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Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Dark Tower

The cinematic adaptation of The Dark Tower only hints at the vast worlds and ideas that Stephen King dreamed up in his massive fantasy novel series that has created legions of fans the world over.  These fans have dissected and discussed the books as closely as possible, and probably even have their own theories and ideas.  Are they ever going to be disappointed with what's wound up on the big screen, as it takes something that should be epic and impressive, and turns it into a small and cheaply made Young Adult-knock off.

Hollywood has been making plans for a Dark Tower movie for years, but every time it got close to getting made, something would get in the way.  Now that it's here, will fans end up wishing they were still dreaming of a movie instead  of watching the one that they got?  I'm sure the fans will have no problem with the casting of the two iconic leads.  Idris Elba as Roland "the Gunslinger" is all sorts of cool intimidation, and brings the proper amount of gravitas and emotion that the character should have.  And as for the evil and mysterious "Man in Black" Walter, Matthew McConaughey seems to be having a lot of fun chewing the scenery.  But these performances are not enough when you realize how little there is to these characters in this adaptation.  The four credited screenwriters have taken these fascinating characters and a sprawling story that mixes elements of fantasy, Sci-Fi, Westerns and even the legend of King Arthur, and has turned it into a mediocre story of a "chosen one" - in this case a little boy haunted by nightmares of another world.

Yes, the two characters that have been beloved by readers the world over for over 30 years take a back seat in this movie to Jake (Tom Taylor), a sullen and moody 13-year-old living in New York with a caring mother, and a jerk of a stepfather.  His real father died saving some people from a fire years ago, and he's never been the same since.  He's also plagued by nightmares where he witnesses the mysterious "Man in Black" torturing some children in a hidden facility so that he can destroy the Dark Tower, a structure that apparently keeps Earth and the many alternate worlds in balance and order.  Should the Tower fall, evil will consume all of the many worlds.  Jake also has visions of Roland the Gunslinger, who once fought alongside his father and many others against the Man in Black and his ambitions.  Now, only Roland remains in the resistance, and he basically spends his time wandering the apocalyptic landscape seeking vengeance.  The movie tosses all of this information out as quickly as a sushi chef works their knife, in a vain attempt to please the fans while at the same time not confusing those in the audience not familiar with the characters and the world.

It turns out that Jake has a psychic power within him known as The Shining, which will be immediately familiar to King fans.  In fact, the movie contains a number of references to King's other works.  This power is what allows him to receive these visions, and to also notice the monsters who have been sent to Earth by the Man in Black disguised as humans.  The monsters are seeking the one child with enough psychic power that can be used to destroy the Dark Tower.  Naturally, Jake is that kid.  He goes on the run, and through details unnecessary to recount here, stumbles upon a magical portal that warps him to the world of Roland the Gunslinger.  They team up together to stop Walter the Man in Black.  There's a lot of portal-hopping along the way as Jake, Roland and Walter jump back and forth between Earth and the other world.  The scenes of Roland trying to fit in on Jake's world brings about some much needed comic relief, which honestly, this very dour and overly serious film could have used more of.

If I seem to be rushing through the plot, so does the movie.  Clocking in at a little over 90 minutes, The Dark Tower tosses out information, and never really slows down long enough to let the audience grasp what's going on.  There is one scene where on Roland's world, our two heroes stop at a village to get some much-needed information and rest.  During their stay, the camera keeps on focusing on this young girl who keeps on making meaningful glances at Jake and smiling at him.  We sense a connection, and obviously think that this girl is going to be important to the story.  As it turns out, most of her scenes seemingly exist in a lost longer cut of the film, because she never shares any real scenes with the kid, other than the moment where he helps her save her sheep when their village is under attack.  We don't know who she is, and I don't think even her name is revealed.  There are a lot of characters who exist in this movie, but serve no real purpose.  Most of them seem to work for Walter, and look like they live on the set of an original Sy-Fy Channel movie, but the movie tells us nothing about them or what role they play in his army.  They're just there as extras to stare at monitors, and occasionally stand next to the Man in Black.  Oh, and there's a scene where Jake confronts a "house demon" that ends just as quickly as it begins, all without really telling us what a house demon is in the first place.

There is no detectable heart behind this movie.  It simply exists as a special effects demo reel.  Then why are the effects here so underwhelming?  The monsters and demons that menace Jake largely exist in the darkness and shadow, so we never get a good look at them, likely so we can't see how chintzy they look.  It also feels like a movie that took one too many trips to the editing room in an attempt to salvage what the studio knew was a doomed production.  There's no joy, no spark, and certainly no sense that everyone involved knew that what they were working on was worthwhile.  Elba and McConaughey pull off their roles well enough, but we get the sense that the characters they're playing are hollow shells.  You want to take the actors and their performances, and give them better material while you're watching them up there on the screen.  You want to see them in something other than this.

While King's novels created whole worlds and carried a sense of purpose, the filmed version of The Dark Tower is simple and forgettable.  It's never unwatchable, but it's just been created with so little consequence that it's hard to care about anything that's going on.  When you consider how carefully the books were constructed, it's almost amazing how cold and unfeeling this adaptation is.

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