It’s long been said that The Dark Tower is “un-adaptable” for the screen. Stephen King’s novel series that spanned 8 books over 30 years is so chock-full of characters, events, backstory, mythology, and locations that it would be damn near impossible to bring this epic series to life satisfactorily on the big screen. I’m sad to say that, as of 2017, The Dark Tower still remains un-adaptable.
Though the movie may be a sort-of sequel, rather than a straight adaptation, it’s still a barely coherent mess for those who have read the books, and utterly incomprehensible to those who haven’t.
Jake Chambers, a troubled teen who suffers from disturbing dreams and happens to be a great artist who can sketch out his half-remembered night terrors, turns out to have latent psychic powers – known as “the shine”. Thanks to his shine, he dreams of Roland (Idris Elba), a warrior known as a Gunslinger, sworn to protect the Dark Tower that holds the universe in balance, as well as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a powerful sorcerer who has set out to destroy the Tower.
Jake’s shine leads him to a portal into Mid-World, one of the countless inhabited worlds that the Dark Tower protects. It’s a world that technology has forgotten, a dreary, dark place that’s part Wild West, part post-apocalypse and part futuristic, all in one go. After Jake convinces Roland that he can lead the gunslinger to the Man in Black, they set off on a mission to stop the potential destruction of the Tower.
Throughout this journey that Roland and Jake undertake, there are random pieces here and there that fans of the books will recognise. Some scenes are line-for-line dialogue accurate, while others hovered at the edge of recognition. Tet Corporation, Sombra, the Dixie Pig and the rose all make an appearance, in varying degrees from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it to actually-part-of-the-plot. Considering how much mythology there is to draw from in The Dark Tower series alone, it seems odd that other King lore was thrown in (like the shine). For me, this attempt at an interconnected universe felt simultaneously vague and forced.
While the movie may be a journey, it seems far too focused on the destination. Director Nikolaj Arcel rushes through scenes at a breakneck speed, always in a hurry to get somewhere without considering where that somewhere is. There’s little time for world-building, let alone character building. Instead, various genres and ideas are thrown together helter-skelter, with a rough, “let’s just get this finished already” air. By the time you get to the final face-off between Roland and the Man in Black, you’re both worn out from the pace, and tired of the shoddy sets and special effects. And, by the looks of it, so were the characters.
At least one shining light in all this mess is Idris Elba. As Roland Deschain, Elba shows a convincing amount of solemnity, as well as the right balance of tough warrior and tortured soul. It’s easy to see why he was cast.Elba’s acting style embodies what Roland has always been. Full credit is also due to Elba for managing to maintain a straight face throughout.
A slight step down from Elba’s performance was that of Tom Taylor, the relative newcomer who tackles the role of Jake Chambers. Taylor doesn’t do anything to step outside of the generic, slightly long-haired white teenage boy protagonist mould, which is a pity – but he tries his best with what he’s given. When the hectic pace lets up, Taylor and Elba manage to have some good bonding moments.
I’m surprised to say that one of the worst parts of The Dark Tower was, for me, Matthew McConaughey. The Man in Black, The Walkin’ Dude, Randall Flagg or Walter o’Dim as he is known in the Dark Tower, is a well-known character in the interlinked King universe. Like Elba, McConaughey was the perfect casting choice for this role – his accent, charm and intensity should have made this role a walk in the park. Unfortunately, that’s exactly how he treats it.
McConaughey was there to do nothing but stalk around and look cool, possibly just to cash a cheque. Being able to nonchalantly kill with a wave of a hand is one thing, but doing so without any sort of investment or sign of depth is another thing entirely. McConaughey’s entire performance was a barely repressed yawn and eye-roll, which speaks volumes for the film at large.
And that is the most damning thing of all for The Dark Tower. Ignore the wild abandon with which the source material was treated. Forget the terrible pacing, somewhat lacklustre acting and lifeless cinematography. At the end of the day, The Dark Tower is just underwhelming. We’ve known it for a while, and while I wholeheartedly wish it weren’t the case, I can’t lie to you. I can tell you that there are plenty of stylish moments, and no one can dislike Elba, but the film as a whole is a barely suppressed yawn.
Last Updated: September 4, 2017