There are few literary series which are as creative or intricate as Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” anthology. Over the span of eight novels and a standalone short story, King weaves an ultimate tale of good versus evil. His characters are deep and complex, heroes often doing terrible things or making painful sacrifices in the name of the greater good. As the books progress timelines begin to wrap around one another. Small choices rippling through dimensions impacting characters in ways that are quite unexpected. Details and characters from other King stories begin to appear in this narrative, weaving a web between all of his prior (and future?) novels. Because of these complexities, it’s often been said that it would be impossible to make a film adaptation. J.J. Abrams was the first to try but eventually passed on the project. The next attempt was made by Ron Howard, who at one time conceived a narrative that would ambitiously span several movies and a TV series. Instead, those plans fell by the wayside, Howard stepping into a producer role, and Nikolaj Arcel taking over writing and directing. Arcel being rumored to be a fan of the series, and based on his screenplays for 2009’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and Oscar nominated “A Royal Affair” there was still a glimmer of hope for fans that an engaging, if not faithful, adaptation would be made. Instead, “The Dark Tower” is the worst film adaptation of a King story to date.
The single biggest problem with the film appears to be a complete lack of understanding of the source material. The plot has been boiled down into basic vengeance, literally the lowest common denominator of “You killed my father” and “You killed my mother.” Arcel also made the odd choice of realigning the narrative to be from the perspective of a young boy, Jake( Tom Taylor). This immediately reduces both the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) to secondary characters and the whole Good-vs-Ultimate-Evil thing takes a backseat. To be fair, Idris Elba is a bright spot in the film. He does the best anyone could do with the lame dialog and direction he is given, even managing to sell some tired fish-out-of-water jokes when he first arrives in New York City. Matthew McConaughey is, well, a wonderful actor, but incredibly miscast. His version of the Man in Black does not once come across as evil, but more of a Sleazy-Greasy-Pervy-I-Try-Very-Very-Hard-To-Be-Mean-Because-My-Parents-Didn’t-Love-Me type. Dangerous and frightening to be sure, but far from an agent of the Crimson King.
With the characters so disparaged, did at least some of the plot of the books remain? Only a brittle skeleton of the meaty story is left, which is then bastardized with not-in-a-good-way weird sci-fi/fantasy elements. Portals that would make Stargate envious connect dimensions & locations in an illogical way. Apparently, if you know the numbered code, you can go anywhere, except the villain’s base is only accessible from another base, even though they seem to be able to transport wherever they want at any time? One portal, surprisingly, still uses a dial-up-modem to connect. (Really -think- about that for a minute…) Characters do -stupid- things for no reason. One great example is the first portal Jake encounters. If something like that powered up in front of you, and you could see a world beyond it, it WOULD be smart to test it first, right? This is what Jake does (smart!) But in a room FILLED with debris, he chooses to test said portal by taking off one of his shoes and tossing it through?? Is this a minor complaint? Perhaps, but it’s the perfect indicator that this film was FAR outside the ability of the Nikolaj Arcel. We’re also left to wonder why The Gunslinger spent so many years wandering in his unsuccessful search for the Man in Black’s Lair, when every few nights, a beam of light illuminates its location?
Those unfamiliar with the books and characters are likely to view this movie and shrug it off. It’s OK, but quite generic, forgettable, and dare I say, boring. But everyone that “has not forgotten the face of their father” will likely despise this “adaptation” and fume at the apathy the filmmakers had for the source. The only thing that could have salvaged this screenplay is if they scrapped all connections to King’s material, but instead, set it in the world of “The Matrix”
The Dark Tower