Movie Review – The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower (2017)
Written by Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Nikolaj Arcel
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel

The Dark Tower is based on a series of novels by Stephen King and existed in development hell for a decade before finally being made. The three phases of development are the JJ Abrams phase, the Ron Howard phase, and the “we give up, just make the damn movie” phase. Because the script went through so many rewrites, it has ended up a continuation of the books instead of an adaptation. Thus the story is incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t read the books. This is one of the strangest decisions I’ve ever seen a studio make when adapting a book.

One element of this film makes a lot of sense; they turned it into a cheesy Young Adult story by making the main character a teenage boy named Jake, who has visions of a bunch of things that make no sense to the average audience member. There are hidden worlds beneath our own (see Hellboy and tons of other media), and Jake has discovered them. He needs the help of Roland, a gunslinger to stop the onslaught of Walter, the man in black. Walter seeks to use children who have the Shining to destroy the Dark Tower at the center of the multiverse that holds all reality together.

The film wants you to think it’s a stylish combination of tones and cinematic flavors, but it actually comes off as the flattest, boring, generic product it could possibly be. The rich mythology I have heard about from fans of the books is not present, the characters are written so broadly and are complete cliches, and the story never finds a way to invest the audience in it. I do not understand why they didn’t just adapt the damn books. I suspect studio people intervened, after seeing the boom of YA adaptations with youthful protagonists and decided they wanted a kid as the lead to bring in that audience.

What they completely wasted was Idris Elba as Roland, doing the best he can with this script. Roland should have been the main character as he is in the books because he’s miles more compelling than Jake “The Cipher” Chambers. Roland has a long-standing grudge with Walter, apparently explained in the books, and this is the latest cycle of that unfolding again. I wish I could say I fully understood the scope of what was going on, but the movie tries to boil it down as Roland just wanting revenge for his dad’s death. Oh, and Jake’s dad died too. Parallels!

We have Akiva Goldsman to primarily thank for this mess. He was one of the writers and an executive producer. Mr. Goldsman has brought us such wonderful scripts as Batman & Robin, Lost in Space, I Robot, Rings, and Transformers: The Last Knight. He’s that sort of reliable Hollywood writer-producer that has such little respect for the audience’s intelligence that he will deliver a script that is both bloated but also incredibly stupid. He wields his themes like a lead sledgehammer, making sure to pound them into the audience’s dumb little heads.

When we get to the fish out of water sequence in the second act of Roland being transported to New York City, I was done. Instead of exploring the multiverse and the strange worlds beyond our own, Goldsman thought it would be a great idea (read cheap) to bring the story to NYC. The film ends in the same beam of light shooting into the sky cliche that mountains of schlock always seem to end up at. The Dark Tower is a complete waste of talent and time, ignoring its source material to construct a vapid and ultimately unengaging bore.

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