I first started reading Stephen King's The Dark Tower series a couple of years ago. I liked the first book The Gunslinger, but it was really the later ones that drew me in. The mix of genres, from western to fantasy, sci-fi, adventure and even a bit of trademark horror. Coupled with King's habit of exploring the rich backgrounds of his characters it made for a compelling read. Even if the later books became a little strange with the rat people and King writing himself into his novels.
Stephen King has said that The Dark Tower is his magnum opus and the series definitely read like it was.
So it was with mixed feelings that I went to see the film adaptation just earlier today. On the one hand, I couldn't miss this great series of novels coming to life on the big screen, on the other hand I knew I would come back a little disappointed. The odds were stacked against the film right from the beginning.
I thought the casting was brilliant. Idris Elba as Roland was a great choice, deep down I think everyone expects a Clint Eastwood lookalike but Elba played the conflicted and despondent hero very well. I also thought that Matthew McConaughey1 was very creepy as The Man in Black giving the character that air of callous cruelty we associate with him. Tom Taylor was a fine choice for Jake too, though I felt he was a bit more determined than the Jake I remember from the books.
It is of course hard to take a series of eight beloved books and make a ninety minute film out of them and still do the whole story justice2. Whole books were essentially cut out. Eddie and Susannah Dean don't appear at all (nor does Oy). The Tet Corporation and Sombra get only a fleeting mention. The Turtle and the Rose don't appear at all except for a brief logo appearance right at the beginning. For me this meant that the deep inter-connectedness of the worlds and the subtle guiding spirit of the Turtle was missing. An essential component to make the books feel about more than just the main characters going on adventures.
The elements were all there: The Gunslinger, The Man in Black, Jake, The Tower, the Beams. There were even plenty of references to the books, like the Seers, the mentions of the Line of Eld, The Crimson King and so on. To me though, they felt forced. An afterthought, a tip of the hat to the fans coming to see the film.
I understand that it isn't possible to compress all the books into a single film, and I thought in general the film was a fine rendition of what the books are about. What I couldn't forgive though was that Roland wasn't looking for the Dark Tower. His only motivation was to kill Walter. The entire series of books was at its heart Roland's search for the Dark Tower. Finding it and keeping it safe. I think this is the one place where the film really lets down. It's basically a revenge story. To me it cheapens the experience. I felt like I cared less for Roland. Here the whole world is in trouble and all he cares about is killing this guy. He had reason enough to kill him in the books, yet he still sought the Tower first and foremost.
Overall, I liked the film. Would I watch it again and again? Probably not. I'd feel a sting of something missing each time I watched it. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to both fans of the series and newcomers alike.
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