Stephen King’s most epic saga of novels comes to life in the big screen adaptation, ‘The Dark Tower’. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is an ambitious 11-year-old adventure seeker who discovers clues about another dimension called Mid-World. Upon following the mystery, he is spirited away to Mid-World where he encounters a Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is on a quest to reach the “Dark Tower” that resides in End-World and reach the nexus point between time and space that he hopes will save all existence from extinction. But with various monsters and a vicious sorcerer named Walter o’Dim, A.K.A the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) hot on their trail, the unlikely duo find that their quest may be a difficult and deadly one to complete, saving the world from a man worse than the devil himself. ‘The Dark Tower’ is directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel, and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.
It’s difficult to gage where the big screen adaptation of the super popular novels was supposed to appeal to. For the people who have read what is critically acclaimed as his “Magnum opus” of books, this is as cheap of a knock-off as you could possibly get. A brash disappointment to the kind of fantasy dreamscapes and supernatural aspects that make it an irresistible piece of immersive literature. For those who have not read the novel, there won’t be much to grab onto either, as the film kind of requires that its audience must know the bare minimum of rules and logics within this world. Otherwise, the new fans will be clinging to any kind of explanation for something they don’t understand, making their first intake to this story one that is heavily flawed in storytelling concepts. ‘The Dark Tower’ feels cheap in every possible way because it cuts itself too short time-and-time again, choosing instead to follow the cheap and limited boundaries of a PG-13 young adult constriction rather than the R-rated Science fiction thriller that it should’ve been. As far as book-to-film adaptations go, it might be the most disappointing of all time, and feed into the theory further by some of the novels fans who claim that this series is impossible to adapt faithfully.
After doing some studying, I found out that this film is actually supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the novels itself, and not a take from the first novel, one of my personal favorites in the series. So already we as an audience are taken on a trek of betrayal by the film’s producers who have been promoting this like the next big series for quite sometime. Even this direction is heavily flawed in logic because the film takes characters like Jake Chambers and makes them a pivotal point in this story, while stripping them of anything that makes them remotely identifiable. In fact, this film is introduced by playing into Chambers story rather than Roland’s, and I found this to be a dramatically huge mistake that blazes a trail of displeasure much further than how terribly underwritten these characters really are. The narration feels like we should already know everything about these worlds and characters, and chooses to educate the new fans any further on what questions they might have. One that I myself as a fan of the novels brought up was the explanation for why The Dark Tower is essentially pointless in this film. The idea is that the destruction of this tower will cause hell to be unleashed upon our world, but that makes no sense when you consider that McConaughey’s Man in Black is already doing that, piling up body after body in his wake of devastation. In fact, the more you think about it, the bigger the flaw is that an antagonist who can click his fingers and kill people would need any further help in getting the job done.
This constantly feels like a movie that is being played in fast-forward, moving along with pacing that never stops once to take anything of the culture in to further the fantasy elements to the plot. Such an example of this is in nearly every single scene that involves Roland or Jake, as they are constantly preparing to travel somewhere other than where that scene is. If you wanted a terribly shitty cliff notes version of The Dark Tower folklore, then this will be right up your alley because it feels like the three different writers within this film have the attention span of an 8 year old child, choosing instead to speed their way to a final act and conclusion that set this thing at right under 95 minutes, the basic average of studio offerings. Imagine that you’re told by a studio to adapt the epic thousands of pages of material that you have written into 200, and try to make that compelling. That’s what the film is asking of us as an audience right here. If there was one benefit, there are some satisfying Easter eggs thrown into the film from time to time that range anywhere from other King novels like ‘1408’, ‘IT’, or ‘The Shining’. It was in this aspect and this one alone where this feels anything like its literary companions because The Dark Tower serves as the universe of sorts to the entire Stephen King Universe. So it feels like a tragic misstep when you consider how these eggs don’t even begin to scratch the surface of a much bigger picture.
The action is quite limited, but appealing when on-screen to some average CGI designs that are at least responsible enough to keep most of the shading problems of its creatures in the dark. The computer generated backdrops do work wonders for what little few chances that we do get to see the midworld, as well as the tower in this film, but it’s just a big shame that they are such a miniscule presence in a film that would rather base a majority of its visual compass in New York, a place with no shortage of big screen settings in film. The final inevitable showdown between The Man in Black and Roland feels so distanced between them, opting instead for the magic of both characters to their arsenal. What this lacks is that personal taste of vengeance for both of them that really sets it all off and leaves the audience on the edge of their seats, leaving an ending that was every bit the reminder of the previous acts that told me to never trust Hollywood again with timeless artistic expression.
As for the performances, there was definitely one shining example among the other miscast choices, and that was Idris Elba as The Gunslinger himself. Whether people want to admit it or not because of their color preferences, Elba embodies everything about being a magician behind the gun; heart, strength, and most importantly precision. With a gun, Roland simply cannot be stopped, and some of the trickery that the film focuses on with his hands make up for the lack of personality or backstory that they dispel upon him or any of the other two main leads in the film. As Jake, Taylor isn’t terrible, but there simply isn’t enough charisma in his deliveries to give this character the attention and the majority of runtime in the script that he so desperately craves. Again, possibly call it bad directing, but I lacked the empathy that I felt for Jake in the novels, especially considering his Father isn’t anywhere to be found in this story. It pains me to say this, but McConaughey was terrible as The Man in Black. Matthew underperforms every line of dialogue and sinister delivery to never make him feel like anything supernatural or unstoppable in his register. Even more apparent was just the lack of commitment that his line reads deliver, making me question several times if this really was the best read that the director decided to go with. To that theory, funny enough, there is a line where he talks about death always winning in the trailer, and it’s given with much more energy and emphasis than the scene used in the actual film. I can never understand why these kind of decisions are made in post production, but they do no favors for the legitimacy of a man who is deemed “Worse than the devil”.
THE VERDICT – Bad Stephen King adaptations are certainly nothing new to this critic, but ‘The Dark Tower’ feels like the first slap in the face of fans who have waited decades to see this epic play out on the big screen. The unlimited levels of potential are traded in for a rushed script that only borrows key aspects to the story without context, bland performances besides Elba, and a plot hole so big that you could fit an entire tower inside of it. When given the option to see this one, take the bullet and read instead.