The Dark Tower. A Review
Stephen King has been a staple in the horror genre for over 40 years and in that time he has become one of the most influential writers for any genre. King has affected the way I look at storytelling and really just the act of writing in a way I don't think any other writer has. While maybe not as well known as some of his more popular stories like The Shining or IT, The Dark Tower is a fan favorite and according to King, his magnum opus. For every great adaptation of King's work, there is a bad one and that comes with the territory. When you are as prolific and popular as King, you are bound to have some failures and unfortunately The Dark Tower is one of those failures.
Let me first start off by saying that the source materiel is....strange, like stranger than your normal King novels. Doorways to alternate worlds and two people inhabiting the same mind are just a few of the insane things King put into the series but at it's core The Dark Tower is pretty easy to conceptualize. Roland Deschain is like a cross between a wild west sharpshooter and a knight of the round table which sounds fucking awesome. The Man in Black (or Walter O'Dim or Randall Flagg depending on who you ask) is the humanization of evil and darkness which is also fucking awesome. Both are searching for the same thing, The Tower but one wants to protect it and the other to destroy it. It's the ole good vs. evil dynamic but throw in some of King at his craziest and you have The Dark Tower.
Now that will be the last time I will mention the source materiel in this article, both because everyone hates that guy who says the book is better than the movie, but also because that is about as far as the similarities go. The Dark Tower from the start was never envisioned as a direct adaptation but instead of trying to expand of the ideas of the books, the writers and director just give us a skeleton of the original material (shoot I did not even make it one paragraph.)
The writing in The Dark Tower is absolutely horrible. There are large chunks of exposition that will put you to sleep and even if you are able to stay awake through them you will feel like the movie views you as a brain in a jar. We are hand held through the entire plot, which is the opposite of what King generally tries to do and to make things worse the dialogue is embarrassing and feels like it was written by a high school senior who has never red a Stephen King book.
Director Nikolaj Arcel is probably best known for writing the adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish version) does not come with his best here. There are clear signs that the studio dot involved and left fingerprints all over this bummer but Arcel must take some of the blame. Almost every facet of this movie feels uninspired, the themes and tone of the movie are almost non-existent. Arcel does not use the camera well at all and the editing is boring and rarely helps the movie along. At times the pacing can get confusing, which I consider a major problem for a movie whose plot is about as thin as a cracker.
The one saving grace of The Dark Tower is the performance of Idris Elba as Roland. I could not have been happier when I heard he had been cast as Roland, Elba can easily fit into the role of the noble but worn out Gunslinger and gives the movie the ultimate cool factor. Unfortunately he spends most of the movie vomiting exposition and sharing screen time with lesser actors. Even so Big Driz fills Roland's noble boots beautifully and if there is anything I want to continue from this movie is his version of The Gunslinger.
On the other hand The Man in Black is much less exciting. Back a few years ago when finishing up The Stand and beginning The Dark Tower series (This was also the time when True Detective season one captured our hearts) a good friend of mine and I were discussing adaptations of these works and both agreed that Matthew McConaughey HAD to be The Man in Black. What we did not realize was that McConaughey, famous for his eating of scenery would do just that with King's greatest villain. In a different movie the performance would have worked, but in a movie that has trouble figuring it's tone out The Man in Black just becomes your run of the mill bloviating bad guy.
If you have red my reviews before you may remember me talking about run-time and it's importance in a good movie. My rule of thumb is 2 hours, movies should generally not be over that mark because of proper pacing and audience attention spans. Of course some movies need to be a little longer but film makers have let it get out of hand, for example Katheryn Bigelow whose new movie Detroit comes out this week has a problem with this . Not only is Detroit 2 hours and 23 minutes, but of her last 6 movies (Strange Days, The Weight of Water, K-19: The Widowmaker, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit) 5 of them have been well over 2 hours with Zero Dark Thirty being close to 2 hours and 40 minutes!
The Dark Tower actually has the opposite problem, at just over an hour and a half long there is just not enough time to get all of the things that need to be done and give us a satisfying conclusion. With 20 minutes left I had no idea how the hell they would wrap the movie up in the remaining time. Well they did, it just turned out terribly and is one of the quickest moving third acts you will ever see. I will always appreciate the ability to start and finish telling a story in under 2 hours, but The Dark Tower could easily have used an extra 20-30 minutes although I don't think it would have helped the overall product much.
The Dark Tower is not a terrible movie, but it certainly not a good one. I know I am just repeating what almost everyone else thinks but this should have been a TV series all along. The source materiel( Dang did it again) has far too much in it to be smashed into even 2-3 full length movies and too niche to attain a huge fan base in order to earn those extra two movies. I have no idea why we have an American Gods TV show (a perfect book to be adapted into a movie) and a Dark Tower (a perfect book to adapted into a TV show) movie. My only hope is that one day we will get HBO to adapt all the long form Stephen King books into mini-series and hopefully we will get to see The Dark Tower in it's truest form.