Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (2017)

Stephen King doesn't need much in the way of an introduction as of this writing.  There's bound to come a time when that may change.  When it does, it will be necessary for proper introductions, if anyone ever decides to get reacquainted with the author and his writings.  For the moment, however, we live in a time lucky enough when a goodish enough majority of the audience not only has a workable a familiarity with King, it's also still possible to agree upon a number of facts about the kind of work he does.  His life itself reads like the 20th century equivalent of an American Dickensian novel.  He was born the proverbial poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks.  His dad left him and his mom one night to "go get a pack of smokes" and never came back.  King doesn't dwell too much on it in real life, and yet it reverberates through his fiction, especially in the writer's treatment of fathers and father figures.  

His major literary influences could also be described as regional.  He grew up in the Northernmost half of the eastern United States.  His home was and remains the sate of Maine, to be exact.  It's one of those factoids that's destined to pop up from now until eternity in every literary dictionary.  It's just one of the things most people are aware of, and yet only a handful will ever understand the true meaning of.  The crucial thing about it is that being raised as a Northern Yankee has given King a very important, and specific set of literary influences.

It turns out he wound up coming of age in a very storied part of the Country.  If he's a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, then it makes sense to claim that authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne were (in a sense) some of his closest neighbors.  What I mean is that one of King's most vital influences were the impressions left on his mind by his local surroundings.  He was there to witness a lot of the same kind of phenomena as that observed by the writer of such books as The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  Much like King's work, Hawthorne's writings concern the sometimes insular natures of small, New England towns.  Also like his more famous literary descendant, Hawthorne's writings reveals all the ways in which his neck of the literal woods can be described as haunted.  Sometimes these ghosts of the past prove to be quite literal.  And just as in works like The Shining or Salem's Lot, it turns out that sometimes ghosts can have teeth, and they bite.  What brought about this train of creative thoughts turns out to be the same one's as King's.  Each writer grew up in the same New England milieu.  This means that both King Hawthorne spent their formative years observing, learning about, and later on, rebelling against the kind of ingrained trace remains of their shared Puritan heritage.

This aspect of their lives, in particular, seems to be more or less the heart and origin of their equal artistic abilities to deliver the good frights.  I think all American Gothic fiction keeps circling back to its birth place in some way or another.  In this case, it was all down to the crimes and atrocities committed by the Plymouth settlers in the early years of this Nation's history.  Their acts of violence, first against Native, then African Americans, and finally themselves are what helped to create what might be termed America's original sin.  This is the matrix, or historical frame of reference which helped determine the face of the modern Horror story.  It's what helps explain the constant lingering presence of some dangerous past fault exerting an often deadly influence on the present action of the ghostly tale.  It might be considered the genre's grand motif, and it's something King still appears to be very good at.  And it all came about, not just for him but for all of the best writer's in the scare business because once upon a time, the "Pilgrims" forged for this Nation it's collective sense of guilt and fear.  These are the notes that Stephen King has been most famous for playing on during the course of his entire career.

To this day it remains his greatest strength as a writer, and it's what's brought him the fame he enjoys now.  The Horror genre has become the norm which King has established for himself.  He's so synonymous with the genre, in fact, that it's noticeable whenever he deviates from it in any way.  It's not something he does often.  If that were the case, he would never get lumped in with all the things that go bump in the night.  Instead, it's more like a side hobby he's tried to indulge in on occasion.  The most notable example of these occasional detours is a series known simply as The Dark Tower.  I'll at least try and explain what this idea is in a minute.  Perhaps the best way to go about that is by asking where the writer even got the idea for such a concept in the first place?  This is the way King describes how he got his inspiration for what has to be one of the most obtuse notions in the history of literary fiction.

"Hobbits were big when I was nineteen...There were probably half a dozen Merrys and Pippins slogging through the mud at Max Yasgur’s farm during the Great Woodstock Music Festival, twice as many Frodos, and hippie Gandalfs without number. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was madly popular in those days, and while I never made it to Woodstock (say sorry), I suppose I was at least a halfling-hippie. Enough of one, at any rate, to have read the books and fallen in love with them. The Dark Tower books, like most long fantasy tales written by men and women of my generation (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson, and The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks, are just two of many), were born out of Tolkien’s.

