Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Dark Tower Review

So this is a bit awkward. I have not read Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series. There's eight of these books and I have a lot of friends who love them. But for whatever reason, I've just never gotten around to reading them. Thus I don't know if I'm the most worthy person to write this review, but I'm going to give it my best shot, anyways. And hey, sometimes it's fun to get the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the source material. So that's what you're getting here. If I'm being honest, I was never really excited for this movie in the first place. Yes, I love myself a good Stephen King story, so the idea of turning one of his most popular series into a movie is a good idea. But this has been in Production Hell for the last 10 years and the advertising of the movie led me to believe that the studio itself never had a ton of confidence in the final result because this looked more like a confusing action blockbuster, which I'm pretty sure is not what this franchise is all about. Because of this, my expectations were super low and I went in with the idea of getting this experience over with and moving onto the next movie, especially after the embargo was lifted and I saw those awful reviews. But hey! Surprise! This ended up not being as bad as I thought it was going to be.

From what I'm gathering, the final decision after many years of discussion ended up being that they were not going to simply focus on the first book in the series, but rather they were going to combine several of the books into one 95-minute movie? That's an odd choice. So I don't know how the books go, but in this movie we start out by focusing in a young 11-year-old kid named Jake Chambers who has these psychic abilities that they call "the shine." He sees these premonitions of this other world, the Man in Black and the Dark Tower, thus he knows something is up. But of course no one believes him, so he runs away right before his parents plan on sending him to some sort of mental institution. He runs into Idris Elba, who is a gunslinger trying to save the universe from Matthew McConaughey, the Man in Black, also named Walter. We end up with a rather simple, surface-level good vs. evil story with Matthew McConaughey trying to destroy the world and Idris Elba trying to save it. Jake Chambers is key to this with his psychic abilities. All of this centers around this Dark Tower, which kinda looks like Sauron's tower in "Lord of the Rings." I think we go the route of the world being in trouble if the Dark Tower gets destroyed, but I might have this reversed.

You can definitely tell without even knowing about the books that they tried to cover way too much ground, which is why I ended up being more confused than anything with this whole mythology that I think they assumed that I knew more than I actually did. It didn't really help that the movie failed to hook me and I found myself falling in and out of consciousness during the first act. But then through some series of events, this kid ends up with Idris Elba and they're going on adventures together. When that happened, the movie actually managed to grab my attention. Given that everyone is hating on this movie, I think I was supposed to be getting frustrated and angry at the movie, but instead I was feeling quite the opposite. I was enjoying this universe that we set up and I was loving all of our characters. I didn't know what the Dark Tower really was. I had no idea what a gunslinger was or why this Man in Black was so evil, but I became sold on this journey and I was eager to get answers to my questions. The kid in the movie and Idris Elba had a good amount of chemistry as an unlikely duo that made this a fun movie when certain monsters would show up or when Matthew McConaughey was maliciously trying to ruin everything. I was having quite a bit of fun.

I think the biggest reason as to why this works as well as it does is because Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey both bring their A-game to this movie. Idris Elba is such a likable hero as his character felt like he was plucked straight out of an old western and put into this mysterious fantasy world. He carried the name of gunslinger rather well with his fancy gun tricks and his "I shoot with my mind, not my hands" philosophy. And when him and Jake head into the real world, Elba is hilarious as a fish out of water much in the same way Wonder Woman was when she went out into the real world with Chris Pine. On the flip side, Matthew McConaughey did such a great job of playing this pure evil sorcerer. I didn't know why he was evil and I was disappointed that the movie chose not to dive into any of his motivations for being evil, but I could tell McConaughey was absolutely relishing this role of the dark villain. Thus we had what felt like a classic western rivalry meshed with fantasy elements with the cowboy dude against the evil sorcerer in this modern-day society meets Middle Earth from "Lord of the Rings." It was a great combination of several genres that set up this world that I was really eager to learn more about.

My problem is that the movie ended rather abruptly after an extremely rushed, anti-climatic finale. If you're adapting such an epic book series AND you decided to combine several of the books together, you have got to go longer than 95 minutes. I could've easily gone for two hours in this, maybe even two and a half hours. Thus this movie was 30-45 minutes too short. We set up this fascinating universe and chose not to delve into to much. We introduced these fascinating characters played by the perfect actors who brought their A-game and we decided not to reveal too much about them. We set up this fantastic rivalry between Elba and McConaughey and rush through it too fast. Not knowing anything about the books, I was watching this movie and thinking to myself that this has the potential to dive as deep into this realm as a "Lord of the Rings," but they decided not to. It would as if Peter Jackson decided to take the entire "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and, instead of making three really long movies, combined the whole thing into a 95-minute movie. You would feel really cheated as a fan because of all the wasted potential. An outsider with no knowledge of the books might have fun, but someone who cares about the books would be mad at what they put together.

Because of this, I came up with two potential comparisons for those who have read the books that I think might be a good comparison. The first one is "Ender's Game." I remember enjoying that book along with everyone else and when they finally turned it into a movie a few years back, I was a bit frustrated that they chose to make it such a short movie because there's so much more that happens, but I think despite that it was perfectly cast and otherwise well done, so I enjoyed it overall. The other perhaps concerning comparison is to "Eragon." I know people who never read the books that enjoyed the movie. For me I realize that they had the right cast (for the most part) and it was a well-acted, visually stunning movie, but they butchered the adaptation so badly that I spent the whole experience extremely frustrated at what they were doing to my beloved series. The movie was also way too short, combined several sequences into one, didn't do justice to several of the characters and removed several key plot points that made it impossible for them to continue the series even if they had made enough money to justify the sequel. Even though it wasn't poorly made movie, the adaptation was, and still is, one of the worst book to movie adaptations that I have ever seen.

Personally the big difference for me with "Eragon" vs. "The Dark Tower" is that going into "Eragon" I had read the books while going into "The Dark Tower" I hadn't. Thus if you have read the books and are a big fan, I think it's quite possible that this might be your "Eragon." You very well might hate this movie with a fiery passion. And I totally understand. But not having read the books, there was enjoyment for me to be had. I loved Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They both gave it their all. There was some really fun action, fantasy sequences and we set up a world that was really intriguing to me. In a summer that saw disappointments like "The Mummy," "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3," "Dunkirk," "Valerian," "The Emoji Movie" and "Atomic Blonde" to name a few (I still haven't seen the latest "Transformers" movie), I found myself surprisingly pleased with "The Dark Tower" and enjoyed it more than all of those movies even if I thought the ending was super anti-climatic and transformed this movie into a surface-level action/fantasy movie when I knew this had so much more potential. The movie did give me the desire to actually go read the books and maybe when I do my opinion will change. But as for this moment in time, I'm going to give "The Dark Tower" a 7/10.

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