Movie Review: The Dark Tower

The audience is left in the dark in this confusing Stephen King adaptation

The Dark Tower
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
With Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley

Everybody is trying to launch a series so they can copy the success of some of the comic book franchises. The latest effort is to tap into Stephen King's series of Dark Tower novels. The first movie, called The Dark Tower, though, is not encouraging.

The film doesn't exactly depict the story of any of the eight novels. Instead it makes a new story taking place in the world of the books. It is an odd choice, as the main attraction is author Stephen King, and his ideas are sort of set aside.

A text on the screen at the start tells the audience there is a dark tower someplace in the center of the universe and a child can somehow knock it down. But knocking the tower down would be a bad thing.

That is about all the audience is given to go on.

Then the audience meets a kid, Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor) furiously making spooky drawings based on his bad dreams. It's not an original opening move, and it sets a low bar. The drawings, of course, will become true. The audience is far ahead of the plot from the get go.

There is some hope eventually when people call the kid's visions “shine,” as in The Shining, but it only serves to remind people that good films sometimes are made from Stephen King's novels.

The kid's visions are of man in black called Walter Padick (Matthew McConaughey) and a “gunslinger” called Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). They are pretty much good and evil personified, and have been opposing each other for a long time.

The film becomes a confusing mess of hidden time travel portals leading between what is called Keystone Earth and a parallel society called Mid-World, where there was some sort of apocalypse and survivors use remnants of 19th century technology like six-shooter revolvers.

Virtually none of this is explained. There are a few cryptic hints, but not enough to really catch on. There are links between Keystone Earth and Mid-World, and events on one world cause catastrophes on the other. But how and why again is left an open question. And why the connection seems to be only recent if the conflict has been going on for centuries is also never touched by the script.

Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba are both top-rank actors. They create whatever interest there is in the film. McConaughey has an offhand manner as he commits his truly vile acts. Elba has the weariness of a fighter who has nothing left but still refuses to give up. The actors eventually take a back seat to the CGI special effects though, which is disappointing.

Relative newcomer Tom Taylor is the main focus of the film, and he creates a credible character of someone who knows his visions are true, despite everyone else thinking he is crazy.

The domestic drama involving his mother and stepfather is rather uninspired, and pretty identical to almost every horror film that uses the broken-home motif.

The film has a relatively short running time, just 95 minutes, but it feels much longer as it drags from scene to scene switching from the two locations. Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who made the Oscar-nominated costume drama A Royal Affair, has no feel for the material. He never rises above stock scenes and generic depictions that have been retread time and time again.

The project had a very lengthy production history going back a decade, with J.J, Abrams and Ron Howard set to direct at different times. Many actors were also mentioned over the years. Ron Howard remained as producer.

Test screenings had negative reactions and some of the film was reshot to explain the back story, but seemingly it was a lost cause.

The film does set up a sequel, and perhaps some of the confusion will be explained in the future. But the Dark Tower series is off to a rocky start.

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