"But although I read the books in 1966 and 1967, I held off writing. I responded (and with rather touching wholeheartedness) to the sweep of Tolkien’s imagination—to the ambition of his story—but I wanted to write my own kind of story, and had I started then, I would have written his. That, as the late Tricky Dick Nixon was fond of saying, would have been wrong. Thanks to Mr. Tolkien, the twentieth century had all the elves and wizards it needed. In 1967, I didn’t have any idea what my kind of story might be, but that didn’t matter; I felt positive I’d know it when it passed me on the street...

"I think novelists come in two types, and that includes the sort of fledgling novelist I was by 1970. Those who are bound for the more literary or “serious” side of the job examine every possible subject in light of this question: What would writing this sort of story mean to me? Those whose destiny (or ka, if you like) is to include the writing of popular novels are apt to ask a very different one: What would writing this sort of story mean to others? The “serious” novelist is looking for answers and keys to the self; the “popular” novelist is looking for an audience. Both kinds of writer are equally selfish. I’ve known a good many, and will set my watch and warrant upon it.

"Anyway, I believe that even at the age of nineteen, I recognized the story of Frodo and his efforts to rid himself of the One Great Ring as one belonging to the second group. They were the adventures of an essentially British band of pilgrims set against a backdrop of vaguely Norse mythology. I liked the idea of the quest—loved it, in fact—but I had no interest in either Tolkien’s sturdy peasant characters (that’s not to say I didn’t like them, because I did) or his bosky Scandinavian settings. If I tried going in that direction, I’d get it all wrong.

"So I waited. By 1970 I was twenty-two, the first strands of gray had showed up in my beard (I think smoking two and a half packs of Pall Malls a day probably had something to do with that), but even at twenty-two, one can afford to wait. At twenty-two, time is still on one’s side, although even then that bad old Patrol Boy’s in the neighborhood and asking questions.

"Then, in an almost completely empty movie theater (the Bijou, in Bangor, Maine, if it matters), I saw a film directed by Sergio Leone. It was called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and before the film was even half over, I realized that what I wanted to write was a novel that contained Tolkien’s sense of quest and magic, but set against Leone’s almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop. If you’ve only seen this gonzo Western on your television screen, you don’t understand what I’m talking about—cry your pardon, but it’s true. On a movie screen, projected through the correct Panavision lenses, TG, TB, & TU is an epic to rival Ben-Hur. Clint Eastwood appears roughly eighteen feet tall, with each wiry jut of stubble on his cheeks looking roughly the size of a young redwood tree. The grooves bracketing Lee Van Cleef’s mouth are as deep as canyons, and there could be a thinny (see Wizard and Glass) at the bottom of each one. The desert settings appear to stretch at least out as far as the orbit of the planet Neptune. And the barrel of each gun looks to be roughly as large as the Holland Tunnel.

"What I wanted even more than the setting was that feeling of epic, apocalyptic size. The fact that Leone knew jack shit about American geography (according to one of the characters, Chicago is somewhere in the vicinity of Phoenix, Arizona) added to the film’s sense of magnificent dislocation. And in my enthusiasm—the sort only a young person can muster, I think—I wanted to write not just a long book, but the longest popular novel in history. I did not succeed in doing that, but I feel I had a decent rip; The Dark Tower, Volumes One through Seven, really comprise a single tale, and the first four volumes run to just over two thousand pages in paperback. The final three volumes run another twenty-five hundred in manuscript. I’m not trying to imply here that length has anything whatsoever to do with quality; I’m just saying that I wanted to write an epic, and in some ways, I succeeded. If you were to ask me why I wanted to do that, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it’s a part of growing up American: build the tallest, dig the deepest, write the longest. And that head-scratching puzzlement when the question of motivation comes up? Seems to me that that is also part of being an American. In the end we are reduced to saying It seemed like a good idea at the time (web)".

