The Dark Tower Plot Summary:
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) continues to have strange dreams about another world in which an evil sorcerer known as The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) is attempting to destroy a mystical tower that prevents the universe from falling into chaos and destruction. Jake soon discovers that this other world is real and that a gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba) is the only person capable of stopping The Man in Black. Together, Roland and Jake journey across worlds to save the Dark Tower.
To borrow and slightly amend an oft-used quote from The Dark Tower book series: these filmmakers have forgotten the faces of their fathers. That is to say, they should be ashamed of themselves.
The Dark Tower film utterly fails as both an adaptation and a standalone film. The last time I remember being this disappointed by a film adaptation of a book series was back in 2006 when I saw Eragon; that interpretation was so terrible that I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the last two books in the series. I did not think any movie based on a book series could be worse than that, but I was unfortunately mistaken. As a fan of the eight-part book series by Stephen King, I find The Dark Tower a monumental failure. Viewing this movie as a general film lover, I find this film to be an utter disaster.
Having read and greatly enjoyed each of the books in what is widely regarded as Stephen King’s magnum opus, I cannot understand how the filmmakers could have butchered the source material with such reckless abandon. I am well aware that making an absolutely faithful film adaptation of a book is typically impossible and usually ill-advised, but The Dark Tower somehow manages to fail in capturing both the content and heart of the book series.
At points in the movie, I honestly felt as if the writers, producers, and director had never read a single page of the book series and actually developed the movie by cherry-picking random elements from the books’ Wikipedia page. The movie’s plot is an incoherent hodgepodge of moments from nearly half the books in the series rather than an attempt to faithfully adapt one or even two of the books. This attempt to stitch the narrative together was likely adopted in order to give a greater sense of consistency to a rather complex story, but that plan appears to have backfired spectacularly. If you haven’t read the books, you’ll have very little idea what is going on; if you have read the books, you’ll have no idea what the screenwriters and producers were thinking.
Even more offensive than the movie’s failure to translate the text into a coherent screenplay is the film’s disastrous interpretation of its central characters. The film versions of Roland, The Man in Black, and Jake obviously share some commonalities with their book counterparts, but these similarities are almost entirely superficial. The Dark Tower movie alters the motivations, personalities, and backgrounds of these characters so much that the book and film versions feel like fundamentally different characters.
For those of you who haven’t read any of the books, imagine watching a film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in which Frodo steals The Ring instead of reluctantly volunteering to carry it, Aragorn demands that his companions acknowledge his royal heritage, and Saruman leads his orc army into battle. Or picture a cinematic take on Harry Potter in which Harry flaunts his status as the Chosen One to attain popularity, Hermione only acts smart to attract Ron, and Draco is actually the son of Voldemort. All of these changes would dramatically alter who those characters are at their core and represent colossal misinterpretations on the part of the screenwriters. That level of disastrous revision is what fans of The Dark Tower book series can expect from The Dark Tower film.
However, even if one views this motion picture as a standalone film independent from King’s works, the movie is horrendous. The dialogue in the movie is so abysmal that the ridiculous phrase, the supposed consequences of the Dark Tower’s destruction, is uttered at least three times and elicited eye-rolls from me each time. The conversations range from generically forgettable to unbelievably clunky. The CGI is so terrible that greater computer imaging could be found in a PlayStation 2 game; every generated monster or green-screened stunt completely takes the viewer out of the film.
Perhaps the film’s greatest technical weaknesses, however, are the acting and directing. When I saw the trailers for this movie, I remember a sense of dread that Tom Taylor would fall back into the unfortunate trend of horrible child actors that had recently been broken by young cast of Stranger Things and Laura Kinney’s performance in Logan. I was not unsurprisingly correct about Taylor’s portrayal of Jake, but I was utterly shocked by the awful performances of Elba and McConaughey. Here are two award-winning actors with tremendous success and remarkable talent, yet they completely sleepwalk through this film. However, I don’t blame them as much as I fault the writing and directing.
The screenplay clearly gave the actors nothing to work with, but director Nikolaj Arcel fails to elicit any emotion from his cast. Arcel, whose filmography predominately includes writing and directing credits for foreign language films, has no command over his actors and displays little to no ability to tap into their natural talent and charisma. Every line, every character, every moment is flat and void of energy. As excited as I was by the casting of McConaughey and Elba, Arcel and screenplay completely waste them, just as the director and script profoundly waste their source material.
Looking for elements in this movie to commend is like looking in a pile of dirty laundry for the piece of clothing that looks and smells the least soiled. If I’m being generous, the final battle included a few creative displays of Roland’s skill as a gunslinger, but the climactic fight lacked any sense of tension or stakes. A few lines of dialogue meant to portray Roland as a fish out of water earned some modest chuckles. A handful of Easter eggs were well chosen. Other than those few bright spots, the rest of the movie is ready for the washing machine (or incinerator).
Fans and general audiences will undoubtedly be disappointed (if not infuriated) by the mediocrity of The Dark Tower. Studios have been attempting to bring this story to the big screen for a decade, and the final product is worse than I could have imagined. Talks that this movie will be the start of a film series or spinoff television series should end immediately. For fans of the books, the greatest purpose this movie can serve is to demonstrate to writers and studios how not to adapt a popular novel. Unless someone with the vision and faithfulness of Peter Jackson tackles this narrative, I fear The Dark Tower series will forever remain a story meant to be read rather than watched.