This week it’s The Dark Tower, one of the new batch of Stephen King adaptations heading our way. I was looking forward to this one. Though I stopped reading him before the Dark Tower books came out, I’ve always had a fondness for King. And there was something about this film. Usually it’s easy to watch movies with a critical eye and keep a list of strong points and weak points throughout. But when I got to the end of The Dark Tower, I realised I hadn’t been paying attention to that at all. I had been completely immersed. That’s usually a good sign.
The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.
You know those films that explain everything, usually over a montage, so you have a clear understanding of what’s happening and why? The Dark Tower isn’t one of those movies. You get a couple sentences right at the start (hope you were paying attention) and then you’re on your own. Things happen; you get to watch. It helps that this is the story of discovery, the main character starts off as clueless as we are, but there’s a lot that’s unexplained. It was refreshing – things happened with the logic of mythology and didn’t feel the need to justify themselves. Our (my) incomplete understanding of what was going on made me curious and I drank it in.
This leanness of exposition did have a downside. The rules of the world and its characters weren’t clear. What could the villain do? It seemed like pretty near anything. What were his limits? Mostly unknown. Same with every other character- their unexplained powers don’t have clear demarcations. I was also curious as to why the Man In Black wanted to accomplish his goal? What drove him? Every element in the film felt like it was just touched on briefly, like it had a backstory that they just didn’t have time to get into right now. I suspect these details exist somewhere, maybe in the source material. After all, they did make one movie based on a universe laid out in seven books. Imagine if they did that to Harry Potter?
So much care went into the making of this film. The pacing was perfect and the thing came in at an hour and 35 minutes, the ideal length. The acting and casting was also well done. Idris Elba is a great actor (and a handsome man) and I always like Matthew McConaughey (also handsome). But the main character Tom Taylor, had some acting chops. Fear, grief, bewilderment, curiosity, love – everything he did felt completely genuine. I loved how this movie didn’t shy away from the darker scenes. People died and the weight of that had visible effect on the characters and the rest of the story. Too often in other movies, the hero has someone die and there’s a reaction (“NOOOOOOO”) and then he gets up with a look of steely resolve that looks suspiciously like the expression he’d already been wearing half the film. Not so here – Dark Tower gets it right.
So is Dark Tower worth watching? Oh probably. I liked it, though I can totally see how it might have missed with the fan of the books. Or with someone who didn’t read the books and had no idea what was going on. It does make me want to read the source material. I like the way magic and technology interplay here. One of the moments to watch out for (and it was in the trailer so I’m not spoiling it) was when The Gunslinger goes into this trance and can shoot things far away that he couldn’t see. Overall the Dark Tower was a strange mixture of formulaic tropes and refreshingly original concepts with a solid execution.