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The UnPopular Opinion: The Dark Tower

10.19.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Working for JoBlo.com, I have rarely been as excited for a film as I was for THE DARK TOWER. A die hard fan of Stephen King's magnum opus, I touted the big screen adaptation as my STAR WARS. An event four decades in the making, THE DARK TOWER had a long and arduous journey to movie theaters that saw everyone from J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard fail to execute the grand scale of King's sprawling fantasy-horror-western-science fiction-romantic drama. So, when director Nikolaj Arcel finally made fans of Roland Deschain and Jake Chambers become a reality, I was stoked more than I have been for anything Marvel or Lucasfilm. As the critics began to screen the movie a few months ago, I waited with bated breath to find out if the movie was as good as the source material. Alas, virtually no critcs had kind words regarding THE DARK TOWER and I was beyond depressed that what should have been a home run was dead on arrival. But, the passionate fan that I am, I still watched THE DARK TOWER to see if my worst fears were true. But, instead I found myself watching an enjoyable introduction to the world of the Last Gunslinger and the Man in Black. THE DARK TOWER is a very watchable fantasy adventure that gets the main points of the mythology out there, setting up a universe of potential for the sequels and proposed television series.

I am not an apologist for THE DARK TOWER and I can fully appreciate why fans of the novels may be disappointed with what the final product ended up being. I am also not going to accept a mediocre film just because it is the only option I have to visualize a book on screen. Taking the novels out of the mix, THE DARK TOWER is a fun and engaging action film. Clocking in at just about ninety minutes worried a lot of fans as they could not figure out how an epic could end up so short. The first novel in Stephen King's series was by far the shortest in the eight novel cycle and the least like the other books. While literature has different standards (and cost implications) as compared to a major motion picture, it never worried me that THE DARK TOWER was short or unlike the source material. That coupled with the fact that Arcel and the creative minds who executed THE DARK TOWER treated the material as a sequel rather than an adaptation sets it apart from the books in a way that has never been done before. So, when looking at THE DARK TOWER, it is a wholly different experience than if the books had been faithfully translated. Would I have rather seen a direct adaptation? Probably, but because I didn't know what was coming, I was able to enjoy THE DARK TOWER much more than I would have if I anticipated every narrative twist or character decision.

The Dark Tower, The UnPopular Opinion, Stephen King, Idris Elba, Fantasy, Drama, Action, Western, Matthew McConaughey

For a modestly budgeted genre film, THE DARK TOWER looks better than it had any right to. The special effects are serviceable and never laughable and some of the sprawling shots of Mid-World benefit from the location shooting in South Africa. The fact the film actually shot in New York City also lends another layer of tangible realism to the film that helps anchor an incredibly unrealistic fictional universe. I have read some complaints that compare THE DARK TOWER to the slew of Young Adult adaptations that have been the rage since the first HARRY POTTER movie, but THE DARK TOWER still maintains some of the edge of Stephen King's books, thanks mainly to the excellent performances from Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. To be completely honest, when I read about the casting of these two, I assumed that they would be playing the opposite roles. I can still see McConaughey as Roland and Elba as Walter, but I am so glad they went against type. Elba is everything I could have wanted in Roland. Like many others, I envisioned someone physically like Clint Eastwood or Bruce Campbell as Roland and never quite liked the prospect of Russell Crowe or Javier Bardem as the gunlinger. Elba is pitch perfect and would be a reason to watch any futher sequels. He embodies the antihero as well as anybody could. On the flip-side, McConaughey caught a lot of flack for his physical interpretation of Walter. Literally a Man in Black, McConaughey was unfairly compared to Christopher Walken in THE PROPHECY. McConaughey hooked me from his first appearance in the movie and imbued Walter with a malicious blend of comic book villain and cold-hearted sorceror. If THE DARK TOWER is lacking anything, it is more interaction between our hero and nemesis. But, that is what sequels are for.

What THE DARK TOWER gets right is also what makes it controversial to fans. Stephen King's series is incredibly violent, profane, and sexually explicit whereas the movie is suitable for most ages. Virtually bloodless, THE DARK TOWER may gain new fans who decide to check out the novels only to learn that they are absolutely nowhere near a PG-13 rating. After being part of a select fanbase of the books, it is exciting to welcome new fans into the fold, but how many actual new fans are there? With the abysmal box office for the film (despite making back it's paltry $50 million budget, twice over), who aside from the die-hards actually saw it? Those that did were treated to a nice sweeping score by Junkie XL and crisp, epic cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk. In a year where Stephen King adaptations have never been better, THE DARK TOWER ranks easily amongst his best if simply because it serves as a love letter to the writer, chock full of cameos and easter eggs that pay tribute to the interconnected novels that King wrote to be a part of his magnum opus.

THE DARK TOWER was born of King's desire to create his own combination of LORD OF THE RINGS-like mythology with a pulp, spaghetti western hero. The film accomplishes that while leaving the additional supporting characters that fans cannot wait to see for the sequel. King himself took years to advance the story of Roland's quest and each novel transformed into a different kind of tale. Ranging from stories influenced by everything from SEVEN SAMURAI to THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE DARK TOWER can continue telling this new chapter in the saga by making the next film completely distinct from the first. Arcel and Akiva Goldsman along with Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen took elements from all eight books in the cycle to set the table for what comes next. Whichever filmmaker picks up the reigns next, they will have a much easier time now that the groundwork has been done for them. THE DARK TOWER is an achievement in such a daunting task while still managing to be a coherent and enjoyable movie in it's own right. I think viewers failed to see that this summer and owe themselves a second viewing.

There is also another movie hiding within the version of THE DARK TOWER that we got to see. No one will likely admit that there were forced compromises on the production, but I firmly believe that there is a director's cut that could completely change everyone's opinion. Even if those scenes never come to light. the negative perception of THE DARK TOWER feels incredibly overstated. Of the movies released this summer, I can name dozens that are far weaker and poorly executed than THE DARK TOWER and none of them benefit from the great chemistry between the lead characters. This is a movie almost out of another era that harkens back to the action-adventure flicks of the 1980s. Maybe THE DARK TOWER is a little late to the party but I am still incredibly glad it showed up.

The Dark Tower, The UnPopular Opinion, Stephen King, Idris Elba, Fantasy, Drama, Action, Western, Matthew McConaughey

Spoiled by the franchises that occupy the majority of our cineplexes and coupled with the knowledge that a movie is bound to be a series before the first chapter is even released, it is almost impossible for the mainstream public to just watch a movie on it's own merits. THE DARK TOWER is a movie that is lean and fast and doesn't spend nearly enough time building the gravity of Roland's mission to save all universes. My chief complaint is how easily and quickly the story wraps up when it should have left us begging to find out what happens next. But, even if the proposed follow-up film or TV show never happens, this movie is still an entry way for Stephen King's world to be unveiled to those who have avoided the hard to classify odyssey of Roland Deschain. I have no doubt that THE DARK TOWER will be much more popular on Blu-ray and streaming than it was on the big screen. Mark my words that within the next year we will hear about the production ramping up on the next chapter of Roland and Jake's quest. The Man in Black has fled across the desert and now it is time for us to follow what comes next.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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