FILM REVIEW – THE DARK TOWER. With Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert. Written by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. 95 minutes.
Since the original film version of “Carrie” (1976), there have been so many movie and TV productions based on the works of Stephen King that they qualify as a genre unto themselves. One sign that the production may not satisfy his legion of fans (apart from nearly a decade of stops and starts) is when the author’s name does not feature prominently in the advertising for the film, which seems especially odd in this case. Stephen King is only the best-selling author in the history of Earth––you’d think that studio Warner Brothers would want to better capitalize on that.
The movie is a self-contained story that, fortunately, does not require the viewer to have read any of the series or related books or graphic novels. It is essentially a fable of good vs. evil in which a young boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has special psychic talents which will determine the outcome of the battle. When we first meet him he is having dreams or visions of an alternate world where children are being used in attempts to destroy this mysterious dark tower. Who put it there or what’s inside is never explained, but it’s preventing horrible demons from taking over the known universe.
Matthew McConaughey is the devilish Walter, who sends his minions out to gather special children for the task. Jake can recognize the bad guys because they wear fake skin-like masks in order to look human. Eventually Jake hooks up with Roland (Idris Elba), the last of the “Gunslingers,” whose job it is to kill Walter. Much of the rest of the plot is window dreassing although, to be fair, they may simply be glosses on things gone into in great (or even interminable) detail in King’s books. As Roland and Jake bond, the stakes are raised since, as Walter notes, anyone who has been close to Roland, including his father (Dennis Haysbert), is eventually killed by Walter.
It’s a kind of serviceable fantasy/horror film that may work for the middle school set, but other than watching McConaughey and Elba underplay their iconic roles it’s waiting for each confrontation as a buildup to the climactic showdown. For some reason, the movie turns out to be the climax of the entire book series rather than a direct adaptation of any of them, and the tentative plan is for Elba to star in a spinoff television series exploring the origins of his character.
Late summer is a time when Hollywood gives up on the “tentpole” movies of big blockbusters and sequels, figuring that there’s a only few weeks left so they can afford to experiment. If a late summer film is a hit, great, otherwise it can get out of the way when the fall releases start rolling out a month from now. “The Dark Tower” is neither the best nor the worst of the King adaptations, but it seems a safe bet that it’s the box office and not psychic children which will be its ultimate downfall.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.