Synopsis – The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black
My Take – I think we all know the importance of the immensely popular, highly successful, bestselling author Stephen King in our pop culture. With an ever-going cult of followers, it’s obvious like every other successful author, Hollywood is going to find a way to milk that success in their favor by bringing his works on the big screen, however adapting author King‘s works has been a long running issue. For every The Shining, It and The Shawshank Redemption, there have been films like Dreamcatcher, Cell, and Graveyard Shift to diminish his status quo. As a reader of some of his novels, I feel the big issue is that King often creates detailed characters with complex backstories and puts then in fully developed worlds that despite their supernatural nature, often are easy for readers to relate to. Also as any reader of his books knows, King is not one to spare the paper and his books can be very lengthy offerings, as a result of which in order to suffice the adaptation to an estimate 120-minute run time, the screen writers end up condensing a lot of the good material. However, from the first look of this film, it seemed like director Nikolaj Arcel had found a way to make sure that the epic and grand feel of this famous series remained. An adaptation of King‘s largest offering which rolled out from 1982-2004, consists of seven books, a Prequel comic, a currently running Marvel imprint & a bunch of spin offs, all tie-in its vast universe, with King clearly stating fantasy epic Lord of the Rings series and western spaghetti films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as his main inspiration. After skimming through the basic plot points, keeping very low expectations in mind, mainly due the negative buzz due to its troubled production, I went on to view this film and judge it for myself. Unfortunately, the reviews were not wrong! I get it I did not read any of the novels, but I think I am more upset about the amateurism of this film, mainly as it takes a sweeping epic, dumbs it down, loses the focus and lazily tries to make it look cool for a younger audience. While there are some good ideas, I can’t help but feel that this will be somewhat heartbreaking for fans of the books who were actually excited to see it. It seemed like it wanted to be many things, but unfortunately everything just falls flat.
The story follows Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a teenager suffering from horrific nightmares after the death of his father. In those nightmares, he sees Walter aka the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who uses children in a weapon, all in an effort to destroy the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is a mysterious skyscraper standing tall in the center of the universe, protecting all worlds from the evil that lies beyond, out in the darkness. Convinced that Jake needs psychological help, his mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) along with his step father, set him up at a special clinic. But upon realizing that the operators of this clinic are strange creatures wearing human skin aka Walter’s minions, Jake escapes and finds an abandoned house which serves as a portal to Mid-World, home to Walter & Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), a former Gunslinger. The last of the Gunslingers, Roland was a part of a Knight like group who uses guns, a rare commodity in this world, to protect the dark tower & fight off evil beings & wizards like Walter. Blinded by revenge, Roland seeks Jake’s help to follow him on his arduous journey to Walter’s headquarters where he is mounting his attack against the tower, so the darkness can take over the universe. With the fate of the universe at stake, Rolland, Walter, and Jake face-off in an epic battle of good versus evil. This film had all the potential in the world. I mean what can go wrong with a screenplay based on Stephen King‘s most notable book series, two amazing lead actors in Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, and a decent budget? Right? This is a film I had been truly looking forward to, despite the negative buzz that it had been generating. Unfortunately, this is just another example of King‘s outstanding novels being absolutely mangled by Hollywood as the film ends up being just another generic sci-fi action film, despite its unique source material. Honestly, there is not much to dissect here. One thing is for sure, from what I know of the books, fans of the literature will not like the film because it takes what happens over the course of “King” sized novels and condenses it down to little more than a short story turned 95 minute film. Most importantly, the film apparently takes place in the middle of the series and fails to leave audiences wanting to see more, for the most part, it offers up little more than an enhanced SyFy Channel original filmor a one-time HBO film. For the first 15-20 minutes, the film sets up a really cool premise and you hope that it evolves & made sure that the first act kept me invested and interested even if the characters weren’t all that great. However, when you realize the film is never going to answer the questions it keeps raising, the whole impact begins to fall apart. Much of the film is rather dull, drawn out in a manner of theoretical talks of ideal brain power, anarchy, and abduction. All the fancy words and magic didn’t help a limited dialog that can be boiled down into a single-minded set of plots that we hear over and over again. Plus, I never got a sense of Roland’s world. There are abandoned structures all over and they have no idea what they were used for, but we clearly know they are carnival rides, as does Jake, but how does anyone who never read the books have a clue as to what this means. The film never bothers to explain where places are, or why things are happening, or who certain characters are. Unless you have read the books, then I imagine you will be pretty lost on what is going on. If you have read the books, which you really should, then you’ll be shaking your head and laughing in disbelief as you watch beloved story lines get thrashed into oblivion. Director Arcel seems uninterested in exploring that side of the story and instead streamlines it from point A to point B. This isn’t a story to do that, especially if the goal is to branch it off into a series.
