Glad to see you guys again! This week’s post is a film review for The Dark Tower. It’s loosely based on The Dark Tower book series by Stephen King. Believe it or not, development for this movie was a huge roller coaster ride. It took years for a major adaptation to hit the big screen. The Dark Tower switched out more than one director, including J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard. Eventually, Nikolaj Arcel took over the film. I’m pretty sure the screenplay was reworked by more than writer too. Was the final product worth the wait? Read my review to find out.
Let’s start with my favorite components. I would say the strongest element in this movie is the three lead roles. Isn’t everything better with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey? Idris Elba is almost like a modern day Yul Brynner. He’s excellent with tough, stoic, and masculine characters. Elba plays Roland Deschain, the protagonist of Stephen King’s series. He’s a gunslinger who fights for the greater good in a post-apocalyptic world. Roland has a dark and troubled past that left him very jaded. However, he still maintains a sense of righteousness. It was also quite effective when he was paired with a boy named Jack Chambers, played by Tom Taylor. Jake brings out a softer side in Roland and Elba makes the transition seem convincing. In a way, Roland is a western action star, but he also serves as a mentor to Jake. I was surprised with Tom Taylor. Either the role suited him really well or he has good acting chops. I’m not sure which situation is more accurate. Jake seems like a nice kid, but he was born with powerful psychic abilities. Unfortunately, these strange powers turn Jake into a target for the Man in Black, aka Walter O’Dim. Matthew McConaughey plays the Man in Black, Roland’s arch nemesis. He’s a dark sorcerer who wants to destroy the titular Dark Tower. The tower serves as a medium between multiple dimensions. If someone destroys the tower, an entire universe of demons and monsters will bring apocalyptic chaos to Earth and other worlds. McConaughey truly developed into a fabulous actor through the years. The Man in Black is sinister, creepy, and an excellent foe to Roland Deschain. All three of the leading characters brought a lot of life to this film. By the way, I think ladies should try The Dark Tower. I know a handful of women who have crushes on Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Give the movie a shot! Maybe you’ll like it.
You probably want to hear about the story. Does it live up to Stephen King’s legendary series? Actually, the overall plot was heavily condensed and altered to fit into a 95 minute film. The movie is also PG-13. A lot of content was changed to suit the rating better. This will offend many hardcore fans of The Dark Tower books. Personally, I appreciated the changes. I wasn’t a big fan of the books. The overarching plot in the books seemed slow yet confusing and the characters weren’t very interesting. I thought the books lacked a considerable amount of action. Furthermore, I don’t understand why there were so many books. The Dark Tower easily could have been a trilogy. Go ahead and scorn me. I don’t care. Elements from several of The Dark Tower books were adapted into this movie and I thought it worked better. The pacing was good and there’s more action. Everything stays on track with the main plot and keeps moving forward. Character development is short, but it’s effective. I also appreciated the mentor and apprentice relationship between Roland and Jake. Their bond developed naturally and genuinely through the film. I think it’s nice to see a positive mentorship for youths in modern cinema. Many critics believe the plot is confusing. Well, it’s not any more confusing than the books. Even though the material was condensed, the basic concept and premise came straight out of the novels. If you want to blame something for the confusing element, take a look at the source material.
I also appreciated the homages to various elements in the Stephen King universe. Several of the characters say Jake has a “shine.” It’s another term for psychic energy and the word was used heavily in The Shining. The Dark Tower also includes strange, rat-like humanoids called Taheen or Low Men who serve the Man in Black. They made quite a few appearances in The Dark Tower books and other works, including Hearts in Atlantis. I also saw a reference to 1408, a haunted room that was featured in one of Stephen King’s short stories. The film briefly included a shop called Barlow and Straker’s. It’s a reference to the main antagonist in ‘Salem’s Lot named Kurt Barlow. He’s a vampire who terrorized a small community. Does that mean we’re going to see more creatures in future Dark Tower films? I don’t know, but it would be cool. For those of you who are Stephen King fans, there are plenty more Easter eggs hidden in The Dark Tower.
Now it’s time for the negative elements. Unfortunately, The Dark Tower was a middle of the road film. Not bad, but nothing special either. Aside from the characters, the other components don’t bring anything exciting or unique to this movie. It’s an average story, the visual effects aren’t great, there aren’t many surprises, and most of the scenes are predictable. In fact, you don’t need to be familiar with the source material at all. The movie will still be predictable. I saw this film at the Cine 1 theater at a Harkins location. It’s kind of the like the IMAX in Edward's theaters. I saw The Dark Tower with Dolby Surround Sound, a huge screen, and a crystal clear picture, but the special effects still weren’t impressive. That says a lot about a film in 2017.