There's the actual truth of where he got this particular idea from, for better or worse, and I don't know how much or little that helps matters.  The very ironic truth of the matter appears to be very much as King says.  Perhaps this explains why it's so difficult to describe in any coherent way.  It might also be an explanation of why it both took so long for Hollywood to try and adapt the author's concept to the big screen, and why the final results turned out to be such a shambles.  Let's take a closer look.

The Plot.

The Dark Tower tells the story of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger in a parallel world that has “moved on”. He is on a quest to prevent the fall of a hub or nexus of all existence, the titular Dark Tower, from collapsing into ruin.  If it does, then all of reality will collapse into chaos.  For this reason, the Tower must remain intact and protected at all costs. In this quest, Roland is joined by Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy from our world. Opposing the Gunslinger is the Man in Black (Matthew McConoughey), a dark man, and powerful sorcerer, bent on seeing the Tower fall. A showdown between these two is inevitable.  If you have no idea what I just said, or think I’m spouting nonsense, then The Dark Tower movie is going to do little to help your misgivings.

Conclusion: Not the Best Idea to Begin With.

Perhaps this idea was more or less doomed from the start.  I'm not just talking about the concept for a movie here, either.  When I think of Stephen King's Dark Tower series as a whole, what comes first to mind to is the idea of a landscape of intriguing possibilities that forever remains half sketched in.  In other words, the whole thing amounts an unfinished literary image.  I think there's a pretty good explanation for why that is.  King says it all started with Tolkien.  In the strictest sense, there's nothing wrong with that.  The old Oxford English teacher has proven an inspiration to countless others over the years, and he'll probably be doing the same for generations to come.  The real crux of the matter comes in the way King was inspired by The Lord of the Rings.  He says his first reaction was somewhere along the lines of "I wanna do that", or else, "Man, why didn't I think of that"!  In essence, what the writer from Maine tells us is that once upon a time he was just this fanboy in the crowd who got caught up in a personal fantasy of either being J.R.R. Tolkien, or else trying to write something better than him.

There's a lot of hubris to go along with that ambition, and to his credit, this is something King is willing to acknowledge even to himself.  "I was nineteen and arrogant", as he explains it to us.  "Certainly arrogant enough to feel I could wait a little while on my muse and my masterpiece (as I was sure it would be). At nineteen, it seems to me, one has a right to be arrogant; time has usually not begun its stealthy and rotten subtractions. It takes away your hair and your jump-shot, according to a popular country song, but in truth it takes away a lot more than that. I didn’t know it in 1966 and ’67, and if I had, I wouldn’t have cared. I could imagine —barely—being forty, but fifty? No. Sixty? Never! Sixty was out of the question. And at nineteen, that’s just the way to be. Nineteen is the age where you say Look out, world, I’m smokin’ TNT and I’m drinkin’ dynamite, so if you know what’s good for ya, get out of my way—here comes Stevie.

"Nineteen’s a selfish age and finds one’s cares tightly circumscribed. I had a lot of reach, and I cared about that. I had a lot of ambition, and I cared about that. I had a typewriter that I carried from one shithole apartment to the next, always with a deck of smokes in my pocket and a smile on my face. The compromises of middle age were distant, the insults of old age over the horizon. Like the protagonist in that Bob Seger song they now use to sell the trucks, I felt endlessly powerful and endlessly optimistic; my pockets were empty, but my head was full of things I wanted to say and my heart was full of stories I wanted to tell. Sounds corny now; felt wonderful then. Felt very cool. More than anything else I wanted to get inside my readers’ defenses, wanted to rip them and ravish them and change them forever with nothing but story. And I felt I could do those things. I felt I had been made to do those things.

"How conceited does that sound? A lot or a little? Either way, I don’t apologize. I was nineteen. There was not so much as a strand of gray in my beard. I had three pairs of jeans, one pair of boots, the idea that the world was my oyster, and nothing that happened in the next twenty years proved me wrong. Then, around the age of thirty-nine, my troubles set in: drink, drugs, a road accident that changed the way I walked (among other things). I’ve written about them at length and need not write about them here. Besides, it’s the same for you, right? The world eventually sends out a mean-ass Patrol Boy to slow your progress and show you who’s boss. You reading this have undoubtedly met yours (or will); I met mine, and I’m sure he’ll be back. He’s got my address. He’s a mean guy, a Bad Lieutenant, the sworn enemy of goofery, fuckery, pride, ambition, loud music, and all things nineteen (web)".

