Adapting a novel into a film can be a tricky thing. Adapting a series of books can be even trickier. When movie folks decide to skip a true adaptation and simply pillage a series like a group of Huns ripping through what was left of the Roman Empire, the results can be disastrous.
Which brings us to “The Dark Tower.” The film opened last week and is based on a series of books by legendary author Stephen King. The excitement was high at the prospect of seeing the beloved book series on screen.
Notice I said “was.”
The first book of the series was released in 1982 and entitled “The Gunslinger.” More books followed sporadically over the years, with the final book coming out in 2012. Some fans eagerly devoured the series, waiting anxiously for the next installment to be released. Others drifted away due to long breaks in between novels.
I’m not a big fan of King’s writing. I’ve read a couple of the books, mostly back in middle school when it was cool to be reading adult horror as an early teen. I did read “The Shining” a couple of years ago, and like Joey from “Friends,” the book scared me and I wanted to put it in the freezer.
“The Dark Tower” film pulls snippets from various books in the series but focuses mainly on Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last of the Gunslingers, a group dedicated to protecting the Dark Tower, which stands at the center of the universe and is basically one big force field against the demons from the darkness outside. If the Tower falls, the universe will be overrun by monsters.
The Dark Tower is under siege by The Man In Black, a.k.a. Walter, who is played by Matthew McConaughey. The Man in Black wants to destroy the Tower so the demons can come into the universe and lay siege. While Roland wields guns made of the magical metal of Excalibur, Walter is a dark sorcerer. In the film — which I hear is quite different from the book — he’s kidnapping children who have psychic abilities, known as the Shine, and strapping them into machines which then sends beams of energy as projectiles at the Tower to knock it down.
Roland has forgotten his mission to protect the Tower, as most of his comrades are dead and buried in defeat. Instead, he simply wants to kill The Man in Black and claim his revenge for the death of his father, who died at Walter’s hands.
Throw into this mix a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy in New York City, who has dreams of Roland, Walter and The Dark Tower for a year. Although Jake resides in a different world than Roland, what happens to The Dark Tower also affects our world, causing earthquakes with each hit.
Jake eventually manages to cross over to Roland’s world and team up with him, creating a lack of chemistry not seen since Burt Reynolds’ role in “Cop and a Half.” This does not include romantic relationship duds like Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in the “Stars Wars” prequels.
Jake’s story also alters greatly from the books, as do most things in this movie. In the film, Jake’s apparently got the ultimate Shine, and The Man in Black is practically drooling to get him in his machine and take the Tower down.
Just like in the books, there’s a lot going on. However, there’s not really a flow to the film. It’s a jumble of random book elements thrown together and bastardized.
For example, I couldn’t quite understand why The Man in Black is this magical, mystical being but he’s hooking kids up to machines that look like something from “Total Recall.” Their psychic abilities have to be sucked out of them through tech?
Between what Weekend Editor Steve Wildsmith, a fan of the novels, has told me and what I’ve researched, I’m not sure how a fan of King’s series could even make it through the entirety of this film. Steve read a review last week saying that fans of the series would hate it, but that those who haven’t read the books, like me, might be OK.
That reviewer lied. Changing the books isn’t the issue here. The real problem is that it’s simply a bad film. It’s a jumble of ideas that don’t mesh together.
Elba, whom I adore, tries his best. He’s feels sincere in his role as the moody Gunslinger. It’s kind of awesome to watch him do his gunslinging thing. But, the dialogue and story are so awful, he can’t even begin to try and save the film. He’s a brilliant actor, and it hurts my heart a bit that this is now in his filmography.
McConaughey plays Matthew McConaughey. You’ve seen him in this same role over and over. There’s the swagger and the million-dollar smile he flashes at people. He might tell someone to stop breathing or burn — two methods he uses to kill people — but there’s a part of you waiting to see if he’s going to say “alright, alright, alright” afterward. He’s also possibly made of wax. It’s truly distracting how bad his makeup and hair is in this film. His hair looks hard, and his face is looks like it’s made of plastic or wax. I thought he might begin to melt at any point. The film had a budget of $60 million, which is actually relatively modest given the scale of the story, and I’m fairly certain a miniscule amount was spent on the makeup department.
It’s hard to really point out all the things that went wrong with this film. We’re introduced to Jake’s mother and stepfather, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) and Lon (Nicholas Pauling), but we don’t really have any time to try and care about them. In fact, they’re both kind of horrible people that I don’t even like. As things happen with them, we’re supposed to be upset with Jake, but honestly, I just thought “Good riddance.” I don’t think that’s the reaction the audience is supposed to have.
Elements like The Dixie Pig, a bar mentioned in one of the later books, are thrown in here because it just seemed like a good idea. Scenes like Roland eating his first hot dog are thrown in as afterthoughts. Important characters are omitted. Even without having read these books, I know this movie is a mashup that doesn’t work. It contains elements of the Old West, dystopian times, fantasy and science fiction that are just smushed together like someone melted a box of crayons together and ended up with a vomit-colored mess.
The film is entirely forgettable. I just saw it a couple of days ago, and I’m already getting confused about what I saw on screen. King’s story stands out, but the movie doesn’t. I’m sitting here thinking of all the atrocious things I saw on screen and realizing I’ve run out of room. That’s how bad it was. Skip the theaters, and even if it’s on a streaming service, skip it then unless you need to watch something so bad it makes you feel better about your life because at least you didn’t spend $60 million making a turd.