The action scenes are definitely an acquired taste. They’re not typical of a sci-fi action movie. Roland is a crack shot with his pistol, almost like a sniper. Don’t expect huge shootouts with a lot of excitement. An enemy runs toward Roland and then he shoots it dead. Another enemy runs toward him and that one dies immediately too. There’s some novelty to his shooting skills, but it makes the action more abrupt. Part of the action relies on the Man in Black’s magical abilities. He uses telekinesis to throw objects at our heroes. It looks somewhat cool, but that style of fighting also changes the action. There’s finally one big shootout at the end. I waited through the entire movie for that type of scene. It didn’t lack action scenes, but I was still a little bit disappointed. I didn’t see enough monsters either. There should have been more creatures and demons terrorizing the characters in this film. Maybe their budget wasn’t big enough for a slurry of monsters.
I’m pretty sure there’s a plan to make more Dark Tower films. However, that might be a problem because the movie is receiving negative reviews from both critics and Stephen King fans. Some important details from the books were purposefully omitted because they could be explained in later films. For example, you’ll see graffiti that says, “Hail to the Crimson King!” The viewer doesn’t know it, but the Man in Black and the Low Men are simply pawns to a cosmic entity known as the Crimson King. You’ll see the tagline, but it doesn’t have any context. The film makers probably wanted to save that information for a sequel, but it would have been valuable in the first movie. They never mentioned Walter O’Dim’s real name either. His actual name is Randall Flagg and he appeared in several of Stephen King’s works. The Man in Black or Randall Flagg was also the main antagonist in The Stand and The Eyes of the Dragon. Hopefully, The Dark Tower will be successful enough to warrant a sequel.
Ironically, Jake is the central protagonist of this movie. It’s his film and Roland plays a guardian or mentor who rescues him. That was not an effective strategy. Roland Deschain was the undisputed protagonist in The Dark Tower book series. It makes sense because most of the series takes place in his home dimension called Midworld. He’s a gunslinger and action hero who’s on a quest to defeat the ultimate evil. Jake should be his sidekick and a friend who gives a different view on their situation. Even though I enjoyed their relationship, some elements were almost backwards. Roland as the main character was one of the few elements I preferred from the book series.
One of the big issues is the lack of a target audience. Who should watch this film? I couldn’t tell you. Fans of The Dark Tower books might not like it. People who aren’t familiar with the storyline might find the movie confusing and weird. In a way, it’s a post-apocalyptic film, but the elements aren’t hardcore enough to grab that audience. There are influences from westerns, but I doubt fans of the genre will care about The Dark Tower. It has action scenes, but that part wasn’t good enough to draw in the adventure seekers. This movie also has fantasy and sci-fi elements, but you’re better off seeing Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, and other films this year. Every film needs a target audience and I don’t understand why The Dark Tower’s creators didn’t realize that part. But I could be wrong. The Dark Tower might become quite successful at the box office. Time will tell.
Overall, I didn’t mind The Dark Tower, but it was underwhelming. Is it necessary to see this film on the big screen? Absolutely not. The story isn’t great and the visual effects aren’t impressive enough. You can wait for DVD, Blu-Ray, or digital streaming. I’m sure we’ll see The Dark Tower on TNT, FX, Netflix, Hulu, the Syfy Channel, and other networks in the near future. Rumor has it; The Dark Tower will also have a television series adaptation. I still wonder if lack of fan support will cause a problem for those plans. We’ll find out eventually.
That concludes my review for The Dark Tower. Do we have any Stephen King fans in the audience? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. I’m going to review many more films this year. Also keep your eyes open for posts about my trips to various events. I’m attending the Long Beach Comic Con on the Memorial Day weekend. You’ll probably see me at the Dapper Day Expo at the Disneyland Hotel and LosCon at the Marriot near LAX. I’m also going to have more discussions about steampunk and other punk genres. We still have a busy year! Thanks for visiting and enjoy your weekend.
Good evening! Some of you guys might remember my recent post about steampunk in 2017 and where it might be heading in the future. Today, I’m going to have a similar discussion about cyberpunk in 2017. Why am I taking an interest in this topic? It’s worth noting that cyberpunk was a significant predecessor to steampunk. We wouldn’t have steampunk without cyberpunk. Regarding entertainment, cyberpunk tends to move through media in spurts. Sometimes we don’t see it for several years. Lately, it seems like cyberpunk is making a small comeback. It definitely caught my attention. Here’s what I noticed so far.
There are two major cyberpunk films being released in 2017: Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner 2049. Ghost in the Shell came out in March and it received mixed opinions. Many critics and fans thought the visual effects were very impressive. The film also received some praise for having entertaining action scenes. But I read numerous articles about whitewashing, a mediocre plot, and a general unfaithfulness to the anime. I bought Ghost in the Shell on Blu-Ray and gave it a shot. Actually, I thought it take took quite a few elements from the anime series. I also appreciated the film’s cyberpunk material. Everyone was right about the breathtaking visual effects and action sequences. However, the whitewashing was really distracting and the plot was confusing. Granted, the anime is also confusing in my opinion. I don’t understand why the film makers didn’t cast more Japanese actors. Maybe they wanted a bigger following in North America. Ghost in the Shell had really strong cyberpunk elements, but other components brought down the film’s quality. It wasn’t particularly successful in theaters either. So, I doubt this movie will be an indicator of future cyberpunk films.
