Mon. Nov 28th, 2022
enlarge / “With such breath I wish your name the” gumswinger…”

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Stephen King’s Series of Seven Books The Dark Tower has finally received a screen tweak and fans should brace themselves: it hits a giant reset button on the series lore. (What an old serial fan can explain to you is somewhat appropriate.)

Long in production, this film ends up with a clear emphasis on running lean. It is a hair of more than 90 minutes; the variety of landscapes and locations is far from epic; and the story focuses on only three known characters. The result feels more like a Stephen King version of a misunderstood teen movie from the 80s than you might expect, and as such, the framework feels a bit disposable – as if the names ‘Man In Black’, ‘Gunslinger’ and ‘Jake Chambers” could have been traded if a permit fell through at the last minute.

The big Dark Tower movie we’ve wanted for years, this isn’t it. But as an isolated, “Stephen King-inspired” slice of summer cinema, this first (and hopefully not last) Dark Tower The film manages to find a new angle to the series’ origin story, which is sold through a tight script, solid acting, and a compelling angle on what revenge looks like for both a boy and a man.

One in the rooms

For starters, Jake Chambers’ origin story here serves as a much bigger anchor than in any of the Gunslinger-heavy books — and he gets wrapped up with the Tower in a very different way. A brilliant but troubled pre-teen in modern New York City, Jake is drawn to other worlds not by murder, but by his own visions and dreams.

So, the film’s opening battle is with Jake trying to convince everyone of his visions of a giant tower, of enslaved children, and of the Man in Black and the Gunslinger. A school psychiatrist, a bully, a tormented mother, an obnoxious stepfather, even a best friend: no one buys Jake’s stories, even if they are so vivid that Jake draws them out as elaborate sketches. Adults assume that Jake only has “dark and fire” dreams because his father passed away a year ago. (In this Dark Tower version, Papa Chambers was a loving, supportive firefighter who passed away prematurely.)

One vision leads Jake to an abandoned house in Brooklyn, where we learn about the version of portals in the movie universe. The doors of the film connect people to different worlds within the same universe, as long as they know a four-digit code. (The first, if you’re wondering, is “19-19,” but this doesn’t seem to be related to any of the books’ “Ka-tet” fraternity.) Jake enters the code he enters sees his dreams, and he ends up in a desert where he eventually encounters a confused and pessimistic man, Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba).

Roland has given up his duties as the world’s last remaining “gunslinger” after a battle years ago in which an evil Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) murdered Roland’s father. The Man In Black can’t kill Roland directly (and we don’t know why), so he spent years killing everyone Roland was associated with. By the way, MIB also runs a very official “destroy the dark tower” operation, which Roland explains to Jake: as long as the tower is standing, legions of demons at the edge of the universe cannot enter and kill all humanity.

Oh, and those visions of tortured children Jake had? MIB tries to find a kid with enough “Shine”, a magical power that can be turned into lasers that destroy towers (of course, that makes sense). MIB has sent demons in disguise to Earth to pick up children and boil their brains to turn them into weapons. (MIB sent some to pick up Jake under the guise of “advisers,” whom he dodged before finding that abandoned home portal and moving on modern Earth.)

No galaxy defender

enlarge / “Wait, his name is Walter?!”

Lots of details about the movie Dark Tower universe are left unclear. Aside from some of the vague plot snippets mentioned above, we never learn whether Jake’s world and Roland’s are mirror images, or alternate dimensions, or whatever. At one point, Jake flatly asks how demons can exist “outside the universe,” to which Roland growls and changes the subject.

It’s tempting to describe the story structure in this film as a mishmash of the first three Dark Tower novels, but that ignores the total lack of primary book characters Eddie and Susannah. Besides, we have very little of Roland’s backstory other than watching his father die – not killing a baby, not wiping out an entire town, etc. Instead, the only reason we should care about Roland’s movie version is an extremely poor performance with thanks to Idris Elba. And that’s fine. Less is definitely more in Elba’s case, and Roland’s debut as a movie character may have won by having so many spiky, non-verbal cues handled by a serious actor rather than being overwritten to fulfill so much knowledge and canon.

McConaughey, meanwhile, plays the MIB with a serious helping of cheese. A weird noise filter is applied to McConaughey’s voice so that his voice sounds like it’s dubbed on top of the current action, and he tends to give short, monotonous commands to anyone who annoys him. People die, fall over, stop breathing and start fighting each other whenever he wants to, pretending to be a sadistic camp leader while chasing insecurities in every conversation he has. At first I laughed at some of McConaughey’s lines, but by the end I had fallen for his view of true evil.

In between is Tom Taylor, the child actor who wears a lot The Dark Tower‘s weight as Jake Chambers. Taylor carries the ’80s kid-as-hero torch with great confidence, and the film provides plenty of breathing room for Jake to grow into an insecure, can-I-really-this type of protagonist. During a touching scene where Roland teaches Jake the Gunslinger’s Code – “I don’t kill with my gun; whoever kills with his gun has forgotten his father’s face. I kill with my heart.” – the moment is sold by both. actors who accept a world-saving fate that neither of them seem willing to undertake well. They each aim guns, sigh in their speech and visibly mourn the fathers they have both lost.

This isn’t a masterpiece of green-screen CGI or epic battles, but we do get a few Elba-powered gunfights worthy of the term “Gunslinger,” along with a few kid-vs-odds chase sequences that are just damn good for a kid of that age. One particular favorite moment comes during a ho-hum devils-versus-a-village scene where we know Roland will succeed, but the filmmakers slow down the whole scene anyway so we can watch Elba stop, breathe and focus. on shooting his last bullet to save the day.

In the end, the worst part about The Dark Tower it’s too neat ending. I couldn’t help but feel like it was being taped by an insecure producer, terrified of leaving a loose thread in case the film’s box office doesn’t deserve a sequel. In the end, I like that the movie is cut to the bone to tell an emotional, spiritually faithful story, instead of firing on and screwing up so much Dark Tower lore. With that perspective in mind, I was able to tolerate this first film contribution and the focus on the little boy, who strangely felt like a Stephen King-ian take on Weird stuff.

But I wanted that decision to come with an obvious hook for a sequel, destined to open up the series to more of the lore (and characters) that so loved King’s originals for decades. I hope at some point these filmmakers will take serial-worthy risks – but they certainly didn’t make it into movie 1.

By akfire1

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