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‘The Dark Tower’ film review: A conceptual misfire, trying to pack nine books in 90 minutes

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, the movie has been adapted from Stephen King’s book series of the same name.

The Dark Tower adaptation was always going to be tricky. Described by author Stephen King as his “magnum opus”, the eight novels and a novella in the series span several timelines, parallel events, and are hardly conducive to a straightforward film adaptation. Several screenwriters and filmmakers, from JJ Abrams to Damon Lindelof and Ron Howard, have attempted to film the series since 2007, but in vain.

The seemingly unfilmable has finally been put on screen by director Nikolaj Arcel and a screenwriting team led by Akiva Goldsman, and their The Dark Tower is an earnest but lifeless effort to put together a multiverse fit for a television series.

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a New York City native whose psychic powers (called “the shine”, a nod to King’s The Shining) enable him to see visions of the gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the evil sorcerer Walter Paddick (Matthew McConaughey) and the eponymous Dark Tower. Paddick’s motive is to take down the Dark Tower that holds together all creation. To do so, Paddick needs to harness the power of children who have “the shine”. He sends his minions to capture Chambers, who crosses over to the old West-like Mid World where all the action is, and joins hands with Deschain to protect the Tower.

King’s The Dark Tower universe is extremely vast and complicated, and Goldsman’s team combines events, timelines, and characters in a bid to produce a coherent spectacle-based blockbuster movie that is meant to hold its own as a standalone version of The Dark Tower mythos.

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The Dark Tower.

What is lost in the process is sufficient exposition for newcomers to The Dark Tower universe. For instance, concepts such as the Mid World, Algul Siento and the gunslinger’s history cannot be packed into two-minute scenes. Fans of The Dark Tower book series will find the movie alienating and exploitative because of the way the story has been pulped into an easily consumable product with an eye on creating a billion-dollar franchise.

As an action-fantasy film in isolation, The Dark Tower is no different from most coming-of-age teen-adult movies of its kind. The action and the special effects, with all their Hollywood finesse, are far from path-breaking. Taylor, Elba and McConaughey are always on point, with their sincere commitment to the material at hand. Elba plays Deschain as a disgruntled lone gunman type singularly devoted to killing Paddick (in the books, Deschain’s motivations keep changing over time), while McConaughey effortlessly slips into the role of an all-powerful demonic character.

But good acting alone cannot save a film that is wrong at the conceptual level. If the three Lord of the Rings novels require films of the same number and Game of Thrones needs more seasons than there are books, how can a 90-minute film recreate the power of King’s nine-book series comprising of over a million words?

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.