Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick
The Josh Chop: It’s never fair to compare a book to a film. Even to compare a screenplay to its final film would be to compare colors of paint in a tube to a final Michelangelo piece. It’s hard to say how this film compares to the novels because, I never read them. When going into this one, I kept an open mind that this film would be unlike other Stephen King novels made for the big screen. Stephen King is of course well known to write fiction that deals with the macabre and horrors only his mind can make up. While The Dark Tower gives us a reason to have nightmares at night, horror is not an overall theme of the film.
King’s work is also known to be almost modern day romanticism, taking pages and pages to describe seemingly simple ideas. Unlike his writing, the film’s pacing seems to be rushed in parts and the character’s reactions to things seemed to be accepted all too easily. While the story-line was worthy to me, I felt the acting was pretty stale for a lot of the film, particularly “The Gunslinger.”
Jake Chambers (Taylor) is a troubled young man. A year ago his father died tragically. Over the course of the year following, he’s experienced terrible nightmares that haunt his visions. He dreams of a dark tower in the clouds and a “Man in Black” that threatens to take the tower down. As Jake copes with his nightmares through drawings of the world he sees, his mother (Winnick) is constantly worrying about his mental state. The dreams are dark, which is making the once bright and happy boy turn to violence and paranoia. The time has come for Jake to get serious help since normal therapy isn’t working.
As soon as Jake sees that his life is going down a path of mental destruction, he hides all his drawings and vows to never dream of the dark tower, or the man in black again. It’s then that he has yet another dream, but this time about a man with a gun. This man (Elba) is called a “Gunslinger” and is one of the last of his kind. Gunslingers were sort of knights sworn to protect the dark tower, but all have died by the hands of “The Man in Black” (McConaughey). The man in black has powerful magic that he can use to control the things and people around him. His magic is so powerful that, if he were to tell you to jump off a cliff, you’d do it even unwillingly. Funny as it seems, his powers reminded me of the Imperius Curse from the “Harry Potter” series.
After Jake awakens from his dream he again draws what he’s seen. Somehow in his dream, he sees a building that he thinks is in New York where he lives. He decides to investigate to find that building, but just then his mother asks him to go with some caseworkers to a mental asylum aimed at adolescents. As he packs his stuff, he notices that there is something off about these caseworkers. In fact, they look like they are the kind of creatures that disguise themselves as humans that he’s seen in his nightmares.
Soon he escapes being taken by them and finds the building he’s seen in his dreams. Inside he finds a portal that somehow, someway brings him to the world that he’s been dreaming of. Shortly after arriving he comes across the Gunslinger and tells him of his dreams and how he knows of the man in black and what the man in black is doing to try to bring down the dark tower.
The Gunslinger tells Jake how the dark tower is at the center of their universe and is the barrier between this world (or worlds, rather) and pure evil and monsters. This part kind of reminds me of Hellmouth in the TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The Gunslinger and Jake set off on a quest to find and stop the man in black, even if it takes them to the edge of darkness to do it. But can they do it alone or will their worlds fall into darkness?
I enjoyed the rest of the film, but there were things that didn’t quite sit well with me. While I thoroughly enjoy Elba as an actor, I felt like his performance in this film was hollow and flat. Perhaps that is how the character is portrayed in the book, I don’t know? McConaughey’s acting seemed a bit dull too, and he didn’t exactly strike fear into me like he did over characters in the film. The story really drove the pacing in the film, but there were times that abnormal things would happen and everyone kind of accepted it. Sometimes stuff like that bugs me and particularly in this film it happened a lot.
If you’re familiar with King’s work on “The Shining” you’ll start to see parallels in the young boys in both films. I’m guessing that is intentional? Being unaware of the books, for all I know they just threw that in there to make folks know it was a Stephen King story. That being said, there is a lot in the film that isn’t explained like: Who is in the Dark Tower? How does the tower work? How does the man in black have powers others don’t? And so on.
Perhaps they plan on making these into a film series like the novels to explain things more in depth. My guess is “The Dark Tower” super-fans will not love this as much as the books. But maybe the average moviegoer will likely enjoy the film enough to want to see more. In this case I’m happy I haven’t read the books, because my guess is there is a lot missing from this story. I’m confident in saying that by the rate of speed which the story unfolds. A lot happens and you don’t really have time to think about it until something else happens.
I know it kind of sounds like I was disappointed with this film, but I really did enjoy it and would most likely watch it again to see if I could catch things I missed the first time around. My only wish with future Dark Tower films is that the Gunslinger show more emotion and that events be slowed down a bit. They really did fit a TON inside the hour and a half run time. Either way, I definitely think people should see The Dark Tower as it was a pretty decent story overall.