One of the first not for kids books I remember reading cover to cover was Stephen King. Now granted, it wasn’t heavy reading at 127 pages, but I was 9 at the time so there’s that. The Mist is still one of the scariest stories for me but that’s because I heard it as a book on tape after reading it. Sound effects and regular mist/fog in Maryland help. I read IT, and The Stand I read in church (the irony isn’t lost), Christine I got in trouble in 9th grade for reading instead of Gatsby. I could never quite get into his work in the 90’s though; something had changed in them that stopped engaging me. It was then I came across his mass market paper back of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I think I read a hundred pages or so into the Dark Tower, but it didn’t grab me. So it, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower itself went unread. That means my usual rules of not having read the book get to apply here. The real question though is:
Did someone finally do Stephen King right?
This movie has been in development hell for as long as I can remember paying attention to movie development cycles. A lot of people claimed it was unfilmable over the years as it’s changed directors, writers, producers, companies and so on. So it appears they did the only sensible thing – they made an original story in the universe set after the books? Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either. The movie invokes the three writer rule, with an add on as we have four. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who no major directing credits, but does have screen play for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2009, gets the last credit. Another Dane by the name of Anders Thomas Jensen has the next credit; who has no credits I recognized from this side of the pond. Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider Man 2) and The 5th Wave who is a frequent collaborator with our final writer the dreaded Akiva Goldsman. When I first started in this business, I read a lot of insider sites and other reviews. Goldsman’s name was dreaded. I couldn’t figure out why at the time. In retrospect I understand. Yes, while I absolutely adore Practical Magic, he is responsible for Insurgent, I am Legend, Angels & Demons, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Lost in Space – and the latest much maligned (deservedly) Transformers The Last Knight.
Goldsman is poison for movies when pen touches paper. As a producer it doesn’t get much better with most of his films being either mildly entertaining to just bad. Mostly on the bad side like this years King Arthur. Why am I picking on Akiva? Because I think I figured out what happens. What it is he does and it happened here. It isn’t so much mediocrity as an art form, but being so unoriginal, so bland, so unwilling to commit to a risk that the project is a colossal meh. I had a conversation just this afternoon about the DC movies and how so many movies today have tonal quality issues. They don’t know what they want to be – is it a comedy, a horror, an action, a sci fi? Studios are afraid of picking one and sticking to it, so they bring a new writer in to ‘polish’ the script and add their own tone. What you end up with is a muddled uninteresting mess.
That’s what happened here. Goldsman and company made a movie so safe, so middle of the road to try to appeal to everyone that it will appeal to no one. Akiva Goldsman is the Syndrome of the movie industry. It’s PG-13, when it could have been R. It has little blood. Little watchable action. Little engaging. Is it Sci fi? Is it fantasy? Is it a western? Is it horror? All and none of the above are true. It wants to be everything and in the end is nothing. The dialogue loops on itself more than a few times or has no context to care so you are left wondering why things happen rather than following them happen.
I don’t think a young inexperienced director like Arcel could handle it; but then again I am not sure Ron Howard (another producer on this) could have saved it had he been in the directors chair either. The shots are bland and reused. There’s nothing interesting in the camera work, the staging, the stock shots of New York, the creature designs (when you see them). It’s either too dark, too jostly, or too fake looking to care. Nothing has weight and you can’t buy any of the risk; thus when loss of any kind occurs nothing can be felt. The most interesting shots of action are what you get in the trailer with nothing more or less fascinating delivered beyond that.
I don’t think I want to talk about the actors. Elba is fine as The Gunslinger. McConaughey is fine as the Man in Black; honestly one of the better things in the movie.. Tom Taylor, as the kid Jake is ..passable. He’s at least not annoying?
It’s technically a very poor movie. As mentioned before there are so few engaging camera shots that one would find above basic. There’s action with no weight. There’s just nothing to work with here to even pick apart. If anything the movie just expects you to follow along and I guess that is ok?
They have forgotten the face of their fathers.