The script is largely responsible for this film’s failings. True, it is always hard to please book fans when you adapt a popular novel to film. Most books just don’t translate one-to-one to film. But even if you put the source material aside, this is one of the most bland, uninspired scripts put to film so far, this year. Nothing about this film feels original, and everything about this film feels rushed. It did feature a few monsters and creepy characters, but their scenes seemed to move along so fast that I felt that I was barely able to connect to any of them. The film running at a very short 95 minutes, also seemed to go along so fast that although I was on the edge of my seat throughout it, as soon as I felt that the film was going to great places, the end had already come. It went by really fast. There was so much more that I wanted to know about the Gunslinger, the “Man in Black”, the Mid-World and other parallel universes, that the ending left me feeling a little hollow and like something was missing. The film also makes the bizarre narrative choice to focus on its least interesting character. Instead of giving the spotlight on the far more compelling characters of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black, we instead get a film largely about an uninteresting child protagonist. Scenes drag out for far too long or too little, and the film fails to elaborate on necessary plot points, and instead dwells on the unnecessary which unfortunately, falls into the realm of the cliché. (Of course Jake is bullied). This is obviously just another attempt at capitalizing on the young adult film trend. I’m sure fans of the series would pick up numerous nods to the books here and there, but that is not enough. Graffiti on the wall of Hailing the Crimson King (the main antagonist in the books) will get a knowing nod from people, but that’s it. I’m sure they would rather see the actual story from the books on the screen. Director Arcel and the four writers including Akiva Goldsman, oversimplify an epic story into a very short shoot em up kind of film. Sure, it looks cool when Elba reloads his guns, but I want something more than that. It doesn’t help that the film essentially has two and a half action sequences, which might look neat to those who haven’t seen a film like John Wick. Bad special effects plague this film too. There is a sequence at night where a demon, which apparently breaks through the barrier, attacks Roland and Jake. It’s hard to make out what it looks like, or what the heck is going on. But in the end, does it matter? Who know the Gunslinger will eventually put it out of its misery. I snickered at seeing how bad they rendered humans falling around or getting hit by cars. It only happens a few times in one particular sequences, but it’s something that still hasn’t been perfected and probably never will. Luckily, it seems like the actors were having a good time. Matthew McConaughey chews up the scenery, as expected. His character is “worse than the devil”. He can kill people by simply telling them to stop breathing. He does this numerous times. He can catch bullets, incinerate people, basically force anyone to do anything. But watching McConaughey move his hands around to control items like broken glass or rocks is unintentionally comical and he seems to be having a blast phoning it in. Idris Elba has and will continue to be a great actor and he proves it with his performance in this film, arguably being the best of the film even with the material he’s given. I was captivated every time he was on the screen and I wanted to learn more about his character. Tom Taylor and the rest of the supporting cast consisting of Abby Lee, Jackie Earle Haley, Claudia Kim and Katheryn Winnick are serviceable. On the whole, ‘The Dark Tower’ is a disappointing adaption of one of the most popular source materials by being a generic action film that never benefits from the presence of its excellent leads.
Directed – Nikolaj Arcel
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 95 minutes