The new Blade Runner movie is going to be released in October. I feel really excited about that one. Hopefully, it will be just as good or better than the original film. A lot of hope is riding on Blade Runner 2049. If it bombs at the box office like Ghost in the Shell, I don't think we'll more cyberpunk films for a long time. But the trailers certainly look promising. It definitely seems like film makers are intrigued with cyberpunk at the moment. Keep in mind, none of the material is new. Ghost in the Shell was a Japanese anime. Blade Runner was a 1980s cyberpunk film. Think about a recent trend in cinema. Remakes, sequels, book adaptations, and franchises are a big deal in the modern era. Last year, we saw a remake of the Magnificent Seven. We’re still seeing a slew of Marvel and DC superhero movies. Kingsman is getting a sequel next month. We saw the first Assassin’s Creed movie last year. It took twenty years to make a sequel for Independence Day. Star Wars is making quite a comeback with new films. Alien also resurfaced from a long hiatus. For some reason, we’re still seeing more Transformers movies. Fantastic Beasts is a spinoff from Harry Potter. You get the picture. Unfortunately, the cinematic interest in cyberpunk is probably part of this trend with remakes and sequels. It might not be a very authentic interest in the genre.
I’m also noticing an increase in cyberpunk games. It’s not a specific trend to 2017. Deu Ex: Mankind Divided was released in 2016 and more games are in development. I thought Mankind Divided nailed the punk element, but the gameplay was pretty hard. It seemed like Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst also had some cyberpunk elements, but I haven’t played that one. Is The Surge a cyberpunk game? I think it counts to a certain extent. It’s a post-apocalyptic and dystopian video game that was released in 2017 with a heavy emphasis on body modifications. At some point, Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be released. There aren’t a lot of details for that game yet, but it’s certainly cyberpunk. A remake of System Shock is going to be released in 2018. We might not be seeing tremendous growth in the video game industry for the cyberpunk genre, but it’s still making a presence. Cyberpunk seems to fit better in the gaming world than literature. Can you guys think of new cyberpunk books? I can’t think of anything. They probably exist, but I don’t see a lot of cyberpunk literature in Barnes & Noble. In contrast, I see a lot of steampunk books on shelves. Gail Garriger, Cherie Priest, Scott Westerfeld, and Meljean Brook are some of the popular steampunk authors.
Basically, cyberpunk is thriving in some of the areas where steampunk falls short. It’s not unusual to see cyberpunk games and movies. Occasionally, steampunk films and games appear on the market, but I want to see a lot more. Why are film and game creators more receptive to cyberpunk than steampunk? I have some basic theories. Cyberpunk has more success in cinema and gaming during the past. Films like The Matrix, Terminator, and Blade Runner were very popular. A lot of Japanese anime series uses cyberpunk elements too. Several cyberpunk game series had a lot of success, including Deu Ex, Mirror’s Edge, and System Shock.
We didn’t see this level of success with steampunk films or games. A lot of the popular steampunk games were created for smaller platforms like tablets. I assume Dishonored is one of the more popular steampunk games for Xbox and PlayStation. It makes sense for cyberpunk to thrive well in the world of gaming. After all, technology, computers, and cybernetics is the heart and soul of cyberpunk. The aesthetic and stylistic elements give a lot of interesting opportunities in video games. Some cyberpunk games are darker and grittier like System Shock. Others are brighter and shinier like Mirror’s Edge. A lot of people call BioShock and Mad Max steampunk games, but they’re really part of the dieselpunk genre. That includes the Mad Max films too. Many steampunk movies tanked in the box offices and I have a feeling that directors and producers are hesitant to dive into steampunk again. With that said, the Mortal Engines is going to be released in 2018. That could be a good step forward for steampunk in cinema.
None of this information means cyberpunk is generally more popular than steampunk. We’re not seeing the quantity nor quality of cyberpunk work in literature, comic books, cosplay, conventions, DIY projects, clothing design, etc. Steampunk became an entire subculture. That’s a very impressive feat. Yeah, people could argue that cyberpunk is a subculture too. I just don’t see a huge cyberpunk following in the subcultural or literary world. We might see some cosplayers for Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner this year, but the trend won’t last. Will cyberpunk eventually grow into a big subcultural movement? It could happen someday. Anything is possible.
Overall, I would say cyberpunk is taking a few steps forward. One of two things will happen. Cyberpunk could become increasingly more popular through the next few years or it will be a one hit wonder in 2017 and drop down noticeably afterward. There’s a young adult film called Ready Player One coming out in 2018 and I’m pretty sure it’s going to have some cyberpunk elements. So, I don’t think cyberpunk is going to die out yet. Let’s see what happens. Please leave comments if you have any theories about the direction of cyberpunk. Next week, I’m going to post my review for The Dark Tower film. Believe me. I have a lot to say about that movie. Feel free to subscribe to my author website by filling out the Contact section. You’re being a great audience. Be safe and stay tuned for next week’s post.
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