“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
The brilliance of horror alum Stephen King, who must be close to finishing his fortress of dollar bills and near to retiring to Mid-World, has reigned king over his niche genre for years, writing unshakeable stories and creating meaty characters in his award—winning collection. Although there have been some questionable adaptation efforts in the form of ‘Cell’ and ‘Under the Dome’, King’s magnificent ‘The Dark Tower’ series has taken its time being brought to life on the big screen, much to the distress of fans, and has been met with radioactive devastation by receiving a magnitude of underwhelming opinions.
Keeping this punt to the stones in mind, and still remaining in the minority who shed some z’s watching ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, I want to turn the tide again and give logic to why ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ skipper, Nikolaj Arcel’s summarised end of summer blockbuster, might not be the sleep aid that everyone thinks.
Based on an eight-volume series of the same name, ‘The Dark Tower’ introduces eleven year old, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who with the aid of his apocalyptic visions, locates a portal to Mid-world; a derelict wasteland in a parallel universe home to an ongoing battle between a gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and his nemesis, Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), known as the “Man in Black”. Combining their efforts, Jake and Roland travel between worlds in an attempt to terminate Walter’s psychopathic plans to destroy a mythical monolith protecting both worlds from the evil behind the vale.
I will always adhere to the “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” scenario, and while a majority are black-bagging, there is a trail of Stephen King fans that commend ‘The Dark Tower’s’ natural ability to somehow remain loyal to the earthy tone of volume one, ‘The Gunslinger’, despite a good soaking by a watered down 12a certificate. Let’s be honest, a diluted, 95 minute visual representation of King’s raw kaleidoscope of survival, loyalty and dirty badassery, isn’t exactly what we had in mind. Be that as it may, knowing the potency of Roland Deschain’s undertakings on paper, certainly gave readers the advantage of previous emotional investment and a familiarity with the intricate components in King’s mad world. This leverage for readers inadvertently made the plot and concepts puzzling to newcomers, confusing where their perspective should lie. Arcel changed the point of view from The Gunslinger’s to Jake’s in a significant switch from the book that seemed to prevent the film from running on Cormac McCarthy steam, to being fuelled by a fresh injection of imagination and sorcery that delights after the recent success of the otherworldly TV Series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’. Both of these visually reimagined stories gives credence to the idea that there is method in the madness that pleases both literally and visually, but takes the risk in abandoning new audiences.
An attractive cast list was undoubtedly going to be the water fountain in the desert, offering gritty chemistry between elite duo Idris Elba, entertaining with a grounded but cool-as-shit Gunslinger, and Matthew McConaughey, destroying everything in his path with his alluringly terrifying sorcery tricks. Newcomer Tom Taylor gave a believable performance as Roland’s protégé, acting out that kid explorer we all wanted to be at eleven with a charming energy. The dynamic trio slayed each of their roles by dominating the screen with strength and drawing those distinguishing rustic qualities from the written characters. “I do not kill with my gun; I kill with my heart.” was an overused Gunslingers oath, but incredibly satisfying to hear from Elba for any King buffs out there.
Getting the fandom points across, it’s fair to say ‘The Dark Tower’ is by no means an “outstanding” movie, with viewers expecting to immediately accept that some tower is under attack by a sorcerer in another dimension that causes rippling consequences in our world, while a stern cowboy’s running around New York with a psychic kid. I get it, it’s a lot to comprehend and pack into one film with a short running time, and this over-accelerated pace forced non-readers to uninvest. Our limited scenes in Mid-world showed true promise for a spectacular dystopian showdown, however our attention was called to the commercial world that ultimately banished a lot of the fascination. The exhausted slow-Mo action sequences were thankfully in short supply, aiding a few aptly timed scenes concerning The Gunslinger handling his weapons, enticing the coldest of demons to melt, and a reasonably sharp script from ‘I Am Legend’ writer Akiva Goldsman, was befitting for the actors to play with.
While The Gunslingers first cinematic experience hasn’t broken new grounds, admirers of the book series may resonate with this anticipated fantasy being shown solid actors to stabilise the intricacy of Stephen King’s characters, and class ‘The Dark Tower’ as a sound addition to the geek bank. Certain insights during the film have indicated that the series will continue for another two films to make a trilogy, although this is now debatable after so many critics played the boredom card. Standing as a loyal enthusiast of both book and film, with any luck a change of director and restructuring could benefit this franchise before the bullets run out.
Jo’s rating: 7 out of 10
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor