‘The Dark Tower’ falls short of Stephen King’s vision

Ryan Greene

Rating: PG-13

Genres: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Western

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Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor

Directed By: Nikolaj Arcel

Written By: Nikolaj Arcel, Akiva Goldsman, Anders Thomas Jensen, Jeff Pinkner

Release date: Aug 4, 2017

Studio: Sony Pictures

Idris Elba
Photo courtesy of Pixabay (https://www.flickr.com/photos/blacksnob/3314556650)

“I do not kill with my gun. He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.”

This is an excerpt from The Gunslinger’s Oath. It is often repeated throughout Stephen King’s 20-year-spanning epic series. 

In keeping with that oath’s sentiment, I do not criticize the film adaptation of “The Dark Tower” with my keyboard. I criticize it with the very fibers of my soul, as I weep for the difference between what this movie is and what it should have been.

“The Dark Tower” is the culmination of eight Stephen King novels totaling over 4,500 pages and exceeding a million words. I say “culmination” and not “adaptation” because the film is just that: a sequel to the books, effectively the closing chapter. If the film earns enough revenue at the box office, Sony Pictures plans to follow it with a series of films taken more directly from the books, with a TV series filling in gaps between movies. Imagine if George Lucas had started the original “Star Wars” trilogy with “Return of the Jedi” and then followed it with “A New Hope” and “Empire Strikes” back.

This unconventional choice is the film’s largest problem, but it is far from the only one.

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Any memorable text-to-screen adaptation endeavors to present a good story first and history second. “The Dark Tower” fails in that endeavor, and you can tell by listening to the characters speak. The awkwardly-written, wooden dialogue between Roland (Idris Elba) and Jake (Tom Taylor) is hard to sit through. The two protagonists spend much of their interactions catching the audience up on relevant moments from King’s books and how these led to the current, apocalyptic situation. The sheer magnitude of perfunctory, surface-level exposition puts you to sleep. Is this a movie, or a “Dark Tower” book report presented by the one kid in class who only read the Sparknotes version?

Something must be said of the acting in general. Elba seems even more disinterested in the whole adventure than I was, acting as if he is reading lines from an off screen cue card. Further, the archetypal Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) is built up as the ultimate evil. He kills people by rasping “stop breathing,” or by setting them on fire with his mind. To McConaughey’s credit, he does a sufficient job of making Walter O’ Dim slightly creepy. We get this temperate version rather than the Stephen King equivalent of Darth Vader that he is in the books.

The film references the real big bad of the series, The Crimson King. We see some of his demonic minions, rendered in mucky CGI and conveniently appearing only at night. The other villains, rat-like creatures who wear human faces, lope around and snarl like forgettable extras from a Peter Jackson set.

Should you see it? No

Having read some of King’s books and their Marvel Comic adaptations, I had an inkling of how great this film might have been in the right hands. Sadly, unfortunate directorial decisions and poor scripting reduce “The Dark Tower” to little more than a facsimile of itself. My advice is this: skip the movie and hope the TV series does the books some well-deserved justice.

Collegian reporter Ryan Green can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @RyanGre75057034.