The Dark Tower is a mediocre movie. It’s milk toast. I had an older couple behind me on the ride down the escalator who HAD read all the books and laughed with me when I said it wasn’t good. It may have calls that fans of the books know, but I can’t speak to that. I can speak to the fact that in an attempt to not ostracize people who haven’t read the book they failed everyone. As I said in the main body, it wanted to please everyone and in the end pleases no one.
I think I really would have liked to see the book as a movie or even an adaptation of the book but this wasn’t even that.
Should you see it?
No. Not even Matinee, sorry.
So not buying it?
If I thought burning it as an offering to the things outside the wheel of the tower would keep movies like this from being made – I might.
Anything even remotely fun in it?
Playing the “Guess the Stephen King reference” as the movie goes on. I got Christine, Cujo, The Shining (literally same verse), 1408, It, and Misery. Did I miss any? Wait you aren’t seeing it (I hope). Damn.
Ok so what next?
A few weeks off as there’s nothing in August after this. It’s the graveyard of summer movies typically and this summer (and movie) exemplifies it. I might throw a review or two up of random things like The Core, or the new Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie.
Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping for something here, but I can’t even offer a ray of hope. King has said this line is one his best: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I agree. It’s intense. It’s engaging. It’s evocative and intriguing and the movie is none of these things. The work that is Kings magnum opus has come to this and I am sorry for Mr. King today.
Maybe “It” in September will be as good as we all hope it is.
This… this angers me, sai.
You’re telling me they took an eight part book series from King – one that saw the amalgamation of all of his universes into one story, his Arthurian legend, literally the most engaging book series I have ever read, and the made it bland? Worse that King himself signed off on it?
I… I don’t know what to say… I’m going to see it. This series is too important to me to not see it, but I go in with low expectations now.
They even reference the Arthurian legend in it, but it’s so off handed it has no weight.
Literally the Man in Black goes “Did you know his guns were forged from Excalibur?” to no one in particular and for no particular reason.
Also – when you go see it. Bring a flask. Every time you hear the word “Shine” – take a swig.
Also…bring a designated driver to take you to the hospital.
Saw it earlier today.
As a fan of the books and the prequels, and as someone who just picked up “The Wind in the Keyhole” I liked it. There was enough there to pick up on as a fan to add the weight of what I know from the stories into the movie. If I were watching it on its own… It’s thin at best.
The problem is that as a standalone movie it is very thin. They needed to spend MUCH more time in Mid World to give you a better idea of who Roland is/was and his relationship with Jake to give you understanding of why what he does later in the movie is important. When they step through the portal to Keystone Earth, I blinked and the movie was over. The turning point for Roland happened with little fanfare nor build up of regrettable decisions. This turning point for Roland doesn’t happen in the books until AFTER he committed himself to a path he regretted.
As I think back on the movie and some of the stories around it, I think the conflicting visions on set doomed it to a rushed production after a point. The first half is a slower moving deliberate piece that gives you context for the universe in which the characters live. The second half is a rushed, shallow affair that merely checks a few boxes before rolling some credits. It seems once the decision of a TV series was made, this was rushed through production in order to try to set up a different telling of the books. That being said, I can also see why King signed off on this as an addition to the Tower universe… Key word being addition. This is not a retelling of the books. That turn of the Wheel of Ka already happened. This is another turn. This is a turn where Roland makes some different decisions and leads up to the REAL fight.
I’m not necessarily defending this film… After all it was NEVER going to be what I wanted it to be. Merely trying to put my thoughts on it out there while saying to this fan of the source material, it was a good enough movie to keep me excited for the show.
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Also yes I cringed at that heavy-handed line out of left field.
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I am absolutely happy you were able to find enjoyment in the movie. I didn’t take your comments as defending the movie so much as stating what you found of value – that me as a non reader of the series couldn’t. The movie, as a film – is badly made in nearly every capacity.
So sad! I had such high hopes!
I wish I could have said it was good. I really do. I know there are plenty of folks out there who are finding something they want from it and I am thankful they do.
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