Adapting Stephen King to film is a complicated case, knowing that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had taken liberties with its source material to the scorn of King himself. With that having been said, it still remains the best of the many adaptations that King’s work has spawned, but perhaps the case with “Stephen King done right” as proven by the Shining miniseries would only have proven itself disastrous, so fan reactions to The Dark Tower could set expectations in place for they didn’t get what they would have wanted as a means of introducing a story they love to newcomers. Coming in with a newcomer’s perspective for I’ve only read the first book in the series and wasn’t a fan, I already feel the anger that such an audience would have felt to see something they loved bastardized the way Nikolaj Arcel did so here.
Set after the events of the original Dark Tower novels, this new film already finds itself set in danger when newcomers to the original story have little context aside from vague exposition that’s supposedly explaining what happens prior to the events of the actual story. The last of the Gunslingers is played by Idris Elba, and the Man in Black is played by Matthew McConaughey. The film spans between two worlds, and in one world a tower is present that connects both worlds, but the Man in Black is seeking a means to destroy it and unleash doom on Earth. Our protagonist is a young boy named Jake Chambers, and he has visions of the other world that end up bringing him to seek out the Gunslinger, and put an end to life as we know it. But the worlds never feel explained as well enough as the most we get is an expository introduction that abruptly cuts to New York, a familiar setting – among many things going wrong with introducing these stories to newcomers.
What I can’t get over is the fact that I remember the source material being so much darker, and this feeling only like a toned down version for the sake of accessibility. The PG-13 rating makes everything clearer for moments come and flow akin to a young adult novel being adapted to the big screen. But this doesn’t feel like a product that is conceptualized by a single vision, as opposed to so many coming all at once. For it would have been easy enough to see The Dark Tower being much more sinister, and yet it feels mostly tame and overly simplified. But the manner to which it’s setting up its tone is where I find The Dark Tower a jarring experiment at that, because we have an extremely frightening idea at play with what happens to children who encounter the Man in Black, then the next scene we have something far lighter, and suddenly we also have a neo-western film infused with the fantasy genre. Which sounds cool enough, but in 90 minutes without any sort of explanation of events, we still feel alienated.
But therein lies another problem, we know already that this is a film that merely exists for the purpose of furthering a franchise. The lack of context comes by merely as a reminder that we can expect more of this story to be told, but the presentation of this film seems to think otherwise. It’s a film that seems to expect us to know about the worlds from such vague outlooks or if we read the book series, leaving newcomers outside the door – and yet there’s barely any of the appeal of the series present for fans. And the manner to which it is building interest already finds itself falling flat, because there’s barely enough room for the film to allow its viewers to explore the world in which it is set within. The screenplay is messy enough when it came down to setting a perfect tone and audience for the film, but I’m not even sure Arcel bothered to allow his viewers to take in what they’re seeing and just rolled along.
Idris Elba’s casting is a fine choice, but there’s a problem when his charisma only feels phoned in. For one I’m glad to see that Arcel is boasting a diverse cast of races to play within both worlds, but the bigger problem comes clear when you look at what their performances are worth. Tom Taylor only feels like a bland child protagonist for Stephen King’s own worth, Claudia Kim comes by as a means of serving exposition, and then Matthew McConaughey comes in with the most unbelievable role in the film. For as much as it feels nice to see McConaughey playing a villain for once, his presence never seems to feel threatening as opposed to the setting in which he’s placed within. He and Elba as opposing forces should have been enough to bring a sense of charisma into this project but even at making the story exciting they fail badly.
I suppose the actual recital of the “Gunslinger’s Creed” (which we only heard fractions of in the trailers) would have indicated the sort of film we were set to watch, but considering the content in the source material it only makes what is present here even worse at its job. For what it’s worth, The Dark Tower will already leave its fans angered at what has been made of a story that they had loved so dearly, but for newcomers it won’t acquire the story any more fans for it still feels like a project whose aim is far too vague. For people who thought it was bad enough that we have seven books crammed into a 90-minute long movie that’s set after the events of such stories, what’s far worse about The Dark Tower is that being the first in a new series, it doesn’t feel welcoming at all. The most we even get out of this 90 minutes is a slog that feels far longer, because we don’t know what’s happening. And for how much I don’t know, I can’t say I care enough to know more.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel, from the novels by Stephen King
Produced by Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard, Erica Huggins
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 95 minutes