Movie Review: The Dark Tower

Perhaps it was simply a case that THE DARK TOWER was destined to fail. It certainly seems that this production was troubled right from the start. J.J Abrams, along with TV’s LOST co-creators, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, were brought in way back in early 2007 when the film adaptation of Stephen King’s octet of celebrated novels was in the early stages of development. By the end of 2009, however, Abrams and company walked away from the project, ostensibly claiming that the timing wasn’t right for them. Five months later, Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (Oscar® winner for A BEAUTIFUL MIND) picked up the project, which would now comprise a few films and a TV series. Universal Pictures agreed to produce and, a few months later, Javier Bardem was cast as Roland (the Gunslinger). By July 2011, however, Universal scrubbed the project citing budgetary concerns. Eight months later, Warner Bros. picked up the project and Goldsman provided them with a script. By August 2012, though, that studio, too, abandoned ship.

In June 2015, Sony Pictures announced it would produce the project with Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel directing. Danish screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen was brought in to rewrite Goldsman’s script and filming began in April 2016. When the film was poorly received by test audiences last October, however, Sony decided to spend another US$6 million on reshoots. Little did they know that they would be throwing good money after bad.

Not having read the books, I cannot comment on how the film compares and perhaps that was a good thing for me going into the screening. I had no preconceptions of what the film should or should not be. However, after watching it, I can now say that the books must be better than the film. THE DARK TOWER is pretty bad. Yes, we’ve seen far worse this year – THE MUMMY quickly comes to mind – but this film has very little character development, it lacks flavour, the story covers so much ground that the audience doesn’t have a chance to take in and appreciate any one scene, and the ending is jarringly out of sync with the tone of the rest of the story. THE DARK TOWER is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

If you know nothing about the story, or if you’re still curious at this point, 11-year-old, New York City boy, Jake Chambers (British actor, Tom Taylor) has been experiencing vivid nightmares on a regular basis ever since his dad died a year earlier. In his dreams, he sees a Man in Black who is trying to destroy a tower (looking a lot like an all-black version of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa) and bring chaos into the world all while a Gunslinger hunts him down to stop him from doing so. At the same time that Jake is having these nightmares, the planet is experiencing unexplained tremors and earthquakes on a regular basis. Jake is sure they are related but his mother and step-father are less certain. When they try to send Jake to a psychiatric facility, he runs away, searching for a dilapidated house that he’s seen in his visions. He ends up finding it in Brooklyn, goes inside and discovers a mysterious portal that transports him to a post-apocalyptic place called Mid-World. There, he finds the Gunslinger (Idris Elba, STAR TREK BEYOND; THE JUNGLE BOOK), whom he convinces to take him along to find and kill the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB), and together save the universe.

King, himself, has said that his stories were influenced by The Lord of the Rings, the legend of King Arthur, and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, and all are certainly in evidence in the film. What King didn’t mention and is most evident at least in the film is the similarity to STAR WARS. In THE DARK TOWER, the Man is Black is Darth Vader, the Gunslinger is Han Solo and Jake Chambers is Luke Skywalker. The MIB’s underlings, the Taheen, are the Imperial Storm Troopers. Mid-World is a sort-of Alderaan, the MIB’s base of operations (do we even know what it’s called?) is the Death Star, and the Dark Tower is the anti-Death Star. This is a hugely derivative screenplay! Yet, unlike STAR WARS (Episodes 4 to 6, specifically), the non-Earth worlds of THE DARK TOWER are uninspired. There are neither funny looking nor cute and furry extra-terrestrials to revel in. Everyone looks like they just stepped off the set from TV’s LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Because King’s eight books have been crammed into such a short, 95-minute, running time (which is truly a blessing in retrospect), there is little or no chance to develop the secondary characters. At one point, Jake seems to take an interest in the well-being of a young woman in Mid-World but we never get to hear her speak much less learn her name.

Unfortunately, the film gets even worse whenever McConaughey is on screen. I’m not sure what his inspiration was but the characterisation meter was firmly pointing towards campy rather than menacing. Was it his fault or the director’s? I’m saying it was the director’s. Either way, it was awful. Elba fared much better up until that final scene that I mentioned above. It smacks of “sequelitis”. Again, I’m pinning the blame on the director. Even if he was given a lame script, he should have given his actors some leeway to “re-interpret” their lines and motivations.

As bad as this film is, it’s still making money at the box office but that’s probably due to the plethora of even worse films that we’ve been subjected to over the summer. Will there be a sequel to THE DARK TOWER? I doubt it but, then again, stranger things have happened in Hollywood.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live Thursday morning at 8:30 am HK time!

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