Much anticipated film “The Dark Tower” opens this weekend starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. If you never invested the many hours of reading it takes to tackle the eight book and massively wordy series from Stephen King that the film is based upon, then you probably would think the “The Dark Tower” isn’t half bad despite the overwhelming hate the film is getting from critics.
A young boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), is having visions of other worlds. There’s a man in black who seems to be bent on destroying a tower (Matthew McConaughey), and a gunslinger (Idris Elba) who is opposing him. The boy is sure the world in his visions is real even when those around him insist he’s nuts. His destiny is to seek out the truth for himself which means he will have to face The Man In Black.
Critics are panning the film but is it because they know it took four writers, a massive effort with lots of setbacks to deliver the hour and thirty-five minute film? Is it because there is an expectation that the film should reflect everything that happened in all eight books? Is it because they expect the screen adaption to be more like a trilogy akin to “The Lord of the Rings?” Is it that they don’t know “The Dark Tower” is actually a sequel to the books. Yes, it’s a sequel. If you read the books then you may recall that the worlds are on a wheel, representing that life repeats. Roland defeated The Man in Black, but then Roland knew it was all going to happen again. This next time would be different and the film represents the next life of Roland.
If you set all that you know about the long tale that the film is based upon and just watch “The Dark Tower” as is, the film stands on it’s own two feet. It has a beginning, middle, and an ending that makes sense. It’s paced evenly. Has an intriguing story, excellent villain in casting McConaughey, and it’s a fantasy. So why the massive hate out there?
There are two distinct ways to view the film. One is with a background in Stephen King (which I have), and one without. I chose to judge the film based on it’s own merits rather than expecting it to somehow encompass the eight novels (that would perhaps have worked better as a TV series as first pitched long ago). It’s the only fair way to judge a film.
Complaining that the film took ten years, a zillion directors who came and went, etc. should have no bearing on the finished work. The truth is, some films take more effort than others. Sony thinks the effort was worth it and is counting on Stephen King fans to turn out and see the film. However, this is where the issue may lie, and unfairly so.
If you are a film studio and you green light a movie counting on that built-in fan base, then you should try and stick to the source material but the plausibility of that happening is near to zero. That’s not opinion. You can’t take eight books and cram it into a film. A percentage of critics seem to think that justifies burying the film in negative reviews. “The Dark Tower” isn’t “The Lord of the Rings” but to some it could have been, and therein lies the root behind the lousy reviews generally.
Expectation is sometimes hard to curb especially in this case because of the source material. The solution lies in the marketing. The studio should have made a better effort in delivering a message that stressed that “The Dark Tower” is a loosely based adaptation of King’s work and most importantly that it’s a sequel to the books. There were a lot of interviews out there beforehand that could have highlighted the nature of how King ended the books to curb expectations. Additionally, marketing could have better opened minds that the underlining goal was to create a version that worked in less than 2 hours for the big screen and not have King fans expecting the next “Lord of the Rings” -esque cinematic experience. The expectation is not set appropriately and the critical scores fairly/unfairly reflect this.
What did they get right? Casting McConaughey as the villain. He literally drips vileness all over his character and plays Walter, aka The Man in Black, as an evil devil filled with hate. He gets ample opportunity to showcase his nastiness in equally small and devastating ways on screen. McConaughey smartly drops the Texan accent and never once feels like the actor I’ve seen in a zillion movies. He personifies The Man in Black.
Another smart move was casting Idris Elba. The character itself doesn’t have a lot of range. He’s basically a fallen good guy who has turned a loss into a need of revenge. In the books the character had way more depth, in the movie he’s just barely more than two dimensions. It’s apparently enough motivation for Elba to deftly play a man nearly broken and living on the hope that he will get revenge someday. He’s intense when deservedly so, and then able to shift gears and appear fatherly to the boy Jake in quieter scenes. His character doesn’t have a lot of dimension but Elba still plays Roland as best as the writing allows.
Tom Taylor who plays “Jake” looks to be in that horribly awkward age of not being a kid, and not being an adult. Nonetheless, he can act and you’d think he’s done thirty films. His character has the most to work with getting to exhibit a wide range of emotions. Hopefully future casting directors will see through the lousy ratings and get this actor more work.
The special effects are decent with the exception of a fight scene where Roland gets struck so hard his body flies up and hits a wall which looked like a dark cartoon. Other than that, the effects were solid. Some interesting sets and back drops, costumes looked good and several odes to other works of King for fans to be on the lookout for. Yet the film is in contention despite it having a passing grade on all criteria.
“The Dark Tower” stands on it’s own two feet when not held in context to its source material as the creators wanted. Yes, screenwriters chose to gloss over the deeper dynamics of the source material in lieu of a faster, perhaps less meaningful overall story. Despite that, the story is still balanced, characters motivations make sense, and it’s evenly paced. The studio undoubtedly is counting on Stephen King fans to fill the seats this weekend and that’s where the expectation may fall short because of critics panning the film. You can’t expect built-in fan support for a project that doesn’t deliver on the source material. Unfortunately, and fair or not, “The Dark Tower” doesn’t deliver on King’s opus work simply because his tale is too massive for the medium and should be done via episodic TV (if done at all). Cinematically “The Dark Tower” equates to a nice diversion and probably won’t stay in the minds of moviegoers as anything special. It rises to just above mediocrity. If you either watch the film as a stand-alone, or with the idea that it’s a sequel to the eight books it’s based upon, you may get more out of it.
Final Verdict: 2.5 out of 5
· Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action)
· Genre: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Western
· Directed By: Nikolaj Arcel
· Written By: Nikolaj Arcel, Akiva Goldsman, Anders Thomas Jensen, Jeff Pinkner
· In Theaters: Aug 4, 2017 Wide
· Studio: Sony Pictures