I’ve read a great many of Stephen King’s books, but I’ll admit that I have yet to crack open a copy of any of the entries into his beloved Dark Tower series. Perhaps, one day I will. My hope is that the books – which have garnered their share of praise and fandom over the years – will be better than this long-awaited film, which ranks as one of the worst adaptations of King’s work – and that’s saying something.
Apparently stuffing material together from several of the Dark Tower volumes, Nikolaj Arcel’s picture bounces several genres around at once – and all clunkily. As the film opens, a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor) has been experiencing odd dreams that might have something to do with the unexplained earthquakes that rock his hometown of New York and other parts of the world. His mother (Katheryn Winnick) thinks that her son might be cuckoo when he tries to explain the connection between the quakes and the vivid nightmares he experiences.
Meanwhile, somewhere else – hey, that’s the best I can do in this instance – a figure known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey, engaging in some series hamming it up) wants to destroy the titular structure, which protects the universe or something to that effect. On his trail is Roland (Idris Elba), a gunslinger armed with two pistols that seemingly never run out of ammo and some mantra that scolds people for forgetting the faces of their fathers.
Upon the threat of being sent upstate to a camp for wayward children, Jake flees his home and manages to end up in Roland’s world, where the cryptic gunslinger obligingly allows him to tag along. Meanwhile, the Man in Black is seeking out children who “shine” – a word to which King apparently took one back in the day – and can, therefore, do whatever it is that they do when McConaughey’s villain hooks them up to a machine that seemingly causes a large amount of light to shoot out of their heads.
The Dark Tower is loaded with problems. It’s not particularly suspenseful, although there is a shootout sequence late in the picture that is well staged. King is a good writer and he’s often an ace at capturing how ordinary people talk, so it’s disappointing that this film’s mostly expository dialogue is like nails on a chalkboard. Also, the few instances in which otherworldly creatures – several in a forest and a house that appears to come alive – are, to say the least, confusing.
This could be a case of a novel that is seemingly unadaptable. There are such things. For the sake of reference, look up Breakfast of Champions and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Next month, we’ll get the long-awaited film adaptation of “It,” which is much more cinematically inclined. The verdict is obviously still out on that one, but The Dark Tower is an unequivocal bust.