By Michael Wastell
After gestating in Hollywood development hell for over a decade, the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower has arrived.
Disclosure: I have not read King’s Dark Tower books and knew almost nothing about them prior to seeing the film.
At the centre of the universe sits the Dark Tower, which provides a shield for the universe against darkness/monsters and is under constant assault from The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). Defending this tower are the Gunslingers, of whom Roland (Idris Elba) is the last. In present day New York, a boy named Jake Chambers is having vivid dreams of the tower, the Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey.
Stephen King adaptations run the gamut from cinematic masterpieces (The Shining and The Shawshank Redemption) to utter turkeys (The Mist and Dreamcatcher). The Dark Tower sits somewhere in the middle, although the film does have one major weakness. The long and painful journey in getting The Dark Tower to the big screen has clearly taken its toll on the script, which is strangely both under done but also convoluted despite a 95-minute running time. As a general rule, if a film has more than two screenwriters alarm bells should start ringing. The Dark Tower has four. An expository prologue might have gone a long way in helping to shift focus to the characters because there is simply not enough context to establish what is at stake besides the usual ‘end of the universe’ plan. This is where the film could possibly be of greater interest to fans of the books.
All that being said, the film is enjoyable enough and the aforementioned brief running time means it doesn’t drag. Matthew McConaughey has the most to work with character-wise and as such has the most fun. The film tends to spring to life whenever The Man in Black appears to wreak havoc. The always reliable Idris Elba is unable to make the Gunslinger much more than a stock standard gruff hero but it works well enough. Sony Pictures had plans to continue the series on television, though given the dismal performance of the film at the box office thus far this is unlikely to eventuate. This is a shame as the latter half of the film sees a nice relationship develop between Jake and Roland which would have provided a solid basis for a series.
As a side note, there are an astonishing number of references to other King novels crammed into The Dark Tower. Some are subtle, such as a picture of the Overlook Hotel sitting on someone’s desk, but others are bafflingly explicit. Given the current obsession with shared universes, it almost seems as if the studio wanted to set up a universe in which the events of the Dark Tower take place alongside The Shining, 1408 and It.