Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
the idea of multiple interdimensional worlds / parallel universes / a multiverse
vengenance / revenge
sorcery in the Bible
paganism and mysticism
Is there an actual place called “Hell”? Answer
Why was Hell made? Answer
Is there anyone in Hell today? Answer
Will there literally be a burning fire in Hell? Answer
What should you be willing to do to stay out of Hell? Answer
How can a God of love send anybody to Hell? Answer
What if I don’t believe in Hell? Answer
THE GOOD NEWS—How to be saved from Hell. Answer
Matthew McConaughey … Man in Black / Walter o'Dim / Walter Padick
Idris Elba … Roland Deschain / The Gunslinger
Tom Taylor … Jake Chambers, the young boy
Jackie Earle Haley … Sayre
Dennis Haysbert … Steven Deschain
Katheryn Winnick … Laurie Chambers
José Zúñiga … Dr. Hotchkiss
Abbey Lee … Tirana
Alex McGregor … Susan Delgado
Nicholas Hamilton … Lucas Hanson
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|Director:||Director: Nikolaj Arcel—“A Royal Affair” (2012), writer—“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009), writer—“Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes” (2013)|
|Producer:||G. Mac Brown
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|Distributor:||Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures|
“Their war is coming to our world”
I hated The Dark Tower.
I actually thought about simply leaving the review at that; spending more time elaborating on how much I disliked this movie might give me a stroke from high blood pressure by the time I’m finished, and I don’t have hypertension to start with. But, I shall press on, because, while Roland The Gunslinger was monotonously philosophizing at one (of many) points in the movie, my thoughts did wander off to Christians and their responsibilities to be lights in the darkness, but not becoming so obsessed with surrounding themselves with other lights that they forget what darkness even is. I’ll get to that shortly.
If you didn’t know beforehand that “The Dark Tower” is based on an epic series of books by Stephen King, every trailer and magazine or billboard ad has done its job in filling you in on that detail. They have been talking for years and years about turning these books into a movie or series of movies, and names of actors and directors have been thrown around as being attached to the project, then detaching themselves, and it seemed like the movie would never be made.
In fact, there have been many who said that the books simply couldn’t be made into movies; the sheer scope of the material was impossible to adequately render on film. But, for Stephen King fans, the glimmer of the possibility was enough to leave them with the hope that the books would one day make it to the big screen and the movie(s) would do justice to the source material.
Admittedly, I am a fan of King, and read The Gunslinger a very long time. It is the first book of The Dark Tower series. But it wasn’t a book I connected with at the time, and, in the time since, had forgotten many of the details. So, I reread it a few weeks ago to reacquaint myself with the characters, even though I was hearing rumors that the movie was more of a mash of the books, and not a straight telling of the first novel. Which, sort of begs the first question: Why? If this is a movie for diehard King fans, not staying close to the source material will only infuriate them. And if it’s a movie designed to open up The Dark Tower universe to the non-King fans and casual summer moviegoers, cramming 8 books into an hour-and-a-half movie will likely confuse and bore—and then confuse them some more.
But, I told myself I would not go into this movie with the mindset of someone who is already familiar with the books. I wanted to be fair to the retelling, and impartial, so I promised myself I’d have an open mind.
And I failed. In like the first… 30 seconds. The Gunslinger novel opens with one of the most famous, and perfectly evocative, lines in the entire Stephen King book universe:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
And there was really no other way to open “The Dark Tower” movie. That is, unless you were the director and screenwriter, in which case you’d open with kids on a playground having the least amount of fun kids have ever had on a playground. These children were kidnapped by the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), because they had “the shine” (special psychic powers), and these powers can be harnessed to destroy The Dark Tower.
The Dark Tower is basically a huge edifice that stands between all the universes and protects them from the demons and darkness that lie just beyond. Destroying the tower unleashes hell on earth, which is why the Man in Black and his minions (read Satan and his demons) are hunting down children, hoping to find the one with the most “shine.” so they can bring down the tower once and for all.
Cut to the next scene where a young boy is waking up having dreamt about the kids getting their shine zapped from them. Extra points if you’ve already figured out, just from reading this far, that said boy has “the special shine” that the big bad guy is looking for. His name is Jake, and his bedroom walls are covered with drawings he has done of the images he has seen in his dreams.
Most of them are rather dreary, which has caused mom and step-dad to become quite worried. He sees a shrink, which doesn’t seem to be helping, and his mom is then contacted by people from a special “camp” that takes troubled kids away and helps them recuperate in a healthy environment.
