The Dark Tower (2017)
Stephen King’s body of work has proven to be an invaluable source of material for film and television over the last forty years. The results have often been as varied as the books themselves. Because of the inherent differences between the respective mediums, sometimes the complexity and sheer scope of King’s work can be lost in translation from one to the other. It’s happened before with several high-profile adaptations and it will no doubt happen again. The Dark Tower is a classic example failing to capture the essence of King’s work. Trying to distil and convey a mythos that is spread over eight volumes, into a single movie is a tall order for any director and screen writer. It can be cogently argued that material of this sort is better suited to television where lengthy, complex story arcs can be indulged and characters can be explored at leisure. In fact, during it’s time in development hell, The Dark Tower was at one point destined to be adapted for the small screen. However, the desire to create a lucrative film franchise ultimately prevailed.
As an action fantasy, The Dark Tower is rather traditional in its themes, use of archetypes and narrative structure. Teenager Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has recurring dreams involving a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who seeks to destroy a Tower and bring ruin to the universe. He also sees a Gunslinger (Indris Elba) who opposes him. Jake's mother (Katheryn Winnick) and stepfather believe that he has been traumatised by his father's death the previous year and arrange for him to be taken into psychiatric care. However, Jake recognizes the Doctor and her staff from his visions. They are in fact monsters wearing human skin, so he subsequently escapes. Finding a portal in an abandoned house, Jake travel to Mid-World where he meets the legendary Gunslinger Roland Deschain. However, Deschain is a broken man who only seeks revenge for the death of his father (Dennis Haysbert). Can Jake convince him to save the Dark Tower and universe that it protects?
Although I have read many of Stephen King’s book, I am not familiar with the source material in this instance, beyond its initial premise. Therefore, I approached The Dark Tower with little or no preconceptions and a distinct lack of fan based baggage. What became very apparent while watching the film, was the pacing of the story and the flow of the narrative, which were very fast. Characters were introduced, plot points were explained and the story arc was propelled forward at an unusually quick pace. All of which smacks of a movie that has been excessively re-edited and retooled. I suspect the original vision of the movie was changed in post-production and revised for a different demographic.The film as it currently stands has a very simplistic and linear trajectory. There is little or no depth to any of the central characters and no insight into Mid-World beyond what we are shown. As a result, the film lacks any tension or dramatic hold over the audience. The Dark Tower does look like a high budget movie but its overall narrative has precious little substance. Its ninety-five-minute running time is far too short and the film needs at least another twenty to thirty minutes to expand upon its themes.
There are only three action sequences of note in The Dark Tower but they lack impact due to their arbitrary nature. The movie is also somewhat shy of violence and I suspect that a lot material was edited out. The camera moves way from such content, rather than substituting it with more bloodless material, as is the norm with PG-13 rated movies. The devil is in the detail. At one point a sniper is shot through the telescopic sight of his rifle. The optics shatter, his head whips back and then there is a fast cut to the next step in the action scene. It feels like there is a specific bullet hit missing and the rhythm of the scene just feels off. The net result of this lack of gritty action, as well as the condensed narrative, is that the entire film is somewhat indifferent. Rather than feeling enthused by the characters and their fate, there’s a distinct air of “so what” when the film ends. It’s a shame because The Dark Tower could have been a welcome change to the usual fantasy and super hero driven franchises. However, it looks increasingly unlikely that we’ll see a sequel to this movie in the immediate future due to its poor box office and critical reception.