It was called the "unfilmable series" but Stephen King's 'Dark Tower' novels have finally arrived in cinemas. As much as we should be celebrating, fans of the novels -- and fans of films in general -- probably shouldn't bother.
Firstly, let's rule out the obvious: without giving away a spoiler for the source material, in the lead-up to the film's release 'The Dark Tower' was called a "continuation" of the novels, not an adaptation. This is not a takedown based on fidelity criticism (where the film is held up to the source material and critiqued for not being a faithful enough adapataion), but a warning: if you love the novels, this film is a misfire, and it might upset you.
The story of the novels tracks Roland, the last gunslinger, as he travels across worlds in a constant cat-and-mouse chase with The Man in Black. The two journey toward a mysterious tower and along the way Roland is joined by a series of companions. Simple as that may sound, across the eight novels King meshed genres, times, pop culture and created a truly remarkable world.
The story of the film is more like someone read the Wikipedia summary of the books once and three years later put together a rough draft of a script. It stars Idris Elba as Roland, Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black and Tom Taylor as young Jake Chambers.
Rough as that sounds, it's more a criticism of what must have occurred during the film's production. Clocking in at 95 minutes, this is one of the shortest blockbusters in recent time.
When the filmmakers made reference to the movie being a "continuation" it was exciting for fans of the novels, while the story would make sense for those who hadn't read it, this was a great message that they were not simply planning on giving us an interpretation of King's texts. King himself even tweeted out a major plot point early on, the tweet had huge repercussions within the context of the novels. Said plot point is never mentioned in the film, it could be argued it plays no part whatsoever.
Therein lies the major issue in 'The Dark Tower'. It feels like at some stage the plan was to do something grand, something worthy of King's books, something that was edited, focus tested, edited again and hacked down to no more than a few minutes longer than 'The Emoji Movie'.
King's novels spanned genres, pulling from Western, fantasy, horror and science fiction, he subverted tropes to develop his own twisting world of cross-literature. The film adheres to every predictable film construct, never giving any action time to breathe.
Essentially the film is a sub-par romp about two men obsessed with brutalist architecture that, due to what feels like over-zealous edits, fails to emit pathos for any characters, or garner any real interest or stakes in the plot. Roland is injured at one point and when it seems like that may impede his journey in the slightest, a handful of Panadol later he's fighting fit.
Worst of all is McConaughey turn as the Man in Black. One of King's greatest creations, the Man -- or Walter as he's known occasionally -- features in both 'The Dark Tower' series aas well as 'The Stand' and several other of King's novels.+
McConaughey's rendition reads more like a character from 'Glee', sashaying between scenes with the intent to "take over the universe". At one point he struts down a New York street past a young girl holding an ice cream and laughing, he waves his hand over her and hisses, "Hate" like a drag queen who found her eyelash in her vodka soda. The young girl's eyes turn dark and she scowls at her mother in silence.
This is a film that took some of the densest source material and boiled it down to an incredibly derivative, and worse, dull film. If you are a fan of Stephen King's series, do yourself a favor, just re-read the books.