I posted the following review over on Facebook after finally seeing The Dark Tower today. If you don’t want spoilers, put down your computer, go to the film and then come back and read what I’ve written below.
The Dark Tower is a great film. Five stars, easy.
It’s a great film for people who never visited the Tower before through the door provided in Stephen King’s books and it’s a great film for those fans who remember the face of their father.
I’m going to quote Robin Furth here. She was King’s research assistant and is the author of the two volumes of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Concordance.
“Ka is a wheel; its one purpose is to turn. The spin of ka always brings us back to the same place, to face and reface our mistakes and defeats until we can learn from them. When we learn from the past, the wheel continues to move forward, towards growth and evolution. When we don’t, the wheel spins backward, and we are given another chance. If once more we squander the opportunity, the wheel continues its rotation towards devolution, or destruction.”
Ok, that should provide enough space for spoilers without cutting down lots of white space as if white space was a forest of trees and we still believed we had an endless supply available to make paper.
So … The Dark Tower is a great film.
How, you might ask, when there are lots of negative reviews, can I come away pleased with 88 minutes of a story that spans eight novels (as of now), as well as numerous references in other novels and short stories?
How, you might ask, can you accept a story that focuses on Jake Chambers rather than Roland? A story that doesn’t start with Roland walking the Mohaine desert in pursuit of Walter O’Dim, aka The Man in Black?
The answer is simple. As noted above, ka is a wheel and if we are sane people we want Roland to succeed in his quest to reach the Dark Tower. Which means we need Roland to change with each spin of the wheel. His quest is akin to Bill Murray’s in Groundhog’s Day; he’s got to get everything right if he wants to move forward. Otherwise we have to face and reface our mistakes, as Ms. Furth eloquently explains. We not only need him to have his horn, but we need him to make the right choices as he continues on his journey.
There was a lot of “gun-fu” and it was cool to watch, I saw Roland’s character change over the film’s short course. And how it ended indicates the Tower still stands, but still needs protecting. While it would have impressed me more if Roland was a bit less wasteful with him ammunition early on in the film, but you see that taper off toward the end. There is change, there is growth, there is a “refinement” of aim — and yet I expected Roland to repeat some of his mistakes during his battle with Walter.
Because I expected him to win by shooting Jake through the door, killing Jake before he could topple the Tower. You see, gunslinger’s don’t kill with their guns, they kill with their hearts — and sometimes hearts break,
King broke our hearts by the end of our journey to the Tower, because we were part of Roland’s ka-tet by the end. We were gunslingers as much as Jake, Eddie, and Susannah.
But when King introduced us to Roland with the short stories that comprise the first book, The Gunslinger. Published in Fantasy and Science Fiction over the course of several years, they show us the first leg of Roland’s quest, and I think it’s safe to say that Roland is not a likable fellow in those stories. Jake is likable, however, and part of what makes Roland hard and possibly more an anti-hero than hero in those early stories is how he damns himself with his treatment of Jake. We see a little bit of it in the film, but the story and Roland’s character arc take care of that. We’re supposed to come away from the film wanting more. And I believe the filmmakers achieved that specifically because they made Jake open the story for us here.
Dropping moviegoers in the middle of the Mohaine desert with a character who is as taciturn as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, a character who decimated a town, and then killed an innocent boy to further his quest … I don’t think that would work. Dropping them into a somewhat familiar setting with Jake questioning the world around him and his own sanity … that lets you ground the story. We don’t start the journey to Erebor or Mordor in the Misty Mountains. We start the journey in the Shire. Someplace normal, someplace safe.
Now, while what I’ve said above may spoil the film for some people, since I’ve given away some plot details, let me assure you that, whether you’re a King fan or not, whether you’re familiar with the Dark Tower or not, you’re still going to be able to enjoy the film, precisely because it’s an introduction. Even though we end up at the Dixie Pig by the film’s end, there are other worlds than these, and we’re barely out of the Shire as far as I can tell.