The Dark Tower | Nikolaj Arcel | August 4th, 2017
Over the course of two decades, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series has created a cult following among fantasy and science-fiction fans, spanning multiple media formats. The inevitable film adaptation has floundered since 2007, attracting the likes of J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard. But the sheer scope of the project, which at times has been considered “unfilmable”, may have been too much for just one movie.
The Dark Tower (2017) is actually a sequel to The Dark Tower, the eponymous final novel in the series (or as it’s listed now on Amazon, The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (you get the picture)), so it isn’t a direct adaptation of any of the books. However, it does introduce themes and plot lines through flashbacks that help explain some of the wild concepts that come into play. The story essentially unfolds from the mind of a young boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), whose dreams of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger, and The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) end up becoming reality.
In order to review this movie, I really had to put my bias away for universe-building stories. The Dark Tower series has expansive lore and acts as a meta-binding to multiple Stephen King properties of the past. The film itself directly references this (be on the lookout for a certain hotel), and anyone who has seen previous King film adaptations will notice the clues. However, this leads to the number one criticism of The Dark Tower — its runtime. An hour and a half is far too short to squeeze in all of this wonderful lore. In fact, it’s not long enough to fit much of anything, which exacerbates all of its problems. We’re thrust into this vibrant reality, but there’s no time for deep characterization or motivation to be explained, which softens the impact. I think there’s no doubt that a lot was probably cut to create the final version of the film, but even then I don’t think it would have been enough. It would have needed a Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings–tier treatment. Between logistics and studio politics, The Dark Tower probably got lost in the proverbial sauce. But this is not the end.
An attached Dark Tower television series is currently in the planning stages, with Glen Mazzara (a prior The Walking Dead showrunner) on deck to run the show. It will reportedly deal with the rest of the book series, with Idris Elba returning as Roland. This begs the question; was it worth it to start off the series with a standalone feature film? What’s certain is that the decision impacted the quality of the film itself. And this is a movie review, after all.
Ultimately, The Dark Tower was a victim of the predictable circumstances it found itself in. Fitting a huge story into a one pound bag impacted the writing and editing, but not enough to be completely irredeemable. The special effects, the screen presence of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, and the overall story didn’t make it a regrettable experience. I think, importantly, The Dark Tower managed to sell me on the books, which I’ll be reading. That is a noteworthy accomplishment.