The Dumpster Fire That Is The Dark Tower Movie
I just don’t do negative film reviews. They aren’t my thing. And this blog is my thing… so I do what I want here. And that has helped me find about a 2.25 million new friends in the last year while doing it. It’s been a fun ride. But I literally can only think of one really bad movie review I bothered to put up. And that was for a movie that you all agree deserved it. It was for Warcraft. And part of that negativity is that I saw it in Manila, and I had my passport stolen while falling asleep mid movie.
Enough about that.
So yeah, I just don’t like doing negative movie reviews. I’d prefer to bring you good movies that are complicated, interesting, different, and best? Mind blowing. That’s just the kind of movie I adore. It’s how I roll. But with the Dark Tower, I have a complicated relationship with the series. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
The Dark Tower Book Series
I’m guessing that half the people that are reading this right now have read the Dark Tower series. Right? RIGHT?! You know… only the single best series ever. Ok, so it isn’t literally the absolute best. But is up there. Really really high up the list of brilliant, dystopian, gunslinger, fantasy, western, science fiction. The novel begins in grand fashion:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
The story is equal parts Alice following the Rabbit, crossed with Gollum following the Ring. Stephen King has even likened the series to his own version of the Lord of the Rings. It is a massive massive sprawling enterprise. And what’s funny about it is that I read each book as they came out, so I read them in fits and starts over the last, what? 30 years? So I actually don’t have a great sense of the particular or the detail. But I have a very fond familiarity with the story. The characters.
But truth be told? The series is much more like T.S. Eliot’s, The Waste Land than anything else that could possibly capture it. And being an enormous Eliot fan-boy in my teen years I was instantly raptured by King’s wild wasteland of a world.
“And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
Dust like you’ve never seen before. The sun and the parched and cracked earth. And the endless pursuit. It is a series of bone, and blood. It really is a drug induced epiphany.
In the story, Roland Deschain is the last of the world’s knight-esque western gunslingers. And he also happens to be the last of the line of “Arthur Eld”, or his world’s moral equivalent of King Arthur. It is a kingdom of long dead magic, and past fallen shibboleths of technology. But central to all the books? Unwavering and unyielding? Is the idea of the tower. Roland must get to the tower.
And in the beginning? We have no idea what the tower even is. Zero. It’s more myth than reality in book one. It’s unformed and diffuse. But it drives the story forward in its ability to hold this world together. (Or pull it apart?!?) And as we progress we slowly see that it is the tower that actually holds all universes together. It is the tower that must remain in order to guarantee the various fictional world’s that King has written about and our world too. It is the central hub to everything of any potential. And yet, Roland’s world is cracking apart at the seams. Right? So obviously the tower must be achieved in order to save the entirety of all possibilities, let alone this universe. It’s a big vision for a story.
But one of the most important thing that happens is the forming of the Ka-tet of the Nineteen and the Ninety-nine. They are Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean, and Oy. And as the continue this journey on through more than 4,000 pages, The Man In Black, Mordred, and The Crimson King do absolutely anything they can to stop them. I remember crying at the realization Roland was going to have to sacrifice his companions in order to make it to the Tower. I remember relief when in book 3 they finally found the beam, one of six mythical light structures that holds the world together and simultaneously points the way to the tower.
I won’t recount my feelings and opinions of all the books. They weren’t all great. But they were all very satisfying. It is a difficult thing to describe these books. And I’m sure that many of you had similar feelings as I had while reading them. But my larger point being, I went YEARS of my life without knowing really what the tower even was beyond a symbol. It was more talisman than actual location. It was archetype and myth simultaneously. It was epic and it was good.
Have you ever (accidentally or otherwise) read a Reader’s Digest version of a book only to realize later what you had done and the awfulness that you had participated in? Heck, I once read this fantastically beautiful book entitled Limpriere’s Dictionary. Gorgeous book. Part Great Expectations meets X-files Syndicate. Hard to describe in 2 sentences. Anyway, my larger point is this, I unwittingly read the American edition first. 548 pages. Really great book. Just gorgeously rendered story and characters. Until we reach the end. And the story just logically falls completely apart. It’s as if it was neutered mid-stride.
And then I realized there was a British edition. And by that time in my life I had fallen completely in love with the inner-library loan system. Which my wife hilariously makes fun of me for. But back then you couldn’t just go to Amazon and order any version of anything you wanted. There really wasn’t an interweb per se yet. And so I would beg other libraries around the world to share their copies of Limpriere’s Dictionary. “Please please please, if you have the edition that is 656 pages, the original British edition… please may I borrow it?” I would scrawl on the request forms. And nearly invariably, I would always get the 548 edition. That is until I learned that the Library of Congress actually had a copy. (Oh how I love the Library of Congress. When I interned on Capitol Hill I abused my privileges prestigiously.) And it was then that I realized that Lempriere’s search for his identity and his true lineage had been completely excised. It was only the entire point of the book! I can’t say more because I highly recommend that particular book… if read in the correct edition of course.
All that to say, Hollywood has done even worse thing than a Limpriere’s Dictionarying of The Dark Tower. They reversed telescoped the series so horribly that it is completely and totally unrecognizable. I wasn’t even sure it was connected to the stories at all until after the first 25 minutes. It’s as if someone sat a screenwriter down and told them a rendition of the story and an overview of the various parts that made up the whole of the series. And then that poor screenplay writer said, ok, I think there is a thing or two here that I can work with. And he begins to reassemble the story from scratch, from whole cloth.
The first and biggest cardinal sin is how Hollywood (yes, I am using that term pejoratively) has decided that Jake is the center of this story. Nothing could be more further from the truth. This is Roland’s, the Gunslinger, story. I cried when I saw that Rolamd realized he companions were expendable. no.
And at the conclusion it is the single most surprising and perfect ending in all of Stephen King’s oeuvre. But this movie? What is this? In the movie version we are mistakenly seeings dicings and choppings from numerous books simultaneously. And it’s all wrong.
Or not. I actually left the movie half way through. I have no idea at all how this Hollywood-bastardization ends. Nor do I want to know. When I realized that this movie was attempting to assemble the entirety of the series into something resembling the whole story in one 90 minute movie? I got up. And I walked out. I literally was mortified.
I came to this movie with very low expectations. Please don’t tell me I’m fan-boying right now and need to lighten up. I expected them to try and do it in 3 movies maybe? Or maybe they would choose to tell a subset story within the universe? But to take us to the end, then a sliver of the beginning. Then jump to book 2, and then back to book one. It was too much for me to really swallow.
So, while I am not a fan of this movie, maybe you can reposition this write up from a review for a movie, and twist it into a love letter to a book series. If you are a fan of this site, and complicated movies, then you will utterly love this book series. The ending is fantastic and very similar to many of the movies I have talked about here. Mind blowing and gorgeously simple simultaneously. I won’t discuss save to say it is worth the journey.
There was a time when I was worried that King would die before the series was finished. Many had this same worry. I mean, he was hit by a van mid-series after all. But he finally pulled it off. He finally finished his Magnum Opus that ties all his books together and makes sense of various psychic traumas in both his own life and the lives of his characters. But this movie rendition? Everyone involved should have known better.