There's a trick to the author's statements here, and I wonder if you've been able to spot it already.  King claims he doesn't apologize for the hubris of his thinking when it comes to Tolkien and The Dark Tower.  And yet he then proceeds to encode just such an apology into the next few paragraphs.  The gist of what he's saying, when you boil it down to its essence, is "Who knows, maybe I did make a bit of a blunder back there.  Guess maybe I got a little carried away there, for a long moment".  I'm sure that's one way to put it.  However, I think the real truth of the whole deal is that the writer bit off more than he could handle.  He wanted to be Tolkien on some level.  So he what does he do?  He decides the only way to accomplish this feat of literary brashness is to try and outdo the creator of Middle Earth.  Well gee, when you put it like that it doesn't sound arrogant, so much as it is flat out ridiculous.  It's like assuming that sort of thing just happens every day, or that just any writer can find or unearth that type of story.  Yo me, it sounds like an artistic miscalculation of epic proportions.  It's the kind of thinking typical of a very dry-behind-the-ears novice, one whose inexperience of the writer's trade is well apparent.

To state the facts in their most basic terms, when King decided to one-up Tolkien, he kind of went and made what amounts to a grand rookie mistake.  He seems not to have figured out a number of things.  To start with, there's the fact that the only literary "voice" he can set down on the page is his own, not another artist's.  The single reason LOTR turned out the way it exists to this day is because Tolkien (by his own admission) had the right temperament for the job.  In fact, one of his letters finds the Professor complaining about the "curse" of having such an outlook "in an age devoted to 'snappy bits".  The difference there is that guy had almost a lifetime of experience to draw upon by then, so he had a better sense of the risks all around.  King was probably just a 2 year old guzzling down formula on his mother's knee by the time Tolkien was beginning to find the rhythm in his first draft.  The point is that in trying to ape the work of another writer, instead of working to develop his own strengths, it is just possible to claim that maybe King wound up tripping over his own, outsized ambition and conceit.

There's a bit of a further punchline involved here, as well.  I'm more than willing to go along with idea that King wanted to emulate Tolkien on some level.  The curious thing to note is that it is just possible he managed to succeed in this goal, on at least one level, anyway.  When he's trying to write like someone he's not, all the positives aspects King's creativity wind up getting shackled by a form or mold that they can't fit into.  However, I've noticed that whenever he's just being himself, and sticking the kind of stories he's good at telling, then something interesting happens.  Without meaning to, or having to try, its as if King has found a way to channel all of Tolkien's storytelling strengths in a diction and style that nonetheless remains true to King's own creative voice.  This kind of indirect channeling of the great fantasy writer is most evident in works like Salem's Lot, The Shining, or It.  In these works, we see King conjuring up entire fictional landscapes whose style and scope find an easy match with the imagery of the creator of Hobbits.  The Overlook Hotel, for instance, is little more than the One Ring transmogrified in an entire haunted house, while places like Jerusalem's Lot, or Derry, Maine, come off as a unique and winning combination of Hobbiton and Mordor all rolled into one, seamless whole.  These are all examples of King at his best, and the irony is that in staying true to his own voice, he also manages to succeed at capturing something of the essence of Middle Earth for himself and his readers.

This leads me to the next hurdle that was always in the way of King's aspirations.  It's all a simple question of where his strength's as a writer end, and the weaknesses begin to show up on the page.  In some ways, this can be thought of as the one ironic positive to be taken away from the Tower series.  Nowhere else will the reader ever be treated to a catalogue that details all of King's aptitudes and potential shortcomings all in eight handy paperbacks.  If you want to learn what the writer is best at, and what he should probably learn to avoid going forward, then it all amounts to a good reference source.  To start with, there's probably a very excellent reason that King has limited himself to works of Horror, or else straightforward personal-social dramas.  What the Tower books tell me is that for better or worse, we really are dealing with someone whose strengths run more toward things that go bump in the night better than anywhere else.  King makes no bones about being a fan of the Fantasy genre, and there's about as much shame in that as there is in being able to breath clean oxygen.  It's when he goes from being a fan to a practitioner that his problems start.  A good example of this is that one time King tried to write an actual children's novel with essential ties to the Tower-verse.  It was called The Eyes of the Dragon, and while the writer's mind is in the right place, you can tell when his heart isn't in it.

