On its face, The Dark Tower, a story based on the eight-book series by horror master Stephen King, delivers a fantastical tale of good versus evil.
With no time for exposition (the film is unusually brief, clocking in at one and a half hours), we meet the heroes and the villains, understand their respective motivations and have a resolution before we’re able to really form any connection with (or care about) any of the characters.
The Dark Tower contains some breathtaking, all-too-quick action scenes, and when they’re over — in a blink — you’ll find yourself ruing their curtness.
Young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is plagued by visions of a dark tower, a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) and The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), also known as Roland Deschain. Jake doesn’t understand why he’s experiencing these horrific nightmares, but it’s not long before he ends up in another world, fighting to save the entire universe from evil.
That sounds pretty cool
There’s no denying that anything from the twisted mind of King is fertile ground. The book series is highly lauded by fans and critics alike, and it’s apparent that there is much folklore and backstory fallen by the wayside. For most of the movie, it feels like you’re on a guided tour that’s moving too fast. You may want to stop and take in a certain locale, but too bad, the bus is leaving. If you’ve never read the books, The Dark Tower movie is merely a surface painting.
The Man in Black wants darkness to envelop the universe, but we never find out why. The Gunslinger is somehow immune to the Man in Black’s powers, but again, we never discover why. We see The Gunslinger’s father and aren’t told his purpose, and Jake’s powers switch from visions to full-on psychic abilities without explanation (Maybe they were there all along? We’ll never know). There are many other confusing aspects, but the story keeps on moving forward at a breathless clip.
Why is it so short?
There are theories abound as to why the movie ended up this way, among them rumours of too many cooks in the kitchen, which ultimately led to ample footage on the cutting-room floor. King himself was involved in the filmmaking and storytelling, so some are saying the author wasn’t pleased with the direction the movie was heading. Marketing for the film has been sparse, especially considering the potential grandiosity of the story. Nothing has been confirmed outright by anyone associated with the film, but that may come to light post-release.
How ‘Stephen King’ is this story?
The Kingsian elements are all there, with fun nods for big fans. It has his trademarks all over it, including Jake’s “shine” (which you may recall from The Shining), the last name “Chambers” (which King also used in his short story The Body — a.k.a. Stand By Me — with Chris Chambers, played by River Phoenix) and an amusement-park ride called “Pennywise” (It, anyone?).
Daddy issues, the concept of the villain playing off of your worst fears, the otherworldly elements of the huge dark tower in the middle of the universe — all scream King. The problem is in the translation, which is told in such a condensed fashion it’s like the Coles Notes version. King’s work needs hundreds of pages to come to light. If the process was reversed and the movie was made into a book, this would be a brochure.
Is the main cast good?
Elba is the action hero we didn’t know we needed. His brief displays of gunfighting prowess are so great, it’s a wonder there weren’t more than a handful of them. His charisma, unfortunately, is muted by the cryptic nature of the film. McConaughey chews the scenery with aplomb, his waxen face barely moving, even when he’s killing/torturing innocent people (read: children). It’s never explained why The Man in Black can kill someone with the wave of his hand, but others manage to get away.
As for Taylor, he’s a perfect cast, reminiscent of Bastian from 1984 film The NeverEnding Story: wide-eyed, shuttled off to a strange land where he’s the architect of the world’s future. The Dark Tower‘s first book, on which this movie was based, was written in 1982, and that is clear. The tropes of that time are all present.
So what’s the bottom line?
A King story needs time, something that the movie version of The Dark Tower possesses very little of. Knowing that this film is meant to launch a franchise series, it’s a real shame, since there is much potential to be mined (the book series, in total, has 4,250 pages). Hopefully when it comes time (sorry) to craft a sequel, the powers-that-be will realize what needs to be done to turn this from dud to delight.
‘The Dark Tower’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.