I couldn't sleep last night. Last time I checked the clock it was approaching 2:30 and it would be a while yet before I finally nodded off. Was it caffeine from too much coffee? Was it eager anticipation for our early morning student matinee?? Was it good old fashioned anxiety at the state of the world???
Alas, no. It was the 2017 movie adaptation of The Dark Tower directed by Nikolaj Arcel, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey—perhaps one of the most poorly received films in my lifetime.
Warning: This is a nerd post through-and-through so if you're not a Stephen King fan, this may not be for you...
That movie was a stone cold bummer partly because so many quality versions of the story were scrapped on the pathway to this particularly unfortunate manifestation.
And what kept me tossing and turning was the realization of why I disliked the thing so much. And it was such a small thing too. Literally. Because let's be honest there was so much to like! Especially for someone who loves the books (I've read them through more times than I can count) and who also LOVES terrible movies.
We were finally getting a major studio, big screen version of one of the most popular stories published in living memory. McConaughey as Walter was great casting—that blend of humor and menace bubbling just under the surface. Idris Elba as Roland was #ChefsKiss. He carries himself with a focus and intensity that can bore it's way through a mountain.
And I loved the idea that this version of the story would be a different trip through the Tower, perhaps one in which Roland carries the Horn of Eld with him to the end. I didn't even mind introducing Jake in a way that mashed several books together, despite skipping over Eddie and Susannah (arguably the most interesting characters in the series). Melting the plot of the final book into a smorgasbord of the first and third was confusing, but I was on board. After all, this is a different journey to the Tower than the one we read in the books.
Granted, all of that made for a fairly messy movie. But I don't mind, the story itself is messy and at times beyond confusing. And let's be honest, I love a good mess of a movie. Most of the Bond films? Are they legendary classics that I enjoy, Yes! Do they stand up as finely crafted cinematic masterpieces... Eh... Temple of Doom: Let's be honest, if it wasn't for Short Round, Harrison Ford's sex appeal, and eyeballs in the soup, I'm not sure it'd be all that memorable of a film. And CLUE!? Easily my go-to most often watched movie. But, c'mon. If it wasn't for the magical chemistry of the cast, that script would be just another forgettable game-to-movie adaptation.
And I was soooo ready and rooting for The Dark Tower. I remember sitting in the movie theater before it started and saying out loud, “I don't care how bad this movie is. We're going to Mid-World!”
But back to my sleepless night and the small thing that ruined it all: Speed-loaders. Doohickeys that enable you to quick load a revolver. But these were fancy. Gimmicky little pieces of steampunk tech. Roland carries them around his gun belt, flips them up in the air, the nifty little gadgets whir around all fancy-like, fall perfectly into the cylinders, and bang-bang-bang-goes-Frankie's-gun.
One problem with that: ROLAND. HATES. GADGETS. He loads his guns by hand. Blazingly fast. So fast, Eddie can't see his fingers move for their speed (and granted we did get an instance of that which I cheered for). But even when Roland is incapacitated with infection or arthritic pain, he still fumbles each bullet into the cylinder one-by-one. He would never to use a tool where his own hand would serve. No shortcuts or clever little machines for Roland of Gilead. He doesn't think around corners, he barrels through the wall and brings the house down around him.
It was such a tiny little thing, but it kept me up because it revealed just how little the filmmakers understood the basic character of Roland and hence why the movie would go on to flop. Roland despises and mistrusts gadgetry and complex machines. He disdains what he calls “quick shooters” because of how easily they jam. He relies on the quickness of his eye, the keenness of his mind, and the intent of his heart.
Eventually I managed to fall asleep and now in the cold light of day, I want to go back and rewatch The Dark Tower to see if it still disappoints. Because at the end of the day, it's just a movie. And it was an endeavor that employed hundreds of artists for which I will always cheer. But ultimately it failed because the director and producer forgot the faces their fathers and despite possessing near perfect source material, managed to make one of the most anticipated, worst movies in recent memory.
I hope that someone, sometime, somewhere manages to get it right. I look forward to reaching that level of the Tower.
For after all, there are other worlds than these...
I'm an actor and voice over artist. Shakespeare pays the bills but I make the food...