To read Eyes of the Dragon is to discover almost a textbook demonstration of what happens when the words refuse to get up off the page.  At just 384 pages, the story should, or ought to be a brisk enough read.  However, the main action seems to drag and belabor itself.  The setting for King's secondary world is a semi-enchanted enough kingdom, complete with monarchs, queens, an evil wizard who shows up later in the other Tower books, a noble prince trying to escape from a prison stronghold, a wicked brother, along with a valiant maiden and a loyal dog.  They even manage to work in at least one, actual dragon.  On paper it all sounds like there should be enough there to spin at least maybe a decent sort of yarn.  However, King never finds anything all that interesting to do with the materials or patterns that appear in the fire.  The most interesting action set piece is the fight with the dragon, and yet it is related as a past event that remains in the background, even if it is one of the most familiar tropes the Fantasy genre has to offer.  After a few bits of palace intrigue and bad guy machinations, the hero is locked up in a different kind of tower, and from there the plot kind of grinds to a halt as all the characters go looking for the "Get-Out-of-Jail-Free" card.  It's a slog to sit through, and once the hero escapes, there's no much to look forward to in the way of a good stand-off against the villain.

All he does is chase our main cast through the castle and get cornered by a penitent younger brother.  Who then proceeds to shoot him in the eye before the bad guy makes a quick escape.  So far as plotting and denouements go, this one is mediocre.  Contrary to what others have said, King is capable of some pretty good endings.  This just isn't one of them.  Everything I've just said about this one attempt at children's fantasy also applies to the story of the Gunslinger and the Tower.  The best way to demonstrate how the exact same shortcomings manifest themselves in the latter series is by taking a closer look at the saga's main figure of Roland the Gunslinger.  By King's own admission, he's based off of Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name".  To his credit, it perhaps possible to claim that King finds a way of making this particular archetype his own.  The problem is after a while, he's really not able to do much else with it.  He sort of gives the character an attitude change of sorts after making the fatal decision about the life of a child.  From that point on, we see the Gunslinger always struggling to make amends and, as they say, be a better person.  The trouble is none of it is ever able to fully come alive.

Much like with the stock company from Eyes of the Dragon, Roland is a hero whose face is never really able to take on the kind of dimensionality that you get from characters like Jem Finch, Huck Finn, or even the cast that makes up the Loser's Club in King's own It.  Each of these samples represent cases where a narrative and its characters are able to take on or find a proverbial "life of their own".  The phrase itself might be a cliche, of sorts.  However that fact of the matter seems to be that there is a great deal of truth in it.  You can tell when both the writer and the narrative have hit their stride in any given work.  Usually it's an instant when the all the ingredients that go to make up the story begin to meld and mesh together.  The dialogue and description begin to flow easily into one another without missing a beat.  The action and pacing begin to have this sense of urgent vitality that keeps you turning the pages, even if the novel is an epic paced door stopper like LOTR.  In such cases, questions of length become moot because the story is too well written to put down.  Even those who have to set it aside do so with the knowledge that they'll be back as soon as they recharge their batteries, and best of all, the events in the fiction stand out clear a vibrant in your mind's eye.  That's what we mean when we say a story has taken on a life of its own.  It's true of works like Hearts in Atlantis, just not the Tower books.

