The Dark Tower

Dark-Tower-rev The Dark Tower  (2017)    Columbia/Sci-Fi-Western-Action-Adventure    RT: 96 minutes    Rated PG-13 (thematic material including scenes of gun violence and action)    Director: Nikolaj Arcel    Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel    Music: Tom Holkenborg    Cinematography: Rasmus Videbaek    Release date: August 4, 2017 (US)    Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Jackie Earle Haley, Katheryn Winnick, Dennis Haysbert, Michael Barbieri, Jose Zuniga, Nicholas Pauling, Eva Kaminsky, Robbie McLean.


 After a long journey, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower has finally made it to the big screen. I find myself asking if this trip was really necessary. The answer is no. It’s a seriously botched adaptation of a series of books about a lone hero chasing his nemesis, the “Man in Black” (no, not Johnny Cash), across a wasteland in an alternate universe called Mid-World. I read the first four books but that was more than 20 years ago so I really don’t recall too many details. However, I remember enough to know that the story didn’t play out like it does here. The changes made by director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) and the four screenwriters are just one of the many problems with The Dark Tower.

Dark-Tower I want to go on record as saying I don’t detest The Dark Tower. It’s a bad movie alright but not one that draws my ire. No, I felt something else as I watched it; a profound sense of disappointment at the movie it could have been with a better script and director. Much like Tolkien, King created a world in the Dark Tower series. It was a world as vivid, detailed and textured as Middle Earth. I still recall the opening line of the first book (“The Gunslinger”) which read: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” It holds the promise of a cool story and delivers on it. King deftly blended elements of fantasy, sci-fi and the western and kept it going through seven additional books.

 Sadly, the makers of The Dark Tower have no respect for the original source material. The Lord of the Rings movies worked because Peter Jackson respected Tolkien’s books. I see no respect or love for King’s novels in this convoluted, soulless mess of a movie. I see indifference, cynicism and obvious signs of post-production tampering but nothing that acknowledges the awesomeness of the hero’s fight to prevent the destruction of a massive tower than maintains the order of the universe by the villain.

 A lot has been changed for the movie. Firstly, the focus is shifted to Jake Chambers (newcomer Taylor), the Gunslinger’s teenage companion. We’re told his origin story right away. He’s a troubled teen from present-day New York City who has visions of the Gunslinger, the Man in Black and the Dark Tower. Everybody thinks he’s delusional. His shrink explains that he’s still feeling the effects of his father’s untimely death. His mom (Winnick, Vikings) and stepdad (Pauling) decide to have him committed. Of course, the folks sent to collect Jake are really disciples of the Man in Black, also known as Walter (McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club). The boy escapes and goes directly to an abandoned house in Brooklyn that contains a portal to Mid-World. This is how Jake comes to meet the Gunslinger aka Roland (Elba, Prometheus).

 Their quest to vanquish Walter, which is partly motivated by revenge (he killed Roland’s dad), takes them to a village where it’s revealed that Jake has a special psychic power they call “The Shine” (where have I heard that before?). Then they take the next portal back to NYC to continue their fight against Walter. Have I left anything out? Oh yeah, NYC gets hit by earthquakes and a near-apocalypse. Also, there’s this facility that uses the energy of psychically-gifted children to try and destroy the Dark Tower. Also, at some point, somebody mentions Excalibur (the sword not the movie) but I can’t recall how it fits in to whatever’s going on.

 I never thought I’d say this about a movie but The Dark Tower is too short. It tries to cram too much into 96 minutes and ends up falling right on its ass. The movie makes very little sense. That, however, isn’t the funny part. Once Roland and Jake come to New York, it started to remind of Last Action Hero, the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger debacle that occupies a slot on my Guilty Pleasures list. At least that was a fun (and intentional) mess. There’s nothing fun about The Dark Tower. Some of the cinematography is too murky, especially in scenes involving creature effects. The CGI is passable. The visuals (in Mid-World mainly) fail to stoke the imagination like any given frame of a LOTR film. Elba does a decent job as Roland/Gunslinger. He brings a bit of gravity to his character, a man haunted by ghosts of the past and driven to avenge any and all past wrongs. McConaughey was an interesting choice for Walter/Man in Black but he doesn’t pull it off. The way he delivers his dialogue, I kept waiting for him to say “Alright, alright, alright.” He’s simply not evil enough. The climactic battle is very poorly handled.

 The Dark Tower fails on so many levels, it’s hard to believe studio executives felt it fit for release. To be fair, I don’t think anything could have salvaged it short of throwing out the whole movie and starting from scratch. What I saw today is one of the most disheartening and frustrating viewing experiences I’ve had all year. It’s not as colossally bad as other recent movies but it’s still a real summer bummer. This is NOT the movie fans want or deserve. 

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