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The Dark Tower Darkens the Screen

C.D. Calderon, Staff Writer

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Well, that was a train wreck. Novelist Stephen King once described himself as a “brand-name author”. There’s no doubt that he has a wide name recognition in pop culture. Despite this fame, his forays into Hollywood adaptation have produced a checkered legacy in the eyes of his fans. I tend to think that even the lesser adaptations of his work can have some redeeming qualities. However, that can’t be said of this film.

The Dark Tower tells the story of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last gunslinger in a parallel world that has “moved on”. He is on a quest to prevent the fall of a hub or nexus of all existence, the titular Tower, from collapsing into ruin. In this quest, Roland is joined by Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy from our world. Opposing the gunslinger is the Man in Black (Matthew McConoughey), a dark man, and powerful sorcerer, bent on seeing the Tower fall. A showdown between these two is inevitable.

If you have no idea what I just said, or think I’m spouting nonsense, then The Dark Tower movie is going to do little to help your misgivings. Based on a seven volume series written by King over five whole decades, Sony’s adaptation is a textbook example of too many cook’s spoiling the broth. It’s what happens when a long and complex plot is artificially mashed together for the sake of a manageable runtime. It doesn’t help that the film is based off a sprawling, eight book story by popular novelist Stephen King. The eight tomes that compose the Dark Tower saga are both genre and plot bending, with the kind of imaginative acrobatics normally found in the works of Lewis Carroll. It takes its inspiration from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, and perhaps the work of French Fantasy/SF magazine Metal Hurlant.

It may be that failure was inevitable. There are a handful of books which refuse to fit themselves into either the big or small screen adaptation format, among them are Dune, Lord of the Rings, and maybe The Dark Tower has a spot on the list as well. Another reason for the movie’s failure could be from a lack of confidence on the part of makers and producers. Whatever the reason, the final result is an incoherent bore. It would be useless to try and refer the movie to any single book in the series, as you can’t just point to the first book, The Gunslinger, as the main engine for the film. Instead, the picture is a literal cut and paste job. Most of the film’s elements are borrowed from The Waste-Lands, the third book in the series, along with concepts and settings that don’t make their appearance until the final two books in the series.

These elements are thrown together into a blender that removes any narrative coherence or impact they may have had from their original novels. As a result, all the movie’s set pieces are out of left field, and underwhelming. Perhaps the best sequences come near the beginning, when Jake is just learning about the Tower, and his escape to the alternate world. The latter sequence features a chase sequence in haunted house that is taken direct from the third book. This scene features Jake on the run from the Guardian of said house, and is the closest thing to a highlight the movie has to offer. The sad part is that it’s just a glimpse of the mind-bending awesomeness that could have been.

The film is also proof, if any were needed, that all actors and cinematographers, no matter how good or bad, are all at the mercy of the text, or script, at the end of the day. Elba and McConoughey have both proven they are capable of carrying either a film or TV series. However, this film goes a long way toward highlight just how important the writing is in such endeavors. Without a well written or coherent story to work with, both actors seem to just glide through their scenes with an obvious confusion. In the end, each one has to fall back on their own cinematic persona to take them through. It must be hard having to say lines that sound like the rejects from some long-forgotten Saturday Morning Cartoon. In the end, this film is worth a miss. There is nothing to recommend it, nor will it make a difference to even the cast crew who worked on it.

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The Dark Tower Darkens the Screen