The Dark Tower
Not the Epic You’re Looking For

For decades, the novels and short stories of author Stephen King have been adapted into dozens of movies, miniseries, and television shows, but the one saga that his fans have perhaps most been clamoring for is a big budget adaptation of King’s The Dark Tower series.  Considered by many to be the author’s magnum opus, it is an epic eight-book fantasy series that tells its own story, while also bringing in many of King’s other properties into one giant shared universe.  The film project has started and stalled multiple times over the years, but finally director Nikolaj Arcel is bringing The Dark Tower to the big screen.

The movie explains in its opening titles that the tower of the title stands at the center of all things and that it holds the many universes together while keeping the monsters that exist on its fringes out.  We are told it is believed that the tower could be brought down by the mind of a child and then we are introduced to a child.  Jake Chambers is a New York City teenager who has been having strange visions of another world ever since his father died in a fire.  His mother and step-father believe these simply to be nightmares, but Jake thinks they are something more.  When two mysterious figures show up to take him to a therapy retreat for the weekend, Jake recognizes them as some of the monsters he has seen in his dreams and he escapes.

After finding a portal in an abandoned house, Jake is transported to Mid-World, a parallel universe that has been devastated over the years by the evil man from Jake’s dreams whom he refers to as the Man in Black.  Jake stumbles into the company of Roland Deschain, the last of the legendary Gunslingers who were charged with protecting this world from the likes of the Man in Black.  Roland is not immediately excited by the idea of having a kid with him, but when he hears of Jake’s visions, he believes that he might just be the key to leading him to the Man in Black so that he can avenge his own father’s death.

Having only read the first book in the series and that many years ago, I cannot comment on how the movie adapts the book, but I do understand that the movie is not so much an adaptation of the first book in the series (“The Gunslinger”), but an amalgam of the events and the characters from all of the books.  This is a strange choice, especially since the movie does not do a very good job of establishing the characters and explaining how the world we are entering came to be.  It is as if the movie is depending on its audience to have read and understood the books going in, while presenting a cinematic version that is probably not what the people who had read the books were hoping to see.

Cinematically, the movie is just rather bland.  There are a few cool visuals, but for the most part this movie lacks any kind of wow factor when it comes to the unique world it is trying to set up.  The two major characters at its center—The Gunslinger and The Man in Black—are rather disinteresting, despite being played by two very talented actors in Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, respectively.  As a villain, the Man in Black is something of a one-trick pony—he can tell someone to do something like stop breathing and they will do it—and is never truly menacing.  It does not help that his lair looks like something out of a low-budget science-fiction movie from the 1950s.

Each of the movie’s action scenes take place in dark environments and are rapidly edited, making it difficult to follow.  And outside of the occasional flashy revolver reload by Roland, there is nothing memorable about any of the action scenes.

One of the fun parts of the movie is finding all of the references to other Stephen King properties, but even that fun is lessened by the fact that these references are too directly pointed out.  The camera lingers for a long time on a St. Bernard (Cujo), focuses on a kid playing with a toy Plymouth Fury (Christine), or cuts randomly to a framed photograph of the Overlook Hotel (The Shining) in the therapist’s office.  That might be fine if they were blended into the story somehow, but as it is, it feels more like someone guiding you by the hand to point out where the Easter eggs are hidden.

There some elements in The Dark Tower that really intrigued me, such as the opening scene with the children or the long abandoned amusement park setting, but all of the interesting stuff is more or less skipped over in favor for a bland, boring fantasy saga that feels more like a cheap B-movie than a big budget blockbuster.  Now the question becomes, do they try to improve on it with a sequel or start over from scratch.  I think I would prefer the latter.

The Dark Tower is rated PG-13 for “thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.”  This rating feels appropriate.  I was expecting going in to find an R rated movie, but after walking out, I would have been surprised to see an R.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Dark Tower.