THE DARK TOWER
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haysbert, Fran Kranz, Jackie Earle Haley
It was hard for me to not go into The Dark Tower with a little bit of bias. I consider myself a lifelong and devoted fan of Stephen King, yet this eight book series isn’t as deep in my DNA like some of his other works. I’m currently in the middle of reading the series for the first time. It’s an immensely rich universe that asks a lot out of its readers, but the end product is so rewarding. I say this all as a viewer going in already knowing quite a bit about the characters and worlds King has created for The Dark Tower. I was filling in gaps trying to make sense of the movie that uses the first book, The Gunslinger, as a shell to try to bring it to the big screen. I assume the end goal is to bring the entire franchise to film or TV at some point.
In a far off land stands a tower so tall and powerful that its destruction would bring darkness and evil into the world. A man in black named Walter (McConaughey) is a sorcerer who wants to see the tower come crumbling down. He’s the quintessential definition of evil who sets out to find a young boy powerful enough to topple the tower. In New York City, Jake Chambers (Taylor) is plagued with nightmares about a man in black, the gunslinger chasing after him, and of course, a tower. He’s your typical pre-teen often getting into trouble at school due to these inner demons. When he’s trying to escape the capture of two social workers, he stumbles upon the house in his visions. He enters and finds it contains a portal to another dimension. This portal is not an escape from freedom when he comes face to face with Roland Deschain (Elba), the gunslinger from his dreams. Jake finds himself caught in the middle of Roland’s battle to take down the man in the black and save the tower from destruction. If I were to try to explain anymore, you’d be too confused and question what I was even talking about.
King’s opus has been in the zeitgeist since the late ‘70s, and he has added additional books in the decades since then. It’s a blend of western, sci-fi, and fantasy as opposed to the traditional horror we think from him. The movie runs 95 minutes and is extremely lean like the first book. It’s almost too short as it tries to dabble in some backstory found in the other books but then never gives time to explore these pieces. The four member writing team essentially makes the audience infer the rest if you’re a newbie or fill in the gaps if you’re a fellow reader of the series.
The quandary with the adaption comes down to what any series like this faces. How do you create a distinct world with its own rules, creatures, and origins, but then try to open it up to a broad audience in order for the studio to make the income at the box office. Unfortunately, Sony and the other studios didn’t pony up the budget or time that is really needed to bring this to the screen properly. Stephen King and The Dark Tower deserve a larger treatment like HBO’s Game of Thrones. There’s so much to the material that you really need to take the time to have a properly planned out game plan. It’s always been unclear for fans as to what shape this first movie would take on. The end result is a little morsel of what is to come, but there’s not enough in this morsel. The modest budget is evident throughout, especially in terms of the special effects that are needed to create the portals used by Jake and Walter. The end result looks like cable TV quality found on the SyFy channel.
Stephen King is a master at bringing out the humanity in his characters regardless of the horrors and mystery that surround them. The Dark Tower works best in the quieter, intimate moments between Roland the gunslinger and Jake. There’s camaraderie at hand when they realize they have more in common they meets the eye. We start to see the vulnerable sides of Roland who is typically a stoic, hard to read character. These scenes also contain some of the film’s forced humor with Roland discovering the real world for the first time. Idris Elba is one of the film’s highlights in his portrayal of Roland. Fans should be pleased with his interpretation of the character. I wish I could say the same about Matthew McConaughey as Walter/Man in Black. He falls a bit flat for a character that’s rich and full of dimension. Jackie Earl Haley, Dennis Haysbert, and Fran Kranz round out the cast in smaller roles
It may be my bias love of Stephen King, but I do see potential in making this a longer franchise to accommodate more of this universe. I’m almost hopeful for more knowing what’s to come. King has a way of connecting so many of his works to The Dark Tower with characters and locations popping up all over his cannon. Director Nikolaj Arcel adds a wide variety of those touches here with multiple “easter eggs” popping up to a variety of other Stephen King books like IT, Misery, Cujo, and most notably, The Shining. Jake has “the shine” much like The Shining’s Danny Torrance. However, this choice isn’t fully conceptualized or played out to the full effect it could and should have. This first attempt to bring The Dark Tower to life has potential, but too many obvious choices plague the end result. The newbie coming in with no connection to the books will most likely feel lost and not find the appeal that others have come to get from the books. It’s trying too hard to appease fans, bring in a new audience, not get too deep into the mythology all while keeping it at a really tiny budget. Stephen King and his longtime faithful readers deserve better.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? King fans may be pleased if they go in with lower expectations.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS