Friday, August 4, 2017


Over the last 40 years, the film adaptations of the works of famed author Stephen King have been all over the scale in terms of quality. A few of them are considered cinematic greatness, others as cult favorites, and a bushel-basket of them are considered utter dreck. King’s multi-volume series THE DARK TOWER, a fantasy story with rich, layered mythology, was an ambitious effort in literature, seemingly requiring an ambitious filmmaker to bring it to the right end of that scale.

Jake (Tom Taylor), is a young teen living in NYC with his mother and stepdad, who is having bad dreams/visions about an evil Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who abducts gifted children with a “shine” (6th sense), to use their powers to destroy The Dark Tower which sits at the center of time and space, protecting various worlds from demons. Jake travels to one of those other worlds, where he encounters Roland (Idris Elba), a lone gunslinger on a personal mission to stop the Man in Black.

THE DARK TOWER’s source material encompasses eight novels, and is widely regarded as King’s best work with its world and universe-building mythology. Seemingly aware of the massive undertaking, director Nikolaj Arcel and his team of four (!) screenwriters tackle the task by first deciding to make the film both a loose re-telling and a sequel to the novels, showing events that take place after the books’ cyclical ending. While this gives Arcel a lot of freedom to make an accessible film for the masses, he winds up making it too accessible. The plot and characters are paper-thin, with their dialogue serving only as explanations to set up another scene, and every major element doesn’t get past every old cliché in the book; angry stepfather, check. Kid who is the chosen-one, check. Vengeful gunslinger, check. Bad guy who kills his own henchman, check. It makes for a bland and generic experience and it doesn’t take long for THE DARK TOWER to fall into dull predictability.

It’s bare-bones filmmaking with characters just jumping from one setpiece to another with barely enough time to converse. The film has a rushed feel to it, as no one is given time to breath or develop. It overall feels like they filmed the first draft of the script, only hitting the major plot points and then quickly moving on to the next. There’s no metaphors or deeper meaning going on at all. The film also feels confused as to who the main character should be. Jake gets most of the screentime with Roland busted down to a babysitter and sidekick, and yet Roland’s mission in life makes it seem like the story should be about him.

There are some impressive works going on with the visuals. The practical sets, ranging from an abandoned amusement park to the Man in Black’s techno-driven hideaway, have a spooky lushness to them. The henchmen have sagging skin, evidently hiding something underneath in a creepy effect that works, but we disappointingly never get to see what’s underneath. The movie is packed with references to King’s other works; some are subtle, while other are presented with the grace of a broken jackhammer. Pacing is way too fast and the editor seems like they had to go to the bathroom while cutting. Tom Holkenborg’s score is generic but works in some places.

Acting is a snore. Young Tom Taylor seems to be stuck on one face, and Idris Elba, while he looks cool slinging his guns, plays the character as too much of a grump and never generates any sympathy. Matthew McConaughey is too one-note to make any sort of impression, and his various magic powers make no sense. Fran Kranz shows up as the head of the Man in Black’s IT department in a useless extended cameo. Jackie Earle Hayley and Dennis Haysbert are also underused.

The finale consists of a CGI fireworks show where the stakes never seem that high, and the resolution comes very abruptly and everything is over before we even realize we’re in the final fight. At just 95 minutes, THE DARK TOWER feels like a truncated version even to someone unfamiliar with the books, and the hyper-speed the plotting works at just makes it generic and bland. That old scale gets a mighty lean towards the dreck-side thanks to this dark turkey.


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