The Dark Tower (2017)
Starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey
The Dark Tower novels were a favourite of mine as a teenager. I picked up my first Stephen King novel when I was 12 and ravenously turned the pages of what ever book of his I could get my hand on. But there was something about The Dark Tower. Something about the last gunslinger and his Moby Dick like obsession for the Man in Black and that ominous Dark Tower. Here was this epic fantasy story that somehow combined Clint Eastwood Westerns with wizards and portals into 20th century New York and giant cyborg bears. And it worked. And I loved it. I’ve always regretted not finishing the series when the wait between books grew too long and I found it harder and harder to make time to read books without pictures. But I never stopped being fascinated by that mysterious tower that stood in the centre of all things.
Adapting The Dark Tower is an ambitious project. I don’t believe a straight up retelling would work on the big screen. So I’m glad director Nikolaj Arcel didn’t even try. This is not the movie I was expecting. It’s not the movie I visualised in my head as I followed Roland’s journey to the tower. It’s different. And as I write this on my way home from the cinema, I think I like it.
I’ll get this out there early: if you have never read the books or know nothing of The Dark Tower, you’re safe. The movie tells you everything you need to know. I’d be keen to hear from someone who has completed the series to let me know if certain things in this movie appear in the later books, because they are new to me. And that’s perhaps the biggest praise I can give the movie: it left me wanting more. I want to spend more time in this world. I want to see what new and crazy things it can show me. And there is no question that the makers of this film have plenty up their sleeves for sequels.
The story revolves around Jake, a teenager from modern New York who has been having vivid dreams of a gunslinger (Idris Elba), a tower and a villainous man in black (Matthew McConaughey) who wants the tower destroyed. He soon finds himself on the run and crosses over into a strange world where he is enlisted into the gunslinger’s quest to save the tower. If they fail, it’s literally the end of the world. All of them.
The Dark Tower looks and feels different. It doesn’t feel like Lord of the Rings, though it is epic fantasy. The action scenes come across as fresh and new without the need to indulge in shaky cam or retread the gun shoot-out scenes from The Matrix that we’ve seen a million times since 1999. There’s visually stunning locations, skin-crawlingly creepy bad guys and the promise that this is only the introduction.
The biggest problem The Dark Tower has going against it and what I fear may be its undoing, is that it is too short. You won’t hear me say that often. A lot of movies could afford to have half an hour or so trimmed from their run time. But not this movie. It needed another half an hour. More time was needed at the beginning of the movie to build Jake’s character. To establish how much danger Jake was in as he fled from his home. And then once Jake and Roland the gunslinger meet, to give us a sense of their relationship and why these two are destined to work together. If this movie doesn’t succeed (and I really, really want it to succeed), it will be because these characters needed more fleshing out. We need to care about them. We need to care about why their quest for the tower is so important. And I’m not sure the movie does enough to make us care.
In The Dark Tower, all of reality is under threat. Darkness is on the verge of taking over. One man stands before the darkness and is prepared to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to save us all. But the gunslinger is not a Jesus figure. He is broken inside. Everyone he has ever loved has died, yet he still lives. His obsession consumes him. And if he saves the tower? There is no guarantee that the world will be safe long. Compare that with Jesus. Who knew with certainty what he needed to do, how he needed to do it and what it would cost. His sacrifice was not the lives of those around him but his own. And his victory on the cross was complete and total. He is victorious and we stand victorious along side him. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory [over death] through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
I want to see a sequel to The Dark Tower. I want to see more of this crazy, mixed up world. I want to see characters that I love from the books join Roland’s quest (Eddie is my favourite). I want to see how this can get bigger and better. But my fear is that people are going to be turned off by the epic strangeness that I love. If you’re even remotely curious about The Dark Tower, go and see it. Even if it’s just so I’ve got someone else to talk to about it.