Action Adaptation

'The Dark Tower' Film Review: A lack of creative risk-taking does a disservice to this Stephen King adaptation

August 3, 2017Ben MK

A classic tale of good versus evil that transcends the genres of fantasy, spaghetti western and horror, Stephen King's eight-volume "The Dark Tower" series has captivated readers ever since the publication of its first tome, "The Gunslinger," three-and-a-half decades ago. Now, amid some highly-publicized behind-the-scenes strife, "The Dark Tower" has finally been constructed on the big screen.

The film's storyline revolves around a boy named Jacob Chambers (Tom Taylor), whose "shine" (that's King-speech for psychic powers) is unlike any other. However, Jake doesn't realize his abilities, nor does he fully comprehend the visions he's been tormented with — visions of a monolithic tower that stands at the center of the universe, and that of a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), an evil sorcerer who seeks to destroy the tower, thereby opening up our universe to attack from the malicious supernatural entities that dwell outside the boundaries of our cosmos.

What Jake is confident about is that every time the Man in Black attempts to bring down the tower — by hurling a volley of psychic energy harnessed from the minds of kidnapped children at it — the resulting impact triggers an earthquake in cities like that of his hometown, New York City, and lately, the quakes have been getting more and more frequent. Jake's mom (Katheryn Winnick) and his fed-up stepdad (Nicholas Pauling), on the other hand, are having a hard time coping with their son's situation, and they desperately want Jake to seek psychiatric help.

Then one day, Jake receives definitive proof that his visions are no delusion, when the Man in Black's creepy minions — aliens who don human skin suits to conceal their true identities — come for him. Guided by the stark, black-and-white images he's put to paper, Jake finds himself in an alternate dimension called Mid-World, where he enlists the help of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), a lone wolf Gunslinger — and the last of his kind — and together, they set out on a journey to find the Man in Black and put an end to his schemes once and for all.

The premise is certainly not the most grounded, but director Nikolaj Arcel, working from a script he co-wrote with Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen, delivers not only a competent and non-convoluted fantasy-adventure, but one that also pays homage to the source material. The Dark Tower condenses over 4,000 pages of King's storytelling into a mere hour-and-a-half on-screen, but it hints at something much grander in scale, slyly implicating crossovers with other King stories, such as "The Shining", "1408" and "It," in the process.

The Dark Tower's major issue, though, is that it plays things too safe. And in failing to take risks — either narratively, visually or in terms of its action — it undercuts itself in almost every regard. From the bland sci-fi/fantasy aesthetic of the film, to the fish-out-of-water humor that ensues when Roland makes his way to Earth, there's little in the movie that audiences haven't seen before. Ordinarily, that might not be such a concern, but "The Dark Tower" is such an iconic series, whereas in this movie version, there are just varying shades of gray.

The Dark Tower releases August 4th, 2017 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 35 Mins.

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