A couple of years ago there was talk of Ron Howard directing a big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. The film would act as an introduction to the Dark Tower universe, to be followed by a TV series. Ron Howard was set to direct, with Javier Bardem cast as Roland the Gunslinger, the main protagonist of King’s multi-novel series.
The original plan was jettisoned in favor of Idris Elba as Roland and a relatively novice director, Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair), at the helm. (Howard took on producer’s duties.) The first film’s budget was reduced to $60 million, a price you would normally see for a Hollywood rom-com, not for the launch of what was proposed to be an epic, blockbuster franchise.
All of the uncertainty and delays that plagued the production are immediately apparent in the final product. This movie is a catastrophe, and a complete slight to fans of the King books, fans of Matthew McConaughey, and fans of science fiction/fantasy. Oh hell, this thing slights everybody.
It looks like a low-level episode of Dr. Who, and we’re talking really schlocky, 1970s Dr. Who. You get the sense watching this that they used the same soundstage for all of their interiors and just repainted shit. The CGI is terrible, the pacing is ridiculously, unnecessarily fast, and the plot is confusing for those who haven’t read the books. I’ve never read the books and, after watching this, I don’t really care to.
The story involves some kid named Jake (Tom Taylor), a sad teenager who is gifted with “The Shine,” the psychic powers Danny had in King’s The Shining. He dreams of another world where there is a dark tower that acts as some sort of barrier between other dimensions, protecting planets like Earth from evil. He also dreams of a gunslinger (Elba) who is trying to kill the Man in Black.
No, it’s not Johnny Cash. It’s some sort of devil man played by McConaughey whose intention is to hunt people with the Shine because their brains harness the power to shoot laser beams into the Dark Tower, thus destroying it and releasing goofy CGI monsters upon the Earth. Tom winds up traveling to something called the Mid World, where he joins forces for a brief hike with Roland, then winds up back on Earth in present-day New York City for some kind of apocalyptic battle.
You can go ahead and badmouth me all you want if I got any of this wrong but, I assure you, that’s the best I could gather from this hackneyed, rushed, underwhelming production. There have been reports that this is, in fact, a sequel to King’s novels, and not a faithful beginning to the actual saga. I can’t really report on the authenticity of such a report. I can just tell you that the movie sucks.
When considering the apparent scope of the novels, it’s a bit of a shocker that the film clocks in at 95 minutes. There is a definite sense that a lot of backstory and exposition has been removed in order to dumb things down and streamline the pace.
Elba growls intermittent dialogue, with his character amounting to nothing more than shallow archetype. Also, if you are going to have a gunslinger with a Western motif, give him a cool hat. Elba, as always, looks and is cool, but something as simple as a hat would’ve made a little more sense in fleshing out the gunslinger character.
McConaughey roams from sloppy set to sloppier set looking lost and perhaps even a little pissed that he signed on for this garbage. He’s not all bad; he’s just given next to nothing notable to do.
There are still some sketchy plans to follow up this film with a TV series. Whatever the plan is, scrap it and start over a few years from now, when the memory of this unfortunate cinematic event has subsided.