Movies, Reviews

Dark Tower Forgot the Face of Its Father

It’s really hard to talk about a bad break-up. Especially when you’ve invested so much in the relationship and gotten so little in return. So forgive me as I find the words to tell you all about The Dark Tower movie.

The Dark Tower

Nikolaj Arcel (director), Rasmus Videbæk (cinematography), Alan Edward Bell, Dan Zimmerman (editors)
Nikolaj Arcel, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner,Anders Thomas Jensen (screenplay), adapted from The Dark Tower by Stephen King
Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley (cast)
Released August 4, 2017 (USA)

I started reading The Dark Tower series in early high school. I was/am/always will be a big geek. The combination of Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood, sci-fi fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Arthurian legend, Wizard of Oz, poetry that is this epic truly spoke to my need for fictional adventure and dark twisted fate. I had to overlook a lot of things that Stephen King has often done badly (women, people of color, any religion other than Christianity, disability) to continue loving the main character Roland Deschain well into my adulthood. But it felt worth it, necessary to my life as a Mid-World obsessee.

I was nervous, but excited when King came out with a surprise eighth book, and overjoyed when the graphic novels were successful. So, when the movie was announced I was deep in my feels. So many things could go wrong, but so many things could go right. And I was given a lot to be hopeful about: it wasn’t going to be an adaptation, but a sequel of sorts (or a spiritual successor it seemed); the gunslinger was going to be a man of color, played by Idris Elba who is a favorite actor of mine; the Man in Black, villain extraordinaire, was given to Matthew McConaughey, whose recent acting renaissance made me believe he was perfect for the role.

I’d fought for years to keep my DT relationship alive through toxic fandom and King haters, surely I could let myself dream a little about the film adaptation. After all, I truly believe that all roads lead to the tower. But then the release was pushed back, again and again. I told people, nonfans, that it was because you can’t rush art, but I worried. Then, just days before the debut, the runtime was announced at around 90 minutes, and while I discussed the joys of the 90 minute film format with my colleagues, I began to feel heavier.

I was in NYC on a work trip when the first reviews began to roll in. New York where they’d gone hard on the advertising. New York where the Tower connects to our world. New York, which is far away from my Midwest home and the comfort of my bed and break-up food.

Here we are now.

Already frightened, as if I’d just received the “we need to talk text,” I entered the movie theater. What is the sound of a heart breaking?

Okay, okay, melodrama aside, the thing that Dark Tower lovers are invested in, have spent their whole lives defending, is that as grim and dark and gritty as the series is, it’s also fun. King has a sense of humor, often malicious, but always present. The movie is the worst stand-up comedian I’ve ever witnessed, a joke simply because it doesn’t know how to be funny. Perhaps this is due to the absence of the story’s jester, Eddie, ex-heroin addict and generally hilarious dude. He’s the relief to Roland’s constant cowboy and without his jokes about cum sandwiches and all else we’re left with just serious questing to save the world. (Also, Jake without his raccoon-dog bumbler pet Oy is too sad for words.)

The movie, not a straight adaptation of any of the books, also doesn’t let much of the contextual plot unfold. The audience is told just enough, and maybe not even that much, to understand what is happening directly in front of them. For viewers who’ve never read the books, I imagine none of this mattered. Why is Roland immune to the Man in Black’s immense power? Why does Roland feel such a connection with Jake, the young psychic boy kidnapped from NY to Mid-World, that he’s willing to risk it all? What was Mid-World like before the world moved on, and why is Roland still roaming the lands to defend it? Well, gentle Reader, I can promise all of those answers are within thousands of pages of fiction that you can read instead of watching this.

Regardless, Elba is perfection. Idris Elba is Roland Deschain, last of the gungslingers, come alive, present to me just through the screen. All else is shadow and disappointment. There are worlds other than these, where the movie remembers the face of its creator, where King’s humor makes it to this new world, and my fear is that this flop will rob us of our chance to make it there.