(Side Note: The minions of the MIB have portals that they can use to bounce around between universes, and so certain hunters roam around finding children to take with them back to the MIB’s headquarters where The Dark Tower destruction device is located. These hunters have no faces, so, when they travel Earth, they have to use human faces to blend in. The process isn’t seamless, as the hunters have literal seams on the left side of their necks where the face is attached. Fun, right?)
Extra points if you’ve now figured out that these camp counselors are, in fact, Seamnecks. Which is a name I just made up. Because Jake has seen these Seamnecks in his dreams, he knows what they really are and escapes from his NYC apartment in search of an abandoned house he believes will help him find a mysterious figure who he thinks can help him—a gunslinger that appears in his dreams.
Jake finds the abandoned house, which happens to be a portal to Mid-World, where Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) is following his nemesis across the desert. After a period of time in Mid-World, where Jake almost gets taken by hunters, they travel by portal back to New York City (aka Keystone Earth) where Jake thinks he can help Roland find a different portal that will lead him to a showdown with the Man in Black.
By telling the story through the eyes of Jake instead of The Gunslinger, the filmmakers clearly hope to draw in a younger crowd. The film is rated PG-13, another strong indication that they wanted to cash in on kids and teenagers before they head back to school. While the film doesn’t contain much in a way of language (two uses of God’s name in vain and one s-word being the most egregious), it is rather dark and dreary and violent. An adult male seated near me actually jumped in fright during one scene.
The Man in Black comes upon one person early on in the film who is dying and terrifies the man by telling him that once he dies, there’s nothing beyond; that the afterlife is all a lie. Then he burns him. The Man in Black dispatches of people in various disturbing ways. He also walks by people and says one word to them, causing them to obey whatever he says. One young girl is having a friendly conversation with her mother, and when the MIB walks by he whispers “hate.”
We see the girl turned back toward her mother with a look of utter loathing. The face-less creatures, as well as the scenes of kids being “hunted” might frighten some younger children as well. There are lots of gun deaths and bullet wounds seen, although blood is suspiciously missing for the most part. Again, they wanted to ensure the PG-13 rating, but this isn’t a movie I’d recommend parents take their kids to or allow them to see.
But, I wouldn’t recommend parents take themselves to see this movie either. I don’t expect many people to be wowed in any way by this film. At best, there might be some “it was okay” comments elicited from the movie.
I personally didn’t find the acting to be anything special. I love Idris Elba, but his talents are wasted, and he plays Roland so solemnly that it causes a drab, dreary movie to feel even more bleak. McConaughey has the opposite problem. He clearly relishes the role of the Man in Black, and plays it so over the top that it feels like he belongs in a completely different movie.
The action scenes are CGI heavy, and sometimes distractingly so, especially a weird 3 second fight scene on a New York City bus. The script is so serious, and yet so seriously convoluted, that I think even most King fans will find things dull and confusing.
We aren’t given any real depth of character. We have no real reason to root for Roland, besides that we understand he is the protagonist. We know Roland is wanting vengeance, but the reason he is after the Man in Black is mostly unclear to people unfamiliar with the story. And, obviously, there are so many other details from the books they couldn’t squeeze into such a short movie, even details from just the first book to give viewers a better grasp. It’s just a mess of a film.
But there is one scene halfway through the movie that really got me thinking. Jake and Roland come across a very small town in Mid-World where they are looking for a Seer to help make sense of Jake’s dreams. Roland warns the townspeople of the darkness beyond, but most of them are in denial, thinking the demons and darkness, fire and destruction can’t happen because they aren’t actually there.
Roland tells them that isolating themselves in their little safe haven may make it seem like they live in a perfect world of light, but that doesn’t make the darkness, or the trouble beyond, any less real. As Christians, we, too, may fall victim to that. I speak for myself, here, as I know there have been times in my life where this was the case.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in church life or ministry life or Bible studies or church functions that our time can almost exclusively be spent among like-minded believers. When you surround yourself only with people who live and worship as you do, it’s difficult to see the darkness. And yet, we are called to be a light to the world around us.
We may pretend it doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t make the sin and the hurt and the pain in this dying world any less real. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. We can be a part of society, a part of culture, and still set ourselves apart by our lifestyle and values. Let the world know we are Christians by our love, the love of Christ that shines through us because of the Holy Spirit.
It’s the love this world so desperately needs, especially in the times we live in, and it’s the love we are called to share. We will only see a change when we take our Light toward the darkness and dispel it, not when we take our Light and run away from the darkness.
I was glad for that moment during the movie, where I allowed myself to mentally wander and self-reflect a bit, because I had grown tremendously bored by that point. And, to me, that was the most telling thing. For over a decade, I could not wait for the day when The Dark Tower books would be made into a movie. And then, the day it came out, only 30 minutes into the movie, I couldn’t wait for it to just be over.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.