If you were hoping for the Dark Tower, this ain’t it.
The Dark Tower (2017) has a fundamental premise too tasty to pass up. A series of worlds connected by a mystical construction called the Dark Tower are bound together in an inexplicable manner.
The Tower protects this collection of Earth-like worlds from a threat from beyond the boundaries of these temporally-similar but separated Earths. Still with me? A sorcerer from one of these Earths has decided to destroy the Tower and unleash whatever chaos exists beyond the borders of the collective Earths. Why? No idea.
Do we ever learn why? No. The fact he tortures children with telepathic ability, using them like Pez is just something we learn along the way. For those familiar with the Stephen King mythos, the familiar term of “shine” is resurrected to give you a bit of familiarity with other King works. While the movie tries hard to give you the feeling you are engaged in a King story, it fails to deliver.
Was there anything inherently wrong with the movie? No. The underlying promise is right there. Travel to other worlds similar to Earth with other problems. Did the story try to connect you with the underlying themes of King’s Dark Tower? Not even close. The two main characters, the Gunslinger and the Man in Black make their appearances but little else seems familiar.
But that’s okay, with the premise of parallel Earths, we could explore global warming, perpetual warfare, overpopulation, the list was endless. The scene in the theme park and Roland not knowing what it was almost amused me.
Instead, it was an extremely predictable McGuffin quest. It’s not that the movie is terrible. It isn’t. It’s just NOT the Dark Tower by Stephen King. All of what makes the book what it is, fails to appear in this movie. It’s a kiddified version of the story and it has little to do with the book. What’s worse? It depends on people being interested in the Dark Tower (in its original form) to care about this movie and ultimately it might have done better if it had NEVER been associated with the book and just tried to be a movie on its own.
This is Hollywood’s problem. They’re unwilling to innovate and insist on remixing existing properties for their opportunity to create maximum economic bang without doing any of the heavy lifting of creating an original property. They also don’t seem to remember every movie shouldn’t cost $100 million minimum to get the job done.
Should I see it?
That depends. Did you like the Stephen King novels? If you did, don’t see it. It will disappoint you. If you didn’t read the novels then by all means go. You have nothing to judge it against and it isn’t the worst thing I have seen. Easily better than half of the movies Disney created in the seventies and eighties (Think: Escape to Witch Mountain circa 1975). Not deep. No significant lines, no meaningful score, no character development. There is a bit of CGI through the movie; just enough to keep you from glazing over, not enough to wow you or make you sit up. Only one Gunslinging scene stands out and yes, you saw it in the first trailer.
The hero is boring; Tom Taylor plays young Jake Chambers, a nascent psychic who promises to be the instrument of the Tower’s destruction. Taylor comes in under the wire as almost believable. He’ll probably be a good actor one day, if he can land better roles than this one.
In stories such as these, an old wizard tends to be the hero’s first exposure to the quest. In this case, the old wizard is a troubled gunslinger played by Idris Elba. This fine actor from the UK is wasted in this film, having none of the typical gravitas I expect from him. The director seems to have told him, “Leave the sexy you at home. We want you shell-shocked, petulant, and pissed off.” He does what he’s told but his heart doesn’t appear to be in it. Nonetheless, he’s the only life this movie’s got. When he’s not on the screen, your attention wavers.
The villain, our Man in Black, though completely despicable in every way, is only slightly more interesting than watching old people cross the street. Without his mindless cruelty, the Man in Black has nothing to recommend him, despite Matthew McConaughey’s visual and vocal charms. McConaughey looks bored in almost every scene.
This movie can be summed up the exact same way. It felt sanitized of any emotion, there’s no feeling of urgency or threat. The acting met the minimum requirements for a flavorless, innocuous, CGI-enhanced treat. Imagine the best meal you have ever eaten, slathered in the sauces of your dreams with the finest vintage of beverage you can conceive of.
Take a picture of your dream meal, print it out and eat the photo instead. Sums up the Dark Tower just about right.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.