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Review: The Dark Tower

A big fan of The Stephen King’s novels, our JP reviews the film adaptation of “The Dark Tower,” starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Does the superfan like the film?

Roland (Idris Elba) in Columbia Pictures’ THE DARK TOWER. (CTMG)

Columbia Pictures
Opens: Friday, August 4, 2017

This film has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for “thematic material including sequences of gun violence, and action.”

Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, and Jackie Earle Haley
Directed By Nikolaj Arcel
Produced By Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard, Erica Huggins

Studio Synopsis:
There are other worlds than these. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, the ambitious and expansive story from one of the world’s most celebrated authors, makes its launch to the big screen. The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

J.P.’s Take:

Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). (Ilze Kitshoff/CTMG)

Since childhood I’ve been an avid reader of Stephen King’s work. “The Dark Tower” as I remember is one most enrapturing and mind blowing series I’ve ever known. It’s a true page turner that can not be read in a single hour or even a day. You have to nurse each book over a period of time. So upon hearing of its eminent film debut, I leapt for joy. I thought “wow” there’s a filmmaker brave enough to tackle such daunting works. Yet, word got around of its production hell, with numerous rewrites, personnel changes and the 95 minute running time. This did not sit well with a hardcore fan like me.

Unfortunately, my instincts were correct, as “The Dark Tower” felt less than the sum of its parts. This is obviously a follow-up film to the anthology as a whole. It’s meant to bring those who are totally familiar with that world up to speed, while providing an ending that will hopefully satisfy even the pickiest followers.

So how do you sum up such an extensive body of work, as well as bring something new to the big screen?

Well, that was a task that had even the staunchest filmmakers like Ron Howard and J.J. Abrams backing away from the project altogether, with Howard only serving as one of the producers. It’s not a film you can just slap together and call it the ultimate fan experience. NO! Fortunately for me, I went in armed with foreknowledge of its background. However, the unfortunate thing is: if you’re not a fan of King’s novels, nor have any inkling of this stories’ collection of books, you will not receive anything of worth here. That’s what’s disappointing about this iteration.

Roland (Idris Elba) and Walter (Matthew McConaughey). (Ilze Kitshoff/CTMG)

There is simply not enough depth to pull from the plot, not even from the characters to call this an authentic fan experience. It only wets your appetite for what’s to come. You have to understand this is coming from eight novels — three of which boast 700 to 800 pages each — not to mention the comics that followed. What happened here is the filmmakers (director/co-writer Nikolaj Arcel and writers Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner and Ander Thomas Jensen) tried to thread together tidbits of each of the novels and the comics in order to give it familiarity. Then, they watered down the characters and condensed the plot and storyline, hoping viewers would catch on to it quickly. It would have worked, but what transpired on screen left a lot to be desired.

I believe whole heartedly had they started from the very beginning, more directly with the story of how the “Gunslinger” Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) came to be, they would have had a far more effective film. I will give it credit nonetheless for adding in story arcs having to do with the gunslingers creed, Roland’s abilities (which could have been extended), and Jake Chambers’ (Tom Taylor) powers coming into view. But again, those are only minuscule familiarities that only work if you know about them ahead of time.

I did enjoy Elba’s performance; my only wish is that they made him quicker on the draw with his actual gun slinging. The young fresh face playing Jake Chambers certainly resembled the character of the anthology and even Matthew McConaughey felt sinister as the “man in black” Walter o’Dim.

Try as they might to bring the pages of King’s tales to life, sadly there wasn’t much life left to give once the ball got rolling. As a fan, I wanted to love this movie, if only it could have been fleshed out to its full potential.

About J.P. Langston

J.P. Langston is a member of "Sidewalks Entertainment" team primarily as a videographer. He loves movies, especially sci-fi horror and action comedies. Some of his favorite films include "Blade Runner" "The Matrix Trilogy," The (original) "Star Wars," "Equilibrium," "Serenity," "Kill Bill Vols 1 and 2," "Appleseed," "Unbreakable" and "Sin City." He has a large DVD collection, which is still growing. Since reviewing films for "Sidewalks," he has been expanding his palette for all types of films.