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REVIEW: The Dark Tower

August 18, 2017

Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley
Runtime: 95 Minutes

 

★☆☆☆☆

 

The long, long, long road that it has taken to get The Dark Tower to the screen has seen the likes of J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard fight for years in vain to faithfully translate Stephen King’s epic magnum opus into another medium. After collapsing time and again over budget restraints, scheduling with creative’s and the sheer magnitude of attempting to render the sprawling text in a dedicated way, the rights for the production fell to Sony Pictures – and in their greed and eagerness to green light the project have done more damage to the title than anyone could have feared.

 

Even taking into account the extensive narrative streamlining that has gone on here – watering down King’s ultimate authorial statement into a stiflingly unoriginal young adult fantasy film – beyond a handful of the core components of Mid-World (the tower, the Gunslinger, the Man in Black) it bears little resemblance in tone or narrative ambition to the original work, instead settling as just another tired genre film. Operating as both a sort of sequel to and a compilation of story elements from across the eight books, it’s unlikely to please fans of the books and even less so audience who will have no idea of what they’re supposed to be feeling at certain moments because of this complete lack of context that the film refuses to fill in.

 

This is due to the edit of the released film which has so obviously left massive swathes of shot material on the ground floor that only snippets of character development and motivation remain. It runs at a tight 90 minutes but the sluggish pace that it takes to roll over its bare minimum content makes it feel so much longer and more arduous to sit through. Cut down to nothing but action scenes and exposition dumps.

 

Danish director Nikolaj Arcel has never worked on anything like this and he's clearly out of his depth with a blockbuster production. There’s no real vision beyond generally looking rather sharp, but the drab colour scheme and flat dialogue sequences – made worse by a screenplay from four different writers with no distinct voice – make none of its rambling and generic world details interesting to listen to or hold any real investment in as it goes on about ‘keystones’ and portals between the western Mid-World and modern day New York. Much of the third act takes place in the latter and acts as nothing but a cost-cutting exercise for Sony with boring warehouse locations and daytime scenery of Manhattan streets.

 

The performances are plain and ordinary at best from the leads. The decision to place newcomer Tom Taylor in the lead is misguided as it draws attention away from the two figures that should really be centre stage. But even then Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) aren’t attention-grabbing, and it comes across in Elba’s sullen and emotionless performance that just goes through the motions, and McConaughey desperately trying to liven up every scene he’s in by prancing around in ridiculous coats and open shirts. The epic conflict that is continuously spoken about between them is never felt.

 

What might have been the start of King’s epic saga ends with one of the most depressing adaptations of his work ever made. Nothing about The Dark Tower is ever engaging or works, pleasing nobody going in to see it and killing all incentives for continuation dead, arriving with all the flaccid anti-hype that preceded it. Over explained and underdeveloped to a point of monotony and scheduled emotional beats that land no punch and leave no impact.

 

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