THE DARK TOWER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Katheryn Winnick, Michael Berbieri, Jose Zuniga, Dannis Haysbert, Claudia Kim, Ben Gavin, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Nicholas Pauling, Nicholas Hamilton.

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The titular dark tower is a tall edifice that supposedly stands at the centre of the universe, and, according to legend, if it should fall then chaos will reign. Roland (Idris Elba) is the last in a long line of gunslingers charged with protecting the tower from all sorts of threats. He has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter, aka the man in black, (played by Matthew McConaughey) a sinister and powerful sorcerer who is trying to bring down the tower. Walter is able to kill people with just a touch of his hands or through mere thoughts. The only thing capable of killing Walter is apparently a bullet from Roland’s six shooter that has been forged from Excalibur itself. But the struggle between the two intrudes into our world and the fate of the world hangs in the balance as good battles evil for supremacy.

Fourteen-year old Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor in his film debut) is a troubled teenager, still disturbed by the death of his firefighter father. He has been suffering from a series of dark apocalyptic nightmares in which he envisions these characters. His widowed mother (Katheryn Winnick) and her dead beat new boyfriend think he is psychologically disturbed, but regular sessions with a psychiatrist (Jose Zuniga) seem unable to help. It transpires that Jake is a “shiner”, a kid with special mental powers to see into other worlds

Then Jake learns the location of a mysterious portal that transports him to the Mid-World, a sort of desolate landscape like something out of an old western movie. There he meets Roland in the flesh, and sets out on a mission to stop Walter. Roland however is devastated by the recent death of his own father (Denis Haysbert). Walter has been abducting children with psychic powers and forcing them into destroying the fabled Dark Tower. He has detected Jake’s presence and sends his minions out to capture him and harness his mental powers in an effort to bring down the tower.

The action moves back and forth between the surreal world of the fictional Mid-World and the modern city of New York. There is a nice contrast between Jake, who seems a little lost adjusting to Mid-World, and Roland who finds the modern city bemusing and strange. Both are outsiders in each other’s world.

The Dark Tower is prolific author Stephen King’s magnum opus, an eight-volume series, penned across a decade or so from 1982, that draws upon Tolkienian fantasy, Arthurian legends, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, the tropes of dystopian YA fiction, and the spaghetti western for inspiration, mixed with King’s usual touches of the supernatural and horror. Many filmmakers, like Ron Howard and JJ Abrams, have attempted to bring the books to the screen but have found the task too daunting. It’s fallen to Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair, etc) to succeed in bringing a big screen adaptation of The Dark Tower to fruition.

Arcel was a fan of King’s books and has tried for quite some time to bring his vision to the screen. He has collaborated with screenwriters Akiva Goldsman (Angels & Demons, etc), Jeff Pinkner (The 5th Wave, etc) and Anders Thomas Jensen (In A Better World, etc) on this adaptation, which comes across as something of a Reader’s Digest condensation of the works. The film’s relatively brisk 95 minutes doesn’t do justice to the source material and the committee of writers make an awful hash of the novels. It seems disjointed and rushed.

Elba and McConaughey add star power to this misfire, but their presence is not enough to save the film. Elba brings a stoic quality to his performance as the heroic gunslinger, a character modelled on Clint Eastwood’s iconic “man with no name”. McConaughey though seems miscast as the sorcerer Walter, and id lumbered with some ludicrous dialogue. He manages to bring a menacing quality to his Walter, although this ranks as one of his strangest performances for some time. Young Taylor acquits himself well and hold his own against the two veterans. Jackie Earle Haley is pretty much underused as Walter’s slimy henchman as well.

Visually there are some impressive effects, and it’s easy to see where most of the $60million budget was spent. Some half dozen VFX companies worked on the complex effects sequences.

Those unfamiliar with the novels may enjoy this mix of fantasy and adventure much more than fans of the stories, who will be bitterly disappointed. As with some of his tomes, like the epic apocalyptic tale The Stand or Under The Dome, it would seem that a miniseries would be the best way to tackle The Dark Tower and its complex narrative threads and otherworldly storyline. Fans of the book would be better off waiting until the rumoured miniseries hits tv screens next year.
★★☆

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