My favorite book of all time is “Carrie” by Stephen King, a brutal, heartbreaking, incredibly clever look inside the world of bullying through the gaze of a horror story. I grew up around King’s books, as my father was a massive fan of the books and would constantly either be reading a book by King, or by Dean Koontz. One book that stood out to be was always “The Dark Tower” for two reasons: 1. The book he had of “The Dark Tower” was was one of the largest books I had ever seen at the time, and 2. I was always thrown off when King had any book that wasn’t a horror novel. Still, when talk of a film adaption of “The Dark Tower” was announced 273 years ago (or at least it felt like it), my father got excited, therefore I did too. Then the talk on the film just…disappeared. For years, the film seemed to be in production hell without an sort of movement from it for a while. Then, out of nowhere, the film’s production seemed to have taken off in a sort of rush, which somewhat confused me. Still, with a talented director behind the camera in Nikolaj Arcel, and two incredibly talented lead actors in Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, my hope stayed high. Then the reshoots began, and kept going, and the delays kept occurring, followed by a complete lack of any promotional material less than three months out from release, as well as rumors of poor test screenings, prospects for “The Dark Tower” seemed dark. Combine this all with a minuscule 95 minute runtime adapting a large book and you have a feat in itself for a production this troubled to make it to the big screen.
And for what it’s worth, “The Dark Tower” isn’t a complete atrocity, but it sure isn’t very good.
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a young boy in New York City who suffers from vivid, disturbing dreams about an alternate universe. In his dreams, he sees visions of tortured children, the sadistic Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), a single keeper of order in a Gunslinger named Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and a dark tower keeping the order of the universe. When Jake’s behavior becomes disturbing and erratic from his dreams, his mother (Katheryn Winnick) and stepfather agree to send him to a children’s psychiatric facility for brief examination. When Jake recognizes the employees from the facility as the creatures from his dream, he escapes and heads to a house in Brooklyn that he’s seen in his dream, in which he finds a portal to Mid-World, an alternate, desolate universe where he meets Deschain, who agrees to help him on his quest to save The Dark Tower from falling and destroying mankind, if only to seek revenge on the Man in Black for the murder of his people, including his father.
The worst part about “The Dark Tower” is that I can see the genius in King’s source material, and the potential it has for a great film or mini-series, but the way in which the film is executed is almost criminal in how completely dull and unspectacular it is. The film is adequately directed by Arcel, but I know that Arcel has much more talent than he shows here, really showcasing the rushed, erratic nature of the film’s production to make a talented director do such dull work. The film hovered around decent, if unspectacular territory for a while, but the final act of “The Dark Tower” is so rushed, inconsequential, unfinished, and generally incomplete that it finally fell into “bad” territory by the film’s finish. The sheer feeling of disorganization in the film’s reshoots are incredibly apparent to an almost laughable degree. The film’s visual effects start out quite strong in the beginning, but the finale of the film features some very cartoonish CGI that looks like it came from a film with half of the budget this film did. This is a film that slowly tries to find its footing, but slips off of a vast cliff near the end of its journey.
In spite of that, Elba is quite good as Deschain, who definitely has the heroic qualities that’s needed for a role like this. Elba has a way of adding depth to anything he touches (ex. “No Good Deed”), which makes Deschain feel much more like a fleshed out character than the screenplay might give him credit for. Elba is one of the finest actors of his generation and the fact he can push through this completely unscathed only seeks to reinforce that. McConaughey also does good work, but on a completely different plane. While Elba tries to flesh out Deschain into something serious and worthy of respect, McConaughey’s turn as the villainous Man in Black is hammy and quite fun to watch, but it’s a shame it has to be in an adaption of a material as respected as this one. Still, I don’t pin this on McConaughey, as he saw a messy screenplay and did the best he could with the role, having much fun along the way in a rare villainous turn for the likable actor.
At 95 minutes, I think I might have a few vertebrae out of place from how quickly the pace of “The Dark Tower” moves. In any other film, a fast-moving pace would typically do it good, but in “The Dark Tower,” we lose so much nuance and development of the world we find ourselves in, including many character intentions that go completely unspoken. I expected “The Dark Tower” to flesh out itself later in the film, but as we’ve learned before, if the final act did anything for this film, it brought the film down in an even more rushed dumpster fire of a reshoot. This is an occasion where I wish the film could’ve been much longer than it was, as a 140 minute version of this film might not fix many of its issues, but it would feel more like a coherent film and less of an incomplete mess.
And that’s the major shame of “The Dark Tower:” it feels like half of a movie, but unlike other films that simply end early to set up for a sequel, “The Dark Tower” feels incomplete throughout. Each scene feels far too short and too rushed, and I never got any sort of depth or nuance from anyone other than Deschain, which only really came along from the emotional depth Elba put into the role more than anyone else. “The Dark Tower” is nowhere near an atrocity of a film, it’s not the worst film in theaters right now; hell, it’s not even the worst film in theaters released by Columbia Pictures right now. “The Dark Tower” is simply a film ruined by too much studio interference that has stripped the film of whatever charm King had in his original novel. When I’m watching a film and thinking “This premise is super cool, so why isn’t this film cooler?,” there’s an inherent issue at hand. “The Dark Tower” seemed to have been handled with respect and care, but was simply ruined in its final months of production, and final moments on screen. It has forgotten the face of its father.
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, and Jackie Earle Haley.
Runtime: 95 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.
Also available in Dolby Cinema exclusively at AMC Concord Mills.
Columbia Pictures and MRC present, in association with Imagine Entertainment, a Weed Road production, “The Dark Tower”