Young Jake Chambers (Legends‘ Tom Taylor) suffers from nightmares of a strange world where a wrongness permeates the atmosphere, where sirens sound across the land and a man dressed in black uses the minds of children to attack a tower; awakening to an earthquake which shakes the New York apartment he shares with his mother and stepfather it is almost as though the nightmare has bled through his imagination into the real world.
Sketching his visions obsessively, Jake flees from the care workers planning to transfer him to a facility for observation whom he believes to be otherworldly monsters and manages to locate a derelict house which matches his drawing; entering it he finds a portal to Mid-World, a dry, barren land of dust devils and low-hanging alien planets where he encounters Roland Deschain (Prometheus‘ Idris Elba).
Last of the legendary Gunslingers whose six-shooter was forged from the shards of Excalibur, this is the man that Jake has seen in his dreams battling the fearsome man in black who wishes to destroy the tower, the powerful and ruthless sorcerer Walter Padick (Interstellar‘s Matthew McConaughey) who now seeks Jake for “the purity of his Shine.”
That tower stands at the centre of two universes, both within the worlds depicted by Stephen King in his eight novel sequence The Dark Tower and within the wider work of King himself, the shadow of that tower touching many of his other notable works, a fact which is acknowledged in director Nikolaj Arcel’s film by brief onscreen references to the Overlook Hotel of The Shining and the twisted funfair of Pennywise of It.
Stephen King is one of America’s, if not the world’s, most highly regarded storytellers, with over three hundred and fifty million copies of his fifty plus novels sold worldwide and an entire industry built around the numerous adaptations of his works, yet it is The Dark Tower which is held by many to be his masterpiece in terms of scale, complexity and depth, and to capture and transfer to the screen even the essence if not the full majesty of that would be a worthy achievement.
Instead, this is more of a beige folly built on a foundation of over four thousand pages of narrative whose collective weight amounts to no more than a feather on the wind, transmuted into a bland and inconsequential ninety-five-minute summer popcorn movie which squanders the potential and wastes the talent of all involved.
Scripted by Rings‘ Akiva Goldsman, The 5th Wave‘s Jeff Pinkner, Men & Chicken‘s Anders Thomas Jensen and Arcel himself, the production is credited to Goldsman, Ron Howard whose recent appointment to the Han Solo film is cause for concern based on this evidence and Erica Huggins of the incomprehensibly idiotic Flightplan, and it is they who must be held responsible for the misconceived bungle they have conspired to create.
In a world where a modest novel such as The Hobbit can span three major motion pictures, the shortest of which was two and a quarter hours, and the final novels in the Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight sequences can all justify two movies each, even with the argument that The Dark Tower is not a direct adaptation of any of the eight novels this running time is barely sufficient for a discussion of the work at hand let alone an adequate dramatic presentation.
With Tom Holkenborg’s soundtrack trying desperately to sell mediocrity as epic it plays like a superficial western-themed Dungeons and Dragons session where every challenge is too facile as Jake escapes the agents of Padick, jumps dimensions and finds the first person he lays eyes on is the hero he needs who takes him to a seer who speaks in couplets and lays out the quest which is completed in two steps. Considering the future of every world is at stake The Dark Tower manages the astonishing feat of being quite boring, perhaps because the grand forces of evil have a very limited bag of tricks.
Feeling like brutally edited highlights of a brilliant mini-series, in a world where genre is booming through the offerings of Netflix and Amazon Prime, while the cast are undeniably good and each scene plays well in itself, for example the use of Jake’s therapy to divulge exposition a clever swift advancement of the plot, the whole is never as satisfying as a single episode of HBO’s similarly styled dark fantasy drama Carnivàle let alone two full seasons, and there is simply no excuse for this shoddy betrayal of superior source material