I suppose that may not have had to be the case, yet it's what everyone is stuck with now.  I can even pinpoint the moment when I began to lose interest in what I was reading on the page.  The first, unedited version of the initial book in the series, The Gunslinger, has this trippy, surreal quality to it that compensates for a lot of other things that might be missing from the book.  It's probably the closest thing King has ever come to writing a kind of drug hazed fever dream in novel-length format.  This sense of weirded out fun continues for the length of the first book and manages to maintain itself through the prologue and opening first act of the second entry in the series, The Drawing of the Three.  After a bit more moments of desert gonzo aesthetics, the book makes an interesting yet seamless enough transition into what sounds like a straightforward crime drama with a fantastical overlay.  It's the closest King will ever get to writing a Martin Scorsese story, and most of it reads like a lark.  Then we reach the second part of the novel, and things begin to settle down in a kind of slow grinding slog of mediocrity from which the author can't extract himself, and which becomes the signature approach the entire series going forward.  The third book continues this trend and stays with it from there onward.

By the time we've reached the final entry in the series, everything has this strange, uninvolved, rote quality to it, like the author is struggling to find a way into his own story, and is having to work cold turkey, instead.  He'll reintroduce two or three other characters from some of his past novels, and we're treated to the sight of what happens when previously three-dimensional personalities are reduced to the role of mannequins being put through their paces, and nothing more.  Without naming names, I will say the whole thing strikes me as a deflating end for one of the more criminally overlooked figures in King's canon of heroes.  While it's possible that another gets a better send off, the minuses outweigh any pluses the writer is able to bring to the table.  What I'm left with throughout is a sense of struggle with no payoff.  The author seems desperate to try and find the right way into the narrative, and yet he can find no opening.  This is coupled with a furtive sense of creeping boredom.  There are times when it almost feels as if King is eager to keep things moving, because he senses that nothing is ever quite coming together in the way he planned or might have hoped for, so he keeps rushing his characters along at a break-neck pace that doesn't quite come off as natural, instead its just rushed and unfulfilling. 

The final result is one big, galumphing dirigible of a series where there is less cohesion, and therefore less overall narrative interest than it will ever have.  It telegraphs the truth of King's words when he says he started out with the all the arrogant self-assurance of the novice and then slowly moves from there to a less confident stance as things carry on.  By the time of the final three novels in the series, one gets the sense of King setting words down on the page, and just praying along the lines of , "Please don't let this suck".  When he reaches the end, the sentiment appears to go as follows.  "Huh.  Well, what to do you know?  Not out with a bang, but a whimper after all.  Guess this means I finally bit off more than I can chew.  Maybe that old Clint Eastwood phrase was true enough.  'A man's got to know his limitations.'  "C'est la vie, say the old folks.  It goes to show you never can tell".  In the end, it reads as if the author has acknowledged that whatever genuine inspiration he might have started out with, in the end, it was perhaps always more about a personal obsession that had less to do with literary ambitions, and more just a desperate, last minute desire to prove he could actually complete the darn thing, as a personal challenge to himself, if no one else.  In other words, the whole thing might have been rendered a pointless challenge, but at least he managed to do it, for what it's worth.  It's a textbook example of literary overconfidence coming up against the natural, artistic limitations of the writer. 

It's with this greater sense of perspective in mind that I begin to wonder if maybe any attempt at trying to bring such a clumsily executed hodge-podge was always going to be doomed from the start.  It would be easy to look at this film as an example of too many cooks spoiling the broth.  However, the truth is there probably was never enough material to work with in the first place.  I've already outlined enough reasons why this should be the case.  The biggest mistake you can do with an ill-defined, fundamentally unfinished idea like this one is to cook up the sort of anti-plot in which the main characters are put through one meandering scenario and set piece after another.  That means the audience gets the treat of following Idris Elba along as he tries his best to make sense of what on Earth is going on around him.  We first meet him as he's on the run from McConoughey's antagonist.  Elba's Gunslinger is there with his father.  There's a fight.  The Dad gets written out of the script.  Roland (Elba's character) vows revenge, and promptly proceeds to honor this oat by wandering around aimlessly through a dull grey desert setting which doesn't even begin to capture the trippy surrealism of the first book.  Instead, it's just the same washed out color palette, and its boring.  While this is going on, we cut to actor Tom Taylor, whose having just as much trouble playing his role of Jake Chambers.

