Are you supposed to have high expectations for a film adaptation of a Stephen King novel? Historically, they have been mixed at best. While Stephen King’s writing has always been top notch, his movies have always suffered. Butchered by movie studios attempting to make the story more commercial. Stephen King himself rarely approves of their changes to his vision, determined to only focus on the current novel he’s writing. In the case of The Dark Tower, and more specifically ‘The Gunslinger,’ of which are some of his earliest work - he’s probably had the series in the rear view for years and is divorced from the movie altogether.
It is a shame that Stephen King doesn't try to retain more creative control over his work the way authors such as J.K. Rowling do. Because it would make the movies better. Stephen King is so prolific that it would be almost impossible to consult on all the different novels he’s written that have film adaptations. He would have to take away from his writing. As a result The Dark Tower film adaptation is a mere skeleton of what the novel ‘The Gunslinger’ is about.
Carrying only a PG-13 rating I was initially confused walking into the film as to whom this film was for. Obviously not for the hardcore fan. The Dark Tower watches like one of those teen-angst sci-fi novels such as the ‘Divergent’ series or ‘The Maze Runner.’ Focusing more on the teenage protagonist Jacob Chambers (Tom Taylor), giving the more interesting character, Roland Deschain (Idris Alba) - the gunslinger himself, a mere supporting role. The decision to do this creates a relatable protagonist for the supposedly intended teen audience but fundamentally changes the story and the source material.
The Dark Tower really shines when they are in the other dimensional world that the actual Tower resides in. It is a very cool environment, similar to the post-apocalyptic world ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ takes place in. A place your imagination can run away with. However, the majority of the film doesn't take place there. It takes place in New York City. And not like cool Woody Allen New York City. I’m talking boring, overused, in every big budget franchise New York City.
As with every novel film adaptation things get cut out here and there due to budgets and otherwise, but here the whole story is re-written. This is no longer a story about The Gunslinger pursuing Walter (Matthew McConaughey) or ‘The Man in Black’ , but is replaced with a much more boring story about a teenager’s dreams of a dark tower. It seems as if two of the most talented actors in the world, Alba and McConaughey, knew that this was a sinking ship as you can almost see the boredom on their faces as they act. ‘The Gunslinger’ novel primarily is about one man’s quest for revenge but to focus on the kid throws off the entire narrative. We are given scenes where Roland teaches Jacob how to shoot guns, but they never pay off. It seems as if the only thing Roland can say is his Gunslinger oath:
“A Man Who Kills With His Gun Has Forgotten The Face of His Father. I Kill With My Heart.”
Or whatever. In a much better movie, this oath would of held weight, but instead feels like some meaningless mantra that never really pays off. Instead we get Roland and Jacob traveling to New York City, almost winking at the camera as Jacob introduces Roland to Coca-Cola. Yet another movie where we see ‘the fish out of water’ scenario play out, where a character from another time/dimension now has to learn the quirky customs of modern civilization.
The Dark Tower initially starts of fairly intriguing, but quickly turns bad and seems to get worse as the movie progresses. I found myself almost wanting to check to see how much longer the movie was, the way you’re able to do with a YouTube timeline. The time we do get to spend in The Gunslinger’s world is short at best and is plagued with bad editing, continuity issues, and hammy CGI monsters. Stephen King created such a rich world and there are so many things that you wish were explored that you just end up with more questions than answers. Why are there replicant robots replacing humans? Why are they trying to get kids? What is the point of taking down The Dark Tower? What is this ‘Shine’ they keep talking about? What are the motivations of the Man in Black? Nothing pays off and nothing really matters. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie with such a high death count of characters besides ‘Game of Thrones.’ The Man in Black kills people on such a whim that it almost seems like bad improv. Okay - I forgot my lines. BANG! You’re dead because I have the power to do that now.
Outside of a few very cool moments where The Gunslinger is shooting people, this movie is wasted potential. Plain and Simple. It is not just a re-imagining or condensing of the source material such as Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ or ‘The Stand.’ Almost everything about this movie misses the mark. I am disappointed to say that The Dark Tower is one big silly mess.