How many works by Stephen King can you name?
Chances are the ones you think of off the top of your head are both books and films. And most likely good ones at that.
Certainly watching The Dark Tower, a film based on The Gunslinger, just one title in King’s sprawling collection of 8 Dark Tower novels, will make you think of many other classic King tales, as there are deliberate references to a number of King’s works, and rightly so, as his ambitious book series always incorporated the Stephen King “Multiverse”, the so-called sandbox of faces and places that King has created over his 50 years of writing.
As the story of The Dark Tower unfolds, sharp-eyed viewers will spot these playful tips of the hat, from a character playing with a toy car that is a model of Christine, the possessed automobile, to a sign warning of an attack dog on premises (hello Cujo, the killer canine). A photo of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining sits atop a psychiatrists desk, and a boy escapes into a field of crops (Children of the Corn). A store is named King Jewellers and another scene references Pennywise the clown (IT).
While offering some fun moments for King aficionados, sadly these tributes only serve as a reminder of just how good his novels can be to read, and how challenging it can be to get an adaptation for the big screen to do his words and stories justice.
Hits like 1976’s Carrie from Brian de Palma and 1980’s The Shining from Stanley Kubrick, along with classics including Stand By Me (1986 Rob Reiner) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), demonstrate that King adaptations can work brilliantly as films.
Unfortunately The Dark Tower is not a title to add to that list.
It is difficult to know where to lay the blame for this hollow, unconvincing attempt, and the failure to create a believable universe across dimensions may rest in part with Danish director Nikolaj Arcel who seems out of his depth on a special effects heavy production such as this.
With four writing credits, including Arcel along with Jeff Pinkner, (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) , Anders Thomas Jensen (Brothers) and Akiva Goldsman ( I am Legend, A Beautiful Mind), The Dark Tower film is a jumble of disconnected ideas that are more concerned with the destination than the journey.
Of course that destination is the now mandatory “Cinematic Universe” franchise starter, an unfortunate practice that really puts the cart before the horse, and instead of making a great film that people want to see more of, results in a below average film because various parties are trying to establish too many concepts for one film to handle.
In a nutshell, the story deals with a boy named Jacob who has a very strong “Shine” (psychic ability).
He lives with his Mum in New York City (and her partner who is pretty keen to get Jake out of the picture), and so Jake’s propensity to draw dark illustrations, visions of towers and men in black have resulted in him seeing a shrink, before being signed up for a trip to a remote “science” lab for further treatment. This whole scenario is established so matter of factly, that his mother wouldn’t have more to say about her kid being taken away to an experimental facility, that right off the bat the film serves up a bad taste in the mouth.
The two main characters after Jacob are The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and IMDB describes their relationship thus – The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.
While these three leads deliver credible performances under the circumstances of a weak script, inexperienced director and expectant studio, it is not enough to hold the film together and before long The Dark Tower deteriorates into a formulaic series of scenes that could be lifted off any film in the last two decades.
Creatures are battled, portals are activated, gun battles happen, a whole heap of extras meet grisly ends.
It is about as generic as you can get, and this is a real shame, as the source material deserves so much better.
King’s writing, which was always a hybrid of genres from dark fantasy, to science fantasy, horror, and Western appears to have been thrown into a YA film word processing program and it has churned out this really drab motion picture.
There’s an obligatory “New York City is about to be destroyed” shot that looks like a bunch of leftover SFX footage from Ghostbusters and The Avengers.
McConaughey at times comes across like Will Arnett‘s poor man magician GOB from Arrested Development, like a cabaret bad guy instead of a demonic sorcerer hell bent on destroying worlds.
By the end of the movie it is hard to care about a single character, or feel anything about their various predicaments. The rushed conclusion is perhaps the hardest piece of this meal to swallow and I certainly have no appetite for a second film.
The next instalment is due to be a TV Series and that might at least offer fans of the book series something to hunger for.
Meanwhile, the feature film The Dark Tower “Should be a Classic. But Isn’t”. 2 & 1/2 Stars