Dark Tower

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Stephen King is where Hollywood goes when content is scarce. Sometimes adaptations of his movies are successful. Other times, as witness Dreamcatcher, just plain atrocious. The Dark Tower is of the latter mould, receiving 4 out of 10 stars from Christian Tesfaye.

Stephen King is that writer every fantasy, horror or mystery fanatic has to read. Or so I was told. The first of his books I read was the short story collection Different Seasons. Within it were included stories that lent themselves to one of the best movies of all time: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and The Body. The former, renamed The Shawshank Redemption, is one of the greatest prison movies that ever made it to the screen and the latter, renamed Stand By Me, and directed by Rob Reiner, was a surprisingly touching tale of childhood innocence and vitality.

I had seen both movies before having read Different Seasons. I thought it was going to be like other times where the book version is better in characterization and pacing than the filmed one, but it was not so. I was not as happy with the short stories as I was with the movies. Although the last story in the book, also the shortest one, The Breathing Method, was a knockout, I found the author’s style wordy and his characters static.

But I did not give up on King. I assumed I was missing something. No one can be this highly respected with readers the world over without some secret I was obviously missing. I read The Dead Zone, which was good, but boring and winding at times. I moved on to The Shining. Perhaps it was a result of my bias for Stanley Kubrick’s movie version, but I thought the horror mystery was mediocre, and exceptionally lacking compared to Kubrick’s superior meditation on writer’s block, loneliness, emptiness and psychosis.

I still did not give up on King. I thought I would give him another go. I treated myself to one of his most popular books which nonetheless has never made to the silver screen, The Gunslinger, the first volume of the The Dark Tower series.

Sadly, the book proved the last straw. I went in expecting an interesting magic system, a colourful universe and grey characters. Instead, I found a vague story shamelessly rushing to a climax that was, well, obvious.

But The Dark Tower franchise has its diehard fans, and Hollywood, which routinely faces a lack of content, and is perpetually looking for material to reap from other mediums, has taken note.

The Gunslinger spent the last decade as the perfect example of what movie insiders call development hell. First J.J Abrams, future director of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, tried to bring it to life but then it was taken into the hands of Ron Howard who really wanted to direct it. He did not, but at least served as a major reason the movie got made to begin with.

The Dark Tower is directed by Nikolaj Arcel. It stars Idris Elba as the gunslinger Roland Deschian, who searches for his father’s killer, the Man in Black, also known as Walter, played by Matthew McConaughey.

The film takes place in a universe where different worlds are glued to the same life force, called the Dark Tower, that sustains them. Children, with inherent powers known as ‘the shine’ though can break the Dark Tower if their powers are misused. Walter steals children from different worlds for use to destroy the universe. When he finds that a boy from Earth has super ‘shine’ ability, he searches mercilessly for him. But the boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), gets visions and teams up with Roland to fend off the villain.

The Dark Tower builds up the unique universe of the franchise nicely enough. Diehard readers may complain that the film glosses over many interesting plot elements, but I found it comprehensible enough.

But it goes downhill from then on. The film moves too fast. At 95 minutes, The Dark Tower does not analyze but briefs. We see characters, and then they die. We see a scene, and then it concludes. We get an action sequence and then some explosion goes on somewhere and Roland wins. The movie is fleeting – scared we may take note of its deficiencies.

The acting, on the other hand, was not that bad. I liked McConaughey as a villain – he exudes evil far more terrifyingly than I would have expected. If I did not want to sound too ingratiating, I would say he reminded me of a young Darth Vader.

Idris as always is fantastic, doing his best with bad material. He does not act as an action movie star, but simply plays a character that can get hurt and has weaknesses.

But for the life of me, I would not watch The Dark Tower again. It smells of incompetent plotting, cliché elements and gross one-dimensional characterization. I never liked The Gunslinger book to begin with, and I have never understood why the book is so popular, but it is fairly obvious why fans would hate the movie version.

Published on Sep 03,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 906]



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