The script tries to work in the idea that Jake is being haunted by visions of Roland and his world, and that these messages from beyond are slowly drawing him into the same adventure.  Pretty soon, Jake finds a portal that leads to the Gunslinger's realm, and the two embark on a quest to reach the Dark Tower.  Now, if all of that somehow feels incomplete to you, bear this in mind.  All I did right there was dole out all the information the film itself is willing to give its audience in terms of context and anything approaching all necessary background information a plot needs in order to be successful as an entertainment.  The obvious trouble here is that the filmmakers are unable to find any real creative idea that would help generate action, motivation, or forward momentum.  This results the in the generalized state of confusion that holds sway over the course of the film's runtime.  No one in the cast is ever quite sure what the hell is even going on, why they're here, or what they are supposed to be doing.  The whole thing comes off as the cinematic equivalent of poorly planned version of blind man's bluff.  The worst part is the slow dawning realization that someone forgot to bring along a decent target to aim for.

As I've said, it may be that failure was inevitable.  Another reason for why that should be might have something to do with a different sort of curious phenomenon.  It's something I've been aware of for a while now, and no one else seems to notice.  It really does appear as if certain books refuse to lend themselves to either the big or small screen adaptation format.  Among this illustrious and unfilmable list include such masterpieces as Frank Herbert's Dune (as we seem to be finding out just recently).  The other is a bit more controversial, as it's the aforementioned Lord of the Rings.  Turns out I'm one of those guys in the audience who remains convinced that a novel with the type of scope Tolkien is working with will forever remain uncaptured on the big screen.  The reasons why are pretty simple.  

What the old Oxford professor has done is taken a creative idea, an archetype (for lack of a better), with so much creative vitality packed into it that it can never be pinned down.  The story's true residence will forever be in the imaginations of its readers.  It's one of the  most ironic, yet also brilliant accomplishments in the history of literature.  There is a sense in which King's Dark Tower books fit into this same category, and yet it's for very different reasons.  Tolkien's books confound Hollywood because there is too much power in the story for any adaptation to ever contain it.  King's series presents the opposite problem.  In his case, there's just too little story for any director to work with.

This might also explain the unenviable position that Nikolaj Arcel, the film's director, found himself in.  The way he handles this film tells me two things.  The first is that it's clear he's got no real familiarity with the source material.  The second is that even he did, it's likely none of it would have really been able to help the director in bringing this project to completion.  Arcel had so little to work with in the first place that's its no wonder if the finished product comes off as a case of the filmmaker throwing up his hands in defeat, and leaving the whole thing off by the side of the highway, somewhere.  It displays a fundamental lack of confidence in both the makers and the producers of this story, and so it's no wonder that the whole thing comes off as an incoherent bore.

It would be useless to try and refer the movie to any single book in the series, as you can’t just point to the first book, The Gunslinger, as the main engine for the film. Instead, the picture is a literal cut and paste job. Most of the film’s elements are borrowed from The Wastelands, the third book in the series, along with concepts and settings that don’t make their appearance until the final two books in the saga.

These elements are thrown together into a blender that removes any narrative coherence or impact they may have had from their original novels. As a result, all the movie’s set pieces are out of left field, and underwhelming. Perhaps the best sequences come near the beginning, when Jake is just learning about the Tower, and his escape to the alternate world. The latter sequence features a chase sequence in haunted house that is taken direct from the third book. This scene features Jake on the run from the Guardian of said house, and is the closest thing to a highlight the movie has to offer. The sad part is that it’s just a glimpse of the mind-bending awesomeness that could have been.

The film is also proof, if any were needed, that all actors and cinematographers, no matter how good or bad, are all at the mercy of the text, or script, at the end of the day. Elba and McConoughey have both proven they are capable of carrying either a film or TV series. However, this film goes a long way toward highlighting just how important the writing is in such endeavors. Without a well written or coherent story to work with, both actors seem to just glide through their scenes with an obvious confusion. In the end, each one has to fall back on their own cinematic persona to take them through. It must be hard having to say lines that sound like the rejects from some long-forgotten Saturday Morning Cartoon. In the end, this film is worth a miss. There is nothing to recommend it, nor will it make a difference to even the cast crew who worked on it.  I'm afraid the real truth of that matter is that The Dark Tower amounts to another case of one of those ideas that just got away and out of hand.

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