Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: PG13 (Violence)
Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International
Official Website: http://www.thedarktower-movie.com/site/
Opening Day: 3 August 2017
Synopsis: There are other worlds than these. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, the ambitious and expansive story from one of the world’s most celebrated authors, makes its launch to the big screen. The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black. Based on the Novels by: Stephen King
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” So goes the famous opening line of what’s been popularly cited as Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower – a sprawling seven-part novel series published over the course of more than two decades. Watching the opening moments of this eagerly-anticipated big screen adaptation unfoldhowever, one begins to get an inkling that director and co-screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel has opted for a somewhat different take on its print source (the opening line from the first novel is still referenced midway in the movie, but with considerably muted impact).
That more than a few liberties have been taken with the original narrative becomes glaringly obvious as the movie chugs on. Not that there’s a problem with that at all, but by the end of the film, there’s little else left to conclude than the fact that its difficult gestation (different parties and studios have been in talks to adapt the film for the past ten years, including the likes of J. J. Abrams, and it’s rumoured to have been plagued by poor initial screen tests, re-edits and re-edits before its current theatrical release) has resulted in a disappointingly stillborn piece of work.
Although the different arc in the film can be technically attributed to the fact that it’s meant to be a sequel to the books, it appears to draw from various existing elements of the series to create a separate, standalone story. No-nonsense intertitles at the beginning – as if to suggest the gravity of the situation – inform us that there is an important tower that acts as a nexus holding our universes together. Idyllic scenes of children playing on a grass field soon give way to more sinister shenanigans that involve diabolical adults with skin several sizes too loose for their intended cheekbone structures and kids being strapped to metallic contraptions channellingtheir psychic powers to launch anoffensive. Said tower, which resembles a menacing spire straight out of the Lord of the Rings set spiralling up into the heavens, is officially under attack.
It all turns out to be a bad dream, one of many before experienced by a young Jake Chambers (played by newcomer Tom Taylor). Or maybe it’s not just a dream – between dealing with disbelieving family and friends who basically think he’s off his rockers, and getting hunted down by shadowy characters (somehow reminiscent of The Matrix and its Agents, except less dapper), Jake proves his visions are the real deal by finding the portal to the parallel universe known as Mid-World on his own. There, he encounters the characters he’s been seeing in his dreams: first Roland Deschain, the last “gunslinger” (imagine dystopian Old-Western cowboy with a noble lineage, played by Idris Elba) and eventually, the evil Walter O’Dim, a.k.a. the Man in Black (played Matthew McConaughey).
Long story short – Roland and Jake bond over personal vendettas that they need to settle with Walter and a quest to save the world from his clutches, while the latter needs the divine, chosen-one psychic abilities (theso-called “Shine”) of Jake. Thus begins a game of hide-and-seek involving both factions seeking each other out and shuttling between Mid-World and Keystone Earth (the human world, or at least the on-screen reality of New York City). As films like these go, it all culminates in an ultimate showdown between both sides. It actually sounds a little more interesting than it really is, because running at a scant 95 minutes and grappling with a (relatively) modest budget of US$60 million, The Dark Tower struggles to dress up its paper-thin script of evil-wrecks-havoc, good-fights-evil with a frenetic line-up of uninspired action sequences.
With the film practically revolving only around the three aforementioned main characters (none of the mono-dimensional side characters are worth mentioning), it’s a shame that the action comes at the expense of their backstories. Unlike the novels, Jake almost takes centre-stage here alongside the last gunslinger, even though the latter’s potentially a lot more complex and interesting to explore.The focus on their settling of personal scores with the Man in Black detracts from the arguably bigger, far nobler cause of saving the world from the collapse of the tower, but if the former angle is what Arcel’s celluloid rendition is gunning for, the characters’personal tragedies and opportunities for sub-plots feel glossed over.These are all creative risks that do not pay off, and audiences will wind up barely getting a whiff of the magic originally present in King’s epic universe that amalgamizes aspects of American Western, science fiction, horror and Arthurian fantasy.
If you’re wondering, those who have not read the books should have no issue following the basic story arc essentially, but they will have difficulty investing emotionally in the film’s central figures, who could do with a boost of dimensionality. Who really were the noble Gunslingers in their heyday and why was a fallen Roland impervious to the dark magic of Walter, who so easily wills death upon utterance of a command? Why is Walter so hell-bent on destroying the Tower and releasing the proverbial kraken? Why should we care then? Uninitiated moviegoers should not have to plough through the novels to get the answers to these questions. Given this much incredible source material to work with and the high stakes of potential sequels or spin-offs hinging on the success of this film, it shouldn’t and can’t afford to miss the mark this much (a follow-up TV series has been planned for 2018, but we wouldn’t hold our breath now).
Frankly though, the movie isn’t abysmally bad – it just isn’t exceptional enough to stand out from the slew of first-rate fantasy-action and superhero movies available to consumers these days. Nonetheless, audiences should still regale in the stylings of the expansive sets and characters from the Mid-World. The display of aerial acrobatics when Elba’s Roland prepares to take aim with a pair of guns and a few bullets in his hands is sensational. But it is the leading actors who prove themselves to be the real towers here: Elba and McConaughey make the most of what they’ve been afforded and cut imposing figures on screen, while Taylor is perfectly cast as Jake, displaying a rare precocity that we’d love to see more of in the future. Fans of Stephen King will no doubt have a fun time spotting Easter eggs referencing his other works: from a photo of the Overlook Hotel (from The Shining) in a therapist’s office, ruins of a theme park named Pennywise (from IT) to a St. Bernard’s dog in the streets possibly alluding to Cujo, among others. It’s less fun for those who aren’t in the know, and we’re certain both camps of audiences would much rather trade some of the cheaper thrills for more solid storytelling and character development.
(Reduced to a run-of-the-mill action flick with characters that lack depth, fans of the original novels may feel let down by how it barely scratches the surface of its source material, while the non-initiated may be left wondering what the hype was all about. Still, it makes for a sufficiently enjoyable (if somewhat forgettable) popcorn flick)
Review by Tan Yong Chia Gabriel