Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Dark Tower

Title: The Dark Tower

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:

Groundskeeper Willie: Boy, you read my thoughts. You've got the shinning.
Bart: You mean 'shining.'
Groundskeeper Willie: Shhh! You want to get sued?

Brief Plot Synopsis: Man in black pursued by black man.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two and a half brigands out of five.

Tagline: "There are other worlds than these."

Better Tagline: "Mama, put my guns in the ground."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) suffers from frequent nightmares about monsters in human skin, a distant tower and a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). Of late, his dreams have included a solitary Gunslinger (Idris Elba), the last soldier in a lost war. When the monsters turn out to be real, bent on capturing "special" kids like Jake and using their energy to destroy the tower, he flees to Mid-World, where he soon makes the acquaintance of the Gunslinger and joins him on his quest to stop the Man in Black once and for all.

"Critical" Analysis:
  "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

That's the opening sentence of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, the first novel in Stephen King's epic fantasy series about Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger in a world that has "moved on." It's a great line, simultaneously sparse and evocative, and a good deal more accomplished than what director Nikolaj Arcel and his Akiva Goldsman-led cadre of writers have delivered.

Is The Dark Tower the "mess" or "disaster" others have described? It depends on how closely your expectations of a faithful adaptation are wedded to the finished product. Drawing mostly from the seventh novel in the series, the movie offers only the vaguest hints of what has happened to Roland's home of Mid-World, and doesn't get much into the Tower itself, except that allowing the Man in Black to destroy it would be a very Bad Thing indeed.

Worse, probably, is the lack of most of the books' supporting cast. There's Jake, but no Eddie, no Susannah, no Oy. We do meet Roland's father, Steven (Dennis Haysbert), so...that's something. And while nobody expected a film this perfunctory to successfully unspool the entire mythology, one of the only reasons The Dark Tower isn't [Googles] "astoundingly awful" is that it doesn't have enough time to build up real abominable momentum.

In fact, watching this movie feels like plopping down on the couch as the series finale of a three-season miniseries begins and asking your roommate/significant other to give you a plot recap.

Allowing the Man in Black to destroy the tower would be a very Bad Thing indeed.

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Arcel and company do find time to shoehorn in plenty of references to the King multiverse, though. Cujo, The Shawshank Redemption, It, The Shining and 'Salem's Lot (and probably more) are all represented. And that's not even including McConaughey's Walter o'Dim/Man in Black, otherwise known as Randall Flag, who was also the primary antagonist in The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon.

McConaughey does a good job capturing Walter's casual attitude toward atrocity, even if his motivation for assisting the Crimson King isn't apparent (or even if we never learn whether the Crimson King exists anywhere other than the occasional graffiti tag). And Elba is a fine Roland, even if he's inexplicably not the central character of the film (that honor goes to Jake, in what was probably an attempt to make a film about eldritch evil threatening the existence of an infinite multiverse more "relatable"). The Big Boss Fight at the end is great, and when it — and the movie — are suddenly over, you find yourself asking why they didn't do more of the same.

As to that, who knows? It's been reported that King, Sony and film company MRC all had veto power over the final version, which could explain what seems like a focus committee's decision to dilute the weirdness and go with a more straightforward narrative. In doing so, they'll likely end up shooting themselves in the foot (heh) with book fans, who were drawn to the stories largely because of the character of Roland and the world(s) King built.

Those who never made it past the third or fourth book (*cough*) might not be so invested. Does The Dark Tower rise above its rumored production difficulties to succeed, à la Rogue One? Sadly, no...but it isn't the utter debacle you've been led to believe.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar