TV movie (1990) and 2017’s smash-hit R-rated reboot), The Shining, Cat’s Eye – just to name a few.
The problem with The Dark Tower is that they tried to reformulate and truncate a compelling and deep source material. While the casting was strong, the effects were excellent and the movie is watchable, you aren’t left on the edge of your seat waiting for more, and for someone who knows how far the Gunslinger’s story goes, it’s disappointing. There’s an excellent article on i09 that describes the changes in greater detail for those who are inclined – spoilers within.
It would seem that the folks in charge have forgotten the faces of their fathers, to borrow a phrase from Roland, the lone gunslinger. Objectively the movie is passable but as a fan I am not pleased.
A missed opportunity but watchable epic