The Dark Tower is based on the characters from Stephen King’s epic eight-book series–emphasis on “based.” This is not a true adaptation of the novels, which can be justified for a specific reason (mentioned below in the spoiler section). This film is meant to kick off a new movie and television franchise. Unfortunately, it fails to capture the essence of the beloved series. What is presented feels rushed and slightly chaotic with a hint of wasted potential.
The story centers on Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, the last of the gunslingers. The gunslingers were a knightly order in a different world. That world has “moved on.” Roland is pursuing the Man in Black (played by Matthew McConaughey) who is trying to destroy the Dark Tower–a nexus of all worlds. Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor) is a boy in the real world (Keystone Earth) plagued by nightmares of the Man in Black and the gunslinger. Jake discovers his visions are real and how much of a threat the Man in Black truly is.
The Dark Tower could have been a great movie. In development for years in different forms, the 95-minute film rushes through elements from a few of the novels while also adding new aspects. The first novel, The Gunslinger, focused on Roland’s pursuit of the Man in Black. Here, Roland is more of a supporting character with Jake Chambers’ plight taking the center stage. It’s an odd move and diminishes Roland’s character and state of being.
With Roland’s mission reduced to a matter of getting revenge against the Man in Black, a true sense of what his character is about is lost. The fact that the Man in Black is attempting to destroy the Dark Tower, for reasons unexplained, and now has an army of underlings, is not a concern for Roland. There is no mention of why the Man in Black wants to destroy the Tower. Mention of the Crimson King is seen but isn’t even touched on. The addition of inter-dimensional portals moves the story along, but so much of the world building presented in the novels is lost.
The long history between Roland and the Man in Black is merely hinted at. Who the gunslingers were and why it’s mentioned that Roland’s guns were forged from the Excalibur of his world will remain lost on those who haven’t read the books. Viewers unfamiliar with the novels will be lost or finding themselves not being fully invested.
Despite the rushed pace that hints the movie has been reduced from a longer version, there are moments that can be enjoyed. The three characters are well cast, even if the story here doesn’t fully flesh them out. Seeing them come to life on the big screen is something readers of the series have been waiting for. The Easter eggs from other Stephen King novels acknowledges the fact that there is a deep connection between those stories. Because things happen so quickly, there is a slight desire to see more. If this succeeds in being the beginning of a franchise, it will be fascinating to see where it goes next as we are now in new territory.
Sadly, the brisk pace of the movie might result in diminishing any hope of seeing more of the story. The main plot is handled so rapidly, you almost wonder what is left to tell after this? Other major characters from the novels are not introduced, and with the movie’s conclusion, it feels like they will not be necessary.
Die hard fans of the series can accept this version for what it is. Attempting to adapt the eight novels into movies would be a difficult undertaking. For those who have read the conclusion of the series, along with this tweet from Stephen King, it’s clear this is a different form of the story. That aspect will not “ruin” the reading experience or the love one might have for the books. Seeing the drastic changes in Jake’s life, along with his parents, can now be easily explained.
Regrettably, because of the conclusion of the movie, there isn’t a big desire to see more of the story. We may be treading into a new or different direction, but a closer adaptation would have been preferable.
**End of Spoilers**
Making a movie based on The Dark Tower series was an ambitious move. This new interpretation fails to capture the intrinsic nature of what made those stories so beloved. There are glimpses of how great this film series could have been. The epic nature of the novels is lost in this hour and a half telling. If this is successful enough to continue with the plans for more movies and a television series, perhaps the other ideas and characters of the books can be fleshed out. The running time leaves a lot to be desired, although by the time it’s over, viewers will be ready to get up out of their seats and move on.