Ever since Stephen King published Carrie in 1974, movie studios and producers have been clamoring to adapt his work to the big screen (the first remake of Carrie being in 1976), making King one of the most adapted authors of all time. But with this gluttony of films, it’s inevitable that there would be just as many duds as there are masterpieces. For every Carrie, Misery, Stand By Me, or Shawshank Redemption, there’s a Needful Things, Maximum Overdrive, Dreamcatcher and Thinner. Now, with two adaptations coming out in consecutive months (and two television series based on his work currently on the air), we’re getting to see that dichotomy unfold on a compressed timeline. Previews for the newest adaptation of It look incredible, so it’s only fitting that The Dark Tower fails to live up to King’s sprawling opus.
The first mistake was attempting to condense seven-books into a film that lasts a scant one and a half hours. As most fans of the series know, there have been a lot of bumps and different iterations in casting, directors and how producers wanted to tell this story on its long road to the big screen. The decision to reduce the cost and play it safe by cherry picking characters and overall themes from the books without also transferring over the scope does a disservice to both the books and fans alike. They tried justifying these decisions by claiming that the film was a sequel to the books, which is all well and good, but that theory wasn’t part of any of the advertising campaign, which means if you weren’t following news on the adaptation closely, you’d miss this claim and go in thinking you were getting a faithful adaptation, which this clearly is not.
The focus of the novels is Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last of the fated gunslingers meant to protect the dark tower — the center of all realms within the universe and the key to holding back the darkness and the evil beyond it — and his unrelenting hunt for the man in black (Matthew McConaughey), an evil entity (some would say, the Devil) determined to tear the tower down. However, with four writers credited to the story (Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen and director Nikolaj Arcel), the film alters focus away from Roland and places it on the shoulders of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy from “Keystone Earth” with incredible psychic powers who may or may not be the key to destroying the tower.
Because the entire film is from Jake’s perspective, we lose almost every ounce of Roland’s motivation for hunting the man in black. Though I’m not a fan of changing genders or races just to appease our PC culture, Elba does a good job creating a distinct mood for the film, but because his pain and determination is only being viewed through the lens of a child with a fascination for Roland, the connection between Roland and the man in black becomes far too removed.
I’m a fan of McConaughey, and he does a fine job bringing the man in black to life — restrained enough to keep from becoming a cartoon, but staying true to the menacing fervor and seething evil that makes the man in black so formidable — but his chemistry with Elba is all over the map. The characters are meant to be rivals, one whose respect for the other shows through in their words and actions; the two want to see the other dead, but they understand the importance each has for the other. By pushing the perspective to Jake, the playful back-and-forth the two share is there, but is nowhere near as strong as it should be, leading to a connection that doesn’t quite spark the right amount of electricity.
Outside of our three main characters, there isn’t a whole lot of substance either. The acting, events and decisions from the supporting players show a lot of cracks, most of which come from the screenplay; with such a short run time, there was bound to be a lot of shortcuts and information that gets sorely overlooked. A lot of the events that take place happen without much explanation, leaving you slightly confused or unsure of how or why certain characters are doing what they’re doing. They attempt to resolve this with a few lines of dialogue, but it feels too little too late in most cases. It’s as if Arcel believes everyone in the audience will have already read the books and know exactly what everything is and why people act the way they do, which just isn’t the case.
Finally, we have the action sequences, which are mostly the saving grace of the film, though it is hard to contemplate how one might go about defeating someone who can literally catch a bullet with his bare hands with his back turned. The final battle is especially tantalizing as Roland utilizes his skills to wipe out a few dozen combatants with a whirlwind of bullets and stunts that will leave you wanting more. It’s not the best action sequence ever filmed, but it does make up for some of the film’s flaws, but at the same time makes the transition into the climax that much more jarring, as the final five to ten minutes of the film revert back to what made the film feel so weak, wrapping up events so quickly, it’s incredibly anti-climactic. The whole thing left me wondering, “Wait… that’s it?”
The Dark Tower series is meant to be a sprawling adventure that takes us on a long journey of vengeance, strength and redemption, all surrounded by the fight over the extinction of humanity between good and evil. This film doesn’t come close to delivering on that promise — it wants to be a grand western for a new generation, but it’s so small in scale and scope that it delivers nothing more than unfounded potential. It’s not a bad film, per se, it just doesn’t know how to live up to its source material in a way that will satisfy fans and push those who have never read the books to dive into the adventure of our lifetime.
My Grade: B
Next week, new movies include Annabelle: Creation, The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature and The Glass Castle. If you would like to see a review for tone of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.