The Dark Tower

Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in The Dark Tower. (AP)
Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in The Dark Tower. (AP)

What it's about:

Loosely based on the Stephen King fantasy series, The Dark Tower tells the story of Jake, a teenager whose visions of another world may be written off as a sign of madness by his parents, doctors, teachers and friends but when a series of events leads him to that other world, he comes face to face with his visions brought to life: an eternal battle of good and evil between the The Man in Black who wants to bring darkness and death to multiple worlds and Roland, the last Gunslinger, the one man who could stop him. At the centre of their conflict is the Dark Tower, a single structure that lies at the centre of reality and is the only thing standing between the Multiverse and whatever darkness lies outside it.

What we thought:

Spanning three decades, seven novels, a number of spin-off books, comics and thousands upon thousands of pages, The Dark Tower is undoubtedly Stephen King's magnum opus. It's so monolithic, in fact, that The Dark Tower touches on many other King properties along the way and even draws the author himself into the story. It's the sort of thing that makes Game of Thrones look positively brief and self-contained in comparison. 

Turning The Dark Tower into a multi-season HBO series might be able to capture the sheer scope of King's masterwork but, even then, loads would have to be left out. The seemingly insurmountable trouble of adapting the thing certainly explains why it's been in development hell for years. Not too long ago, an audacious and undoubtedly risky solution was finally reached. The Dark Tower would consist of a long-running premium-cable TV show and a series of movies that would intertwine and interact in a way that would make it arguably the most ambitious project ever undertaken by Hollywood.  

Apparently, this insane idea has never been fully abandoned and there are still rumblings of a Dark Tower series being planned for one of the premium cable companies. That is, however, all very much up in the air and seems to have been intentionally sabotaged by The Dark Tower film that we do have. Not only is the film a sequel of sorts to the novels – thanks for the spoiler, guys! - but it wouldn't so much introduce the world of The Dark Tower, so much as tell the whole story of Roland and the Man in Black. All in ninety minutes! 

For what it's worth, I have read the first three novels in the series to date and I do intend to get back to it as some point in the future – though, considering just how huge the whole thing is, I wouldn't hold my breath. As such, I certainly don't know the whole story of The Dark Tower but I know enough to know that the film is both a terrible adaptation of its source material and a woefully incompetent piece of filmmaking in its own right.

The ambition and far-reaching ideas of the original series are mostly replaced with a borderline incoherent plot that wonders all over the place before reaching an anti-climactic ending that may leave plenty of space for sequel movies but points to none of the expansive world-building that was suggested by the long-promised cross-platform adaptation or the novels themselves. There are some decent action scenes along the way and things start off promisingly enough with the classic King staple of the misunderstood kid uncovering a creepy world just below the surface of our world but the only thing that otherwise saves the movie from being a total write off is some typically great work from Messrs. Elba and McConaughy – who do the best they can with thread-bare characterisation.

The film basically plays out like a particularly rubbish pilot to a 1990s network sci-fi show with bigger names and slightly better effects. It's unclear whether this is actually launching an HBO-style TV series but, despite apparently telling its entire story in a simultaneously breathless and boring ninety minutes, it still feels like a misjudged TV pilot of an episodic TV show that tells the stories of a cowboy and his plucky sidekick in a slightly fantasy-tinged universe. This ain't The Dark Tower – hell it ain't even barely a movie!

It's especially unfortunate for The Dark Tower that between my seeing it and writing this review, I had the privilege to see the epic finale to the current season of Game and Thrones and the final episodes of Mark Frost and David Lynch's jaw-droppingly ambitious, esoteric and thoroughly brilliant return to Twin Peaks. With this level of genre storytelling on display on the small screen (though good luck figuring out exactly which genre Twin Peaks falls into), there is simply no excuse for a major, studio-backed blockbuster to feel this old-school-televisual, this inane and this shoddily put together. Hell, say what you want about even the worst superhero films, none of them – save for maybe Suicide Squad – have felt this half-assed. 

It's no real surprise to find franchise-killer Akiva Goldsman's (Batman and Robin, Rings, Transformers 5, Insurgent) name attached to the film's screenplay but, really, what are such a talented cast doing being associated with something this obviously sub-par? Worse, why would Danish director, Nocolaj Arcel, follow up his widely loved A Royal Affair and make his English-language directorial debut with something that looks this utterly compromised from the get go?       

This isn't the film that Dark Tower fans have been waiting decades for and, based on the paltry marketing the film has received, one can only assume that everyone involved in making it feel the same. 

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