My experience seeing The Dark Tower movie, on 19 August 2017 (two days after release here in Australia)
So I enjoyed my 95 minutes at the cinema seeing The Dark Tower. (Note I was the only one who stayed for the whole 95 minutes until the end of the credit sequence!). There were several dozen people in the cinema and there was a brief round of applause at the end of the show, so that’s gotta be good, right?
I loved Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey and Tom Taylor. I felt they each individually captured the nature of their characters, and as an introductory movie that is all important.
I also thought that the script, in trying to produce a stand-alone movie that allowed for the possibility of sequels, generally achieved its goals. The audience was taken by the hand on a few occasions trying to explain the complexity of the tower mythology. When my friend first handed me Books 1-4 as a gift, he had only read the first six books and told me he still wasn’t really sure what the Tower was. Is it an actual tower? A blade of grass? A rose? Something else entirely? The way Stephen King very much seems to have made up the books as he went along without really having a grand plan is one of the things that I find endearing about the books, but it also makes them very difficult to really understand some of the time. So converting all those sometimes wooly ideas to the big screen was always going to be tough without adopting Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings approach: a seven minute prologue to the first movie trying to explain what the hell was going on! So I thought that, for example, Roland’s explanation of the Beam drawing as a map, and using the spider as an example of the monsters that lived outside the protective universe of the Tower, was an effective technique to explain something that is really a lot more complex in the books.
I really enjoyed the Manni village, although I would have preferred to see a portal opened by the Manni rather than a mechanical one. Obviously the scriptwriters did not want to introduce anything but mechanical portals in this instalment, which is understandable given the short running time. But I felt the villagers were interesting and authentic, and the “seers” were an effective explanation of just one aspect of the Manni, without going into the nature of the Manni at all. I mean, it wasn’t really necessarily a Manni village at all, was it? Roland just mentions a village which has seers.
I loved variants on actual scenes from the books: Roland getting blood poisoning and requiring medical attention; the portal code being 1919, similar to the Dogan out of Calla Bryn Sturgis; the overwhelming experience of Roland being in New York; the purchasing of ammunition; the destruction of everyone in the Dixie Pig very reminiscent of the showdown in Tull; and so on.
I really enjoyed the overall look of Mid World, and its contrast to New York. The Mohaine Desert looked almost like a Martian landscape, it was so bleak. The Journey to the Manni village was beautiful, and all the South African landscapes made for an enjoyable (if brief) journey. The design of places within Mid World were fantastic – the structures above the Manni village, and Algul Siento.
Of course I think most would agree that this is not a perfect movie, and I did have issues with some of the decisions that were made, even if I can sometimes understand why they were made. A few examples follow.
I do not see why it was necessary to have Roland cry off the Tower, and be motivated purely by revenge. He could easily have been driven by revenge whilst simultaneously trying to seek the Tower. Personally I think that would have made for a richer experience for the audience, but there was no time really to develop such ideas.
The Roland we know from the books would never have held up the ammunition store to get ammo, and it would not have been too difficult to create some method of getting him money to make a purchase. There were a few decisions that were made like this which I feel were done to keep the pace lively, but in some sense just felt lazy to me.
The use of children against their will at Algul Siento didn’t make a great deal of sense to me. The children all seemed moderately happy playing together at the start of the film, but they also seemed aware that the extraction of their psychic energy to bring down the Tower was a hellish experience for them. Again, the brevity of the film did not allow the opportunity to explain how things were in the books – how a bunch of mis-fit geeks would happily break at Algul Siento – so the child prison was an easier option. But not a very satisfying one.
While the movie had a relentless pace, I feel that it would have benefitted from spending more time developing the characters. We barely get introduced to Jake before he stumbles upon the Dutch Hill Mansion. Roland is certainly presented as an enigma, but having the flash back to Walter killing his father did not provide a compelling reason for him being the person the book lovers know him to be. I guess if the scriptwriters were going for this whole “revenge” angle then they felt this was all that was needed. But Roland in the books is so much more complex than that. Again, the short running time meant that there really wasn’t the opportunity to slowly unravel who this amazing character is. And I suppose that with such a tight budget it was not possible to produce a longer movie. I feel that if there was more character development (of all three main characters) then this would have produced a much more satisfying movie.
This lack of character development means non-readers are unlikely to really care about any of the characters (whereas I care so much about Jake and Roland because of the books.) Which I think is a real pity.
I am disappointed that the Man in Black was (apparently) killed, whereas I feel he has so much more potential as a future villain in the unlikely event that more movies are made. He could have been seriously injured and escaped through a portal without any difficulty. There was no sense of closure to the movie with his death, so it was a waste really.
The final sequence between Roland and Jake was a disappointment to me. Because of the lack of character development, there was no compelling sense of need for Jake to continue travelling with Roland. I didn’t feel that any significant bond had been developed between the two of them, and in the end all Roland can offer is “well, you’ve got nothing left here as all your family is dead”.
Anyway, that’s it for the negatives. Finally, regarding the credit sequences: I enjoyed seeing the Tet Corporation in the credits at the start (I laughed out loud). Also, seeing Robin Furth as a consultant in the end credits was pleasing. And did you notice, one of the technicians’ names was Blaine!
So overall am I happy with this movie? Well, I’m glad that it was made, and I did enjoy seeing it. I do feel though that there was too much put into this single movie. While I appreciate that the movie was made to be a stand-alone affair, I think it suffered a lot as a consequence. IMDB rating currently has it as a 5.8 out of 10. Personally I rated it as a 7, but that was probably because I wanted to boost the average. 6 is probably a fair call from my experience. Enjoyable, but (unfortunately) forgettable.
Having said all that, I feel confident that we will see the TV series covering Wizard and Glass and other backstory elements, and I am hopeful that this will give viewers unfamiliar with the books a clearer idea of who Roland is and what his motivations are.
Addendum: since writing this back in August I have seen the film a second time. I enjoyed it far more the second time because I knew what the film was and so I could just enjoy seeing some of my favourite characters portrayed on the big screen. The first screening I really enjoyed Tom Taylor’s portrayal of Jake, but this second time it was Matthew McConaughey that really stood out as the Man In Black. His flippant use of his magicks was kind of annoying the first time around, but I saw it as a good extension of his overall character on repeat viewing.
Thanks for reading!