After the constant stream of entertaining advertising for The Dark Tower, I decided to sit down in my local theater and see if the film lived up to the promise of the trailers (and everything else released prior). I was aware of the mixed reaction it was receiving, but being both a fan of Stephen King and objectively terrible films, I was more than willing to be entertained by a rotten plot and silly directing choices. However, to my shock and delight, I was greeted with a well put-together film that was supremely entertaining and surprisingly sinister for a summer release. So, when The Dark Tower finished, I was left with the question of why is this being torn apart by critics?
Rotten Tomatoes told me that, while the audience score was 62%, the critics score was a measly 19% with reports citing that the film was silly, it skipped over a ton of information from the novels, it was cliche, and was a poor adaption of the King universe all round. As a film viewer with no knowledge of the legacy of The Dark Tower I became interested in the novels after watching this movie.
The idea of parallel universes, a powerful, unstoppable villain, and a story that had real stakes made me want to pursue the novels after the fact. On the other hand, I can understand why fans of the books would be upset at the film for being a poor adaption, but come on, we are at the point with films that if you honestly expect them to accurately capture the magic of reading the book you will be consistently disappointed.
Even fans of the Harry Potter series, widely regarded as the most in-depth series adapted to movies, have complaints about the films missing details or subplots. The fact is that adaptations are extremely difficult to do in a small amount of time and if as a fan you ever genuinely expect 2 hours to cover a whole collection of books, I appreciate your optimism.
The other main criticism of The Dark Tower is that it is silly and basically you must accept mechanics in the confines of the movie without explanation. But, the way The Dark Tower presents this universe is almost self-aware. They can’t explain everything so they give the audience members visual clues that don’t spoon-feed them.
For example, there is a scene between The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) and Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) where the former appears suddenly on Earth to harass Roland. However, when Roland attempts to shoot his assailant, the scene then shows him sitting against his desk on another world talking to a black glowing ball.
At this point in The Dark Tower, he is an extremely powerful sorcerer, hugely well known, so the fact he can project his image onto another world is conceivable. As a viewer, I don’t need to know where he got the ball from, how many he has, or how it works exactly, and further to that, I don’t really care because the scene shows me exactly what I need to know.
However, I think the most interesting aspect of those ripping apart The Dark Tower is that they seem to have forgotten the fact that Stephen King film adaptations are a hit or miss when it comes to standing on their own in general. As someone who has read a great number of his novels, I understand that they are typically insanely long because King takes his time in crafting the universe to really pull you into the story.
But, I must be in the mood for his novels because the universe building in stories such as It, Bag of Bones, A Town Called Desperation, and Insomnia take its sweet time before the shit hits the fan. This writing does not historically translate well into movies that can stand on their own so you either get an adaption that is well crafted like Carrie or a terrible one like Dreamcatchers.
Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine that well made films such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption are in the same group as the horrifically boring miniseries The Langoliers and It. While The Green Mile did skip over some details, it was an entertaining, touching, and fantastic film in its own right, as opposed to It which was entirely too long, boring, BUT they covered a lot of the backstory from the original novel. So again, with Stephen King adaptations, it is a gamble between translating for the big screen and/or being a well-made movie.
But, again, film adaptations should come with a disclaimer at this point and moviegoers need to take the movie and the source material as two separate entities that belong in the same world. As a movie with a complicated backstory I genuinely felt that I got a good feel for the universe they were presenting in The Dark Tower, the characters were presented well enough for me to be invested, and the fast pace of the action scenes was enthralling. For a summer movie, The Dark Tower is entertaining, captivating, and enjoyable, but only if you don’t expect it to be something it isn’t.