Friday 22 December 2017

The Dark Tower ★☆☆☆☆

It has been a truly mammoth year for fans of Stephen King. 2017 has brought us TV adaptations of The Mist and Mr. Mercedes, Netflix films of 1922 and Gerald’s Game, and a truly remarkable adaptation of his 1986 classic It. But while critics and audiences have loved seeing the malevolent Pennywise feeding on the fear and dishing out balloons, the response for The Dark Tower has been a little less friendly. Despite the acting talents of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, this big-sreen Kingian adventure left a hell of a lot to be desired.

For those who haven’t read the books, firstly, you’re not alone. I haven’t read one word from the 4,250 page 8-part series, and I thought I’d be safe to jump straight into this film without any prior knowledge. Despite technically taking place after the events of the books, it was marketed as something of a new start – something that newcomers could sink their teeth into. It was not. I didn’t have a gosh-darn clue what was going on for most of the film. And when I did know what was going on, I didn’t care that it was going on. I watched the entire film in a state that oscillated wildly between not understanding and simply not giving a shit.

Put briefly, the story is thus: a young boy (Tom Taylor) is experiencing frightening visions of a big tower being attacked by Walter, an all-black wearing nutter (Matthew McConaughey). But his visions also show him a hero that can save the day – a gunslinging rootin’ tootin’ cowboy named Roland (Idris Elba). So when the young boy finds a portal into Mid-World, a post-apocalyptic frontier, imagine his surprise when he finds out that his visions are real and he can help save the world from McConaughey’s Johnny Cash wannabe ‘Man in Black’…

I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot more to the story on the page – hell, there must be more to it than this when it takes place across 8 books. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Like The Independent concluded in their reviews round up earlier in the year, maybe this film was an over-simplified insult to the books. But, as the round-up also theorised, it was also far too convoluted for anyone like me who hasn’t experienced the books. I didn’t have a clue what any of the characters motives were, like why McConaughey wanted to fuck the world up so much? But it wasn’t just motives that left me stumped. Why was Roland immune to Walter’s unspecific powers? The list of questions is longer than you’d get from a child who’s just binge-watched the entire Lost series.

Stephen King’s work usually translates excellently to screen. The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Carrie, Christine, Stand by Me and The Green Mile are just a small number of the enormous list of examples. But this? This doesn’t even come close. It’s utter nonsense. Even Elba and McConaughey can’t save it – and they’re two of the finest actors we have working today. McConaughey’s renaissance could be over off the failure of this alone, and Elba…Well, he’ll get away with it because he’s a legend. But it’s still a damp squib on his career.

So what was the issue? It must be the poor adapting of King’s novels with a screenplay that is, rather troublingly, credited to a staggering four people. If we struggle to connect to any of the narrative or the characters, then nothing else matters. If we simply don’t care, then we don’t have our eyes and ears open enough to enjoy the visuals or score – assets of the film that I simply cannot remember. Did it look pretty? Did it sound pretty? Who knows. All I know is it was utter toss.

The Dark Tower was intended to be the beginning of a big-screen franchise. If we get a Dark Tower 2, I’ll be flabbergasted. Ah, flabbergasted. That’s a great word. There’s more fun to be had reading that word than watching this film. So, let me save you 90 minutes. Flabbergasted. You’re welcome.

Sam Love

The Dark Tower at CeX

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