The Dark Tower Review
They should've stuck with a damn TV series.
Thirty five years and thousands of pages of source material, ten years of production, and a couple of top class actors in the leads and they still couldn't get it right.Horror writer Stephen King's magnum opus - The Dark Tower - has entertained generations of fans across the decades. This epic fantasy western has proven unfilmable for the last ten years, which was arguably not such a bad thing - aside from a couple of gems, King's works have seldom made an easy transition to the big screen. Indeed in the age where TV appears to offer a better shot at faithful adaptations of large bodies of work (Preacher), it felt like they might actually get it right with The Dark Tower. Alas, it was arguably too little too late, with a TV series announcement made probably in the wake of the first signs of things going wrong in the film adaptation.With J.J. Abrams showing interest some 10 years ago (we could have only hoped for that adaptation - at least it might have made for a successful franchise), before passing the buck to Ron Howard in 2010 (well, at least it wouldn't have been completely dead in the water), it's really a shame that it ended up being Danish director Nikolaj Arcel's shot at the Hollywood big time, with it clear from the outset that he wasn't prepared for the task, and the numerous people brought in to save it (including Howard himself) struggling - and failing - to even get a comprehensible 90 minute feature out of the footage, despite the numerous late-stage reshoots.
The story, which is reasonably easy enough to follow but does appear tailored for those familiar with the books, concerns another realm called Mid-World, where Matthew McConaughey's worse than the devil Man in Black is working his way through psychic children, trying to find one with the power to destroy the titular Dark Tower, which will unleash demons to destroy the world. In our world gifted kid Jake starts to see visions of all of this, he finds a way to travel to Mid-World and enlists the help of Idris Elba's vengeance-fueled Roland Deschain - The Gunslinger - to stop the Man in Black before his plan destroys both Mid-World and our world.
It's easy to see why the story, whilst favouring the familiar audience members, will also frustrate those same viewers, taking a paint-by-numbers approach to such a clearly rich canvas, and barely investing any time in establishing the characters, their motivations (the Deschain character's flashback backstory was reportedly an add-on) or - perhaps most importantly - the colourful world(s) they inhabit. And with barely an hour and a half to play with, there simply wasn't the time.
We can only hope they give the TV series the chance to get it right
Hampered by the hack-handed writings of Akiva Goldsman (who makes the threat of Lindelhof - who would have worked with Abrams back when he was looking to adapt it - look like a positive), the fresh-to-the-world-of-blockbusters Ancel struggles to make a strong, cohesive whole, hitting his stride with a couple of familiar but still imaginative gun-fu sequences, but largely leaving The Man in Black a one-note villain (a tragedy for McConaughey) and The Gunslinger a walking cliche (although Elba endures better, wearing a weathered look that speaks volumes despite the limitations of the script).
The end result is a bit of a vapid shell, stepping moronically from one action set-piece to the next supposedly integral plot development, with little care for the fantastical environments in which its set, and less for the characters, whose arcs are almost inconsequential (or, in the villain's case, pantomime) when faced with the impossible task of rounding everything off in a curt hour-and-a-half.
There is a little flash when the guns come out, with Elba barely getting started - but still utterly convincing - as The Gunslinger (even if his darker streak is desperately dialed back for 12A sensibilities), working well alongside his young ward, and trying to keep his head above water as the rest of the picture s(t)inks. It's just a shame that such wonderful source material was so utterly wasted, but it's not the first time for King and it won't be the last time for Hollywood. We can only hope they give the TV series the chance to get it right.
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