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Geek Movie Review: The Dark Tower

This is a spoiler-free review.

Where I am Coming from: I have read, and enjoyed, the Dark Tower books, but I’m not invested in them, their characters, or the story elements. I have no primal need to see any of it in a specific form, so I can’t be disappointed the way I could be by Lensman or other formative stories of my life. To me the ideas are the best part of the Dark Tower, and I am most interesting in seeing those ideas on the screen, rather than any specific character or event.

My Reaction: I enjoyed this movie very much.  I found it to be well written, well acted, and well directed. The ideas I am most interested in from the Dark Tower began to be presented (obviously you can’t fit all the neat ideas from a multi-book series into a single movie), and the movie developed some of its own neat stuff, which I think is important for an adaptation.

It also gave me tons of ideas for stories and game elements, which is also a big bonus for me with a movie. There were a very few Easter Eggs I noticed that I enjoyed.

The Audience’s Reaction: The crowd at the theater I was at seemed to like the movie a lot, and their was applause when it ended. On the one hand I was at a super-cheap 11am Saturday matinee (less than $6 tickets) so people might have lowered the bar, but on the other hand the sound cut out briefly a couple of times at the beginning so a lot of people began the experience annoyed.

Of the people around me, I heard one person who specified they loved the books, and one person who said they’d never read the books, and one person who said they normally hated Stephen King all mentioned they enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t hear anyone have anything negative to say, though obviously the majority of folks didn’t share any opinion at all where I would hear it.

My Entirely Anecdotal and Subjective Verdict: I thought this movie did a great job of a very difficult task, and I hope the plans to related tv series and sequels are carried out. Most of the changes made from the source material seemed to be to have been made for reasonable goals, even if I might have gone a different direction with them.

This is particularly good as a source or inspiration for certain kinds of RPG settings, though I can’t say what without adding a spoiler. If you watch the reviews, it should be clear.

In my binary digit-based rating system, it gets a thumbs up.


Quick Spoiler-Free Geek Movie Reviews

My thoughts on movies have I seen recently:
John Wick, Chapter Two: It’s a Vampire Game, but with Assassins instead of Vampires.
Lego Batman: Not as good as the last Lego movie, but a lot better than the last Batman movie. Surprisingly deep in its geekery.
Godzilla Final Wars: Spectacularly weaponized cheese. Awesome to mine for ideas… as long as those don’t need to be ideas on how to make a good movie.
Death Race 2050: I think is is a ‘Sploitationsploitation movie. It’s a movie that exploits exploitation movies. For the curious, I do not consider this a good thing, but (no pun intended) it’s a lot like watching a car wreck.
The Wave (Norwegian: Bølgen): A Norwegian disaster flick with the heart of a horror movie. I loved it a lot, but I don’t think I ever want to see it again.
The Rezort: This is very clearly World War Z combined with Jurassic Park, but without the budget of either. It is also not the worst zombie movie I have ever seen.

Dracula. … No, the other one.

Much to my surprise, I ended up celebrating my birthday with a small group of close friends by watching the 1931 Dracula, which I had never seen on the big screen, at a local theater.

I hadn’t really realized how much of that movie is staring contests.

Or how much they lovingly focused on the stupid flappy-bat puppets. I am AWARE of the level of technology available in 1931, but I found myself thinking this looked worse than the same thing would have in person (relevant because Bela Lugosi originated the Dracula role in the stage play the movie is based on), and that it was a bad call to keep focusing on it for stretches of multiple seconds. In short, I strongly felt that even in 1931, they could have done better.

And then, the next part of the evening proved me right.

Because in addition to the Bela Lugosi Dracula, the movie theater was showing as a double-feature the Spanish-language Dracula which was filmed by Universal at the same time, on the same sets, with much the same scripts, but at night. When the English-language crew left at sundown, the Spanish-language crew showed up, and stayed until dawn.

I’ve been aware of the Spanish Dracula movie for years, but have never seen a single scene. Since we’d all just watched (and occasionally laughed at) the English, “classic” version, we agreed we’d give the Spanish version 10-15 minutes to appreciate the experience, then go eat.

Instead, we all sat enrapt for the full, longer running time.

No, it’s not a perfect film. I feel Carlos Villarías (credited as Carlos Villar) smiled way too much, but that might well be a cultural expectation of the time or the audience the film was made for. And while Lugosi has well-illuminated staring scenes, Villarías has the forehead-crinkle- extreme-close-up-cam. And some goofy things from the English language version’s script make it into the Spanish one.

But overall, it’s just a stronger film. Some is the fact it’s lighting is working with the schedule of shooting at night, and some was the director could literally watch the dailies of the English language film and see what did and didn’t work. The longer running time also works better for a bit of backstory (though not TOO much, since it still has an out-of-the-blue “It’s a good thing we killed that vampire, offscreen, without even suggesting we might do so” scene). But it’s also just a better shot, better acted, better directed film.

And the silly, floppy bats are used MUCH better. They are flashed by the screen so fast you don’t have time to notice how stupid they look. Or they create shadows, and we only see that sign they exist. What they DON’T do is hover in screen shot after shot, driving home how undangerous, undramatic they are.

A neat experience I never would have managed back in OK, and that I didn’t plan much in advance. A great birthday outing.

Then, we went to Shari’s and had birthday pie.

Geek Movie Reviews: San Andreas

Here’s my geek-tinted review of San Andreas. Mild spoilers.
First, this isn’t mostly about the quality of the movie. I like cgi disaster porn, and this was a good example of that genre. It gave me everything I wanted in that regard. If the idea of liking “cgi disaster porn” resonates with you, this movie should be fun. If you want more out of the movie than that, I make no promises.
I’m not saying it’s particularly believable, but at least the giant earthquake movie does focus around a major known faultline, and it doesn’t turn the silly up to 11 by having the east coast fall into the ocean or something.
It DOES have a takeaway I loved.
This is a movie that celebrates things I want to be celebrated by pop culture. The heroes are most often reward for being smart and educated, rather than strong or deadly. Indeed, the heroes never kill anyone. Rescuing people, most often through skill and logic, is the thing that allows the heroes to prove they are brave and heroic.
Scientists are rewarded not for magically fixing things with ray beams, but for running experiments to test theories, understanding the world around them, and using that knowledge to inform people.
No, the science may not be great (though it is better than “mutated neutrinos,” not that such a bar should be hard to clear), but the methods and ideas are recognizably sciencelike. Being at a university is heralded as something positive and awesome.
Also, none of the main female characters are powerless. Without their direct action, everyone else would have died at some point in the movie. Yes, The Rock is the main star, but after him it’s a team effort, and it’s very clear his daughter is the next most crucial protagonist. She gets off to a slow start. But after that her knowledge and decisions making keep people alive (a fact noted by other characters in the movie).
These are trends I approve of.
As a geek who loves largely mindless cgi disaster porn, I give this a d10.