The movie is a reminder that not all Stephen King stories require film adaptations.
There is nothing to gain from seeing The Dark Tower. At its best, its greatest contribution to pop culture will be serving as further proof that not all Stephen King novels are meant for film adaptation. There’s little chance it lingers in the minds of its audience long enough to be brought up in the near future.
This comes as no surprise. King’s eight-novel fantasy/Western series is the author’s equivalent to Game of Thrones, and director Nikolaj Arcel tries to pack most of the series into 95 minutes. It’s inevitable that some material will be lost when crossing from page to silver screen for any adaptation, but what Arcel produced is a generic mash of genre clichés and Velveeta cheese.
In the movie, the titular dark tower is under attack. If the tower falls, the universe will be destroyed, as is the goal of Matthew McConaughey’s the Man in Black. Eleven-year-old Jake Chambers (newcomer Tom Taylor) sees visions of this in his New York City apartment, though his parents don’t believe him and send him to psychiatric rehab.
This immediately sets up one of the film’s many yawn-inducing plotlines. As the audience, we already know Jake is right about this tower; it’s the entire premise of the film. Yet the first 20 minutes are dedicated to Jake meeting resistance that serves no purpose other than postponing what audiences paid money for.
That screen time would have been better used developing King’s unique world, because audiences are shoved into it without any explanation. Jake eventually reaches the land in his vision (he finds a portal in a nearby building, for some reason), which is seemingly comprised of only bland desert and forest landscapes. Compared to fictional lands such as Narnia, Middle Earth and Westeros, there’s nothing that stands out as remotely interesting here.
There are generic CGI monsters, and, oh yeah, Idris Elba is there. He plays Roland Deschain, the last living Gunslinger. His character pops up in one frame, and boom, he’s a main character along for the journey.
There are plenty of sequences of Jake and Roland traipsing endless landscapes toward an unspecified goal. I was able to predict exactly how many of these sequences would go, beat for beat, with startling accuracy.
The writing team includes Arcel and Akiva Goldsman, who’s behind recent “hits” like King Arthur, the Rings reboot, the most recent Transformers and the third Divergent movie that was so bad it killed the franchise. It’s impossible to pin the film’s problems on one person, but yeah, there’s your problem.
The wreckage could be smelled from miles away. The movie was in production for a beleaguered 10 years, passing through three directors and numerous script rewrites and castings. Arcel’s initial test screening almost got him kicked out of the chair in favor of a more experienced filmmaker, but that would have delayed production even further.
Not every King story demands a film adaptation. It seems that for every good Stephen King film, there must be a bad one. Hopefully this bodes well for the upcoming horror film It, following King’s iconic killer clown Pennywise. So far, the skin-crawling trailers suggest the film will make up for this one.
Rumors are swirling a television continuation of the story is in the works, with Elba and Taylor reprising their roles. Taylor is talented, and there are much worse ways to start a career than sharing a screen with Elba. But the latter phoned his performance in, and I question whether he’s interested in reprising the character.
I also question if anyone who has seen the movie wants more of it. The film is immediately forgettable; scenes are erased from memory almost as soon as they happen. For me, its biggest impact was the Advil I took as soon as I got home from the theater. ••