The Dark Tower (15)
Running time 1hr 35min
WITH no less than a half-a-dozen new films on the horizon, one might be tempted to suggest we’re in a new golden age of Stephen King adaptations; if that is the case, however, then it’s got off to a markedly clumsy start. None other than JJ Abrams was slated, a decade ago, to direct a movie based on The Dark Tower, the literary scream king’s most dense and perplexing work, but his dropping it, after much wrangling with the studio, is testament to the sheer scale of the task.
If King’s series, a spaghetti Western-cum-epic fantasy-cum-existential odyssey like nothing else in the popular canon (and running into 4,000-plus pages, to boot), was too much for the regnant master of cinematic sci-fi, then what hope did a less experienced pair of artistic paws have with it?
It can now be reported that the film is, at last, with us. Nikolaj Arcel, an obscure Dane, is behind the camera; Idris Elba finds himself in front of it, assuming the mantle of King’s immortal Gunslinger. This critic would’ve preferred that Hollywood leave these splendid novels well alone, and the movie itself, I believe, goes very far in vindicating that take. If this aborted effort should be remembered for anything (and, even now, I’m struggling to recall much at all about it worth mentioning), it’s the total lack of judgement and creative reason in evidence throughout. This is an exercise in how NOT to adapt a much-loved opus. Quite frankly, it falls at the first hurdle, and never really picks itself up again – this doesn’t ‘look’ anything like the world of King’s books. Sure, there’s plenty of dirt and grey, but gone is the genuine grit and surreal scope (and that’s saying something, given Arcel’s rather big on slo-mo, Matrix-y action segments).
Now, I don’t envy the man who has to commit a vision as awe-inducingly eclectic as that of The Dark Tower to celluloid, but that’s what made The Dark Tower worth talking about in the first place – this is a universe that throws cowboys, knightly orders, tigers and Discordian philosophy into one big melting pot and has us, the audience, run with it (in an episode sadly absent here, King himself makes a cameo appearance). The movie, by contrast, owes less to Leone than to the burgeoning
superhero genre, with much time whiled away in an Inception-esque New York; the Gunslinger’s stomping ground looks less Wild West than West Wales on a particularly filthy day. Elba, for his part, looks lost, escorting a psychic child (Tom Taylor) in a rambling ‘quest’ through the wasteland. Whereas this makes for a hypnotic, deliciously strange reading experience, it’s a torturous watch, the novels’ sense of weirdness and mystery transplanted with noregard to taste or delicacy.
And it only gets worse from there. Matthew McConaughey plays the Gunslinger’s enigmatic nemesis with a degree of relish, but there’s no denying the toll a sclerotic script takes upon his presence. You can’t shake the feeling that something’s gone very, very wrong down the line, confirmed when the whole thing clocks in at 95 minutes – after years in development hell, this has clearly been rushed through production.
It’s unclear if there’s enough here to actively offend even the most fervent King fans, but The Dark Tower is most definitely forgettable, undoubtedly a slog and, worst of all, a missed opportunity.