Friday, August 4, 2017

THE DARK TOWER is a generic lobstrosity of moviemaking

This poster is the most creative thing about the movie.
 So, here's the thing: I do like the books.  I'm not one of those die-hard fans that probably wrote nasty letters to the author when they heard about the changes that would happen (good ol "Uncle Stevie" King, who, by the way, gave his OK on this movie, probably a business/marketing decision one hopes during this Year of the King in pop culture), but I have read the first four and have found such rich world building, full of weird and truly outrageous decision, wonderfully hard-"R"-rated violence (if you ever get to book two, my lobstrosity reference will make sense), and characters that King gives the same time he does in his other books the depth and motivations that get us to care about them. 

But at the same time I'm also someone that not only recognizes his works will sometimes (maybe usually) have to undergo changes when going to the screen, it can sometimes be to a benefit... but it's under certain circumstances, which are this: there needs to be a strong script, and there needs to be a modicum, if not a wealth, of vision.  King can complain all he wants about the changes Kubrick made to The Shining, but it's a film overflowing with vigorous, original vision, leaping off from King's text into a work of art.  Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Green Mile, Carrie, they all start off doing the things a movie should do, regardless of where they come from: give us actors who have personality, charisma, chemistry or some kind of presence that makes them stand out, a way to get us invested in the worlds its set in, despite/because of the fantastical elements, and, yes, that word again, a sense of making a movie POP and shake us and move us.  The Dark Tower does none of those things, and more sinful than that, as Capra would say, it's boring as an IRS clerk.

In a way I'm disappointed more as a fan of... movies than I am as a fan of the books.  Certainly this is not to say I didn't find some issue with things that were changed - aside from this being a bloodless, PG-13 affair (which, I'm sorry, if you adapt the books, you should *try* to get that part of it right at the least), from my recollection (and it's been a while), Walter (McConaughey) was more of a lone-wolf character, this supernatural presence as a wizard who worked, I believe, alone, and instead here runs like some kind of fortress facility where he hooks up kids to a thing so it can do another thing to a tower and I'm dozing off typing about this - but the whole thing comes off like it was directed by some hack who was aiming for it to be a 2-hour TV pilot (minus commercials) for TNT or some other bland cable network.  No one has personality, the plot is rushing along as characters explain some things and not others (because, y'know, other episodes to come), and it doesn't do the *work* that should be put in for a singular cinematic effort.

Aw, where's Logan to criticize an illustration/reinterpretation when you really need him?

I actually was mildly amused by a couple of moments, and had some hope, when Jake and Roland go midway through the movie through the portal from the Mid-World to New York City.  As they are after the Man in Black, they have to go back to Jake's home-world (this after, as the set-up for the film, Jake keeps having visions of this place - just because, it's explained so briefly he and lots of other kids have the "Shine", ho-ho), and there's some culture clash here and there.  It's not an accident that in a way Roland in this reminded me a little of Captain America and in that way of the first Cap movie being also largely dull, it's a matter of, well, perhaps the other characters around this heroic piece of hero-sauce will elevate the material.  But these moments in New York (i.e. seeing talking animals on screen, encountering a hot dog) are brief, and it returns to the generic action-movie scenario much too quickly.

Even things like production design are awful; you can't get invested in the Mid-World - to go back to it again, sorry, but the books are bubbling up in my brain like opening up a can of soda and unlike there, where part of King's idea was to have traces of what used to be our world in there, like Hey Jude playing as an old-time standard - since everything feels so safe and bland in that way of rocks and gray and earth tones and nothing standing out.  But that comes back to the director, who maybe was in over his head (I haven't seen much if anything he's done before), and a script that, aside from calculating things for future movies or shows or whatever, gives no one a character.  Even Jake, who at first I thought had promise in the first ten minutes (actor too), has the same serious expression on his face, as does Roland (to be expected), and, most unfortunate of all, McConaughey as Walter.

With a villain, or an actor going for it, that might be chewing the scenery or really playing up the evil of it - think about it, Walter has to be egocentric as hell, a guy who gets to play God AND the Devil and control people at will - and he never looks like he *enjoys* his villainy, like it's a chore.  The book made me picture Willem Dafoe; here, McConaughey has flickers of doing something with the role, but it never comes through, or perhaps better/more unusual stuff was left on the cutting room floor.  And meanwhile Elba, who, if you saw this as your first exposure to him might wonder what he's doing as an action hero, is also left with a character that has no dimension outside of his father complex and gunslinger mantra.  The problem isn't that Roland is black - the problem is that Roland is surrounded by a shitty script and a shitty director and a studio that doesn't believe in its own property to let it go uncanny and bizarre and a little demented around the edges. 

I went into this with as open a mind as I could, despite all the reviews (or, in a way, because of them, expecting perhaps to be let down so trying to adjust expectations).  I think it's the medium part of it that bugs me the most, that as a movie in and of itself it falters on the basic levels of getting me to care about what's going on and trying to do something just a teency-weency bit different with the form.  The only wildness about it is its mediocrity, the post-apocalyptic equivalent of SPAM.  A world established here that has such potential shouldn't be putting one to sleep, but it does, and that's something King's books rarely did.