It’s an oft repeated critique regarding the adaptation of a novel into film, one we’ve all used, ‘’the book was better’’. Such is the case with Stephan King’s Gunslinger saga centering on the Dark Tower trilogy. Now I confess that I have never read the Master of Maine’s Gunslinger series so I’ll be judging this on its own merits as I am not qualified to speak ad nausea on the nuances of King’s writing. OK? OK.
Jake Chambers, a teenage boy has nightmares and vivid dreams regarding a mysterious tower and a plot to destroy it by a malevolent man in black (Matthew McConaughey). Despite his mother, step-father and therapist all telling him that it’s just a dream and him trying to cope with the death of his father, because he is a teenager in a fantasy setting, he is naturally correct and there is indeed a tower and the man in black’s henchmen, the fake skins, out to capture him.
Evading capture Jake finds himself at a house he saw in his dreams and enters, discovering a portal to Mid-World, where after wandering the desert for a day he meets the other figure in his dreams, the man opposing the man in black, the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba). Roland is initially dismissive of Jake until he tells him about his dreams and the tower and the man in black. Roland tells Jake the man in black is Walter Padrick, a wonderful sorcerer trying to destroy the Dark Tower that stands at the epicenter of all worlds to let the Darkness in.
Walter has been using children to power a machine that damages the Dark Tower by using their Shine- a psychic power that some children possess, just like in The Shining. Apparently Jake’s Shine is ‘’pure’’ and Walter can use him to bring down the Tower single handily. During one of Walter’s attacks on the Tower a demon from the Darkness slips through and attacks Roland before getting six shots of lead for its trouble, but Roland is injured and they head for a village which also has a portal that leads back to ‘’Keystone Earth’’- Jake’s world. After patching themselves up and preparing for a final encounter, they go in pursuit of the Man in Black.
Much like how Valerian and the city of A Thousand Planets condensed its source material, so too does The Dark Tower. And unfortunately if this is your first introduction to the Gunslinger or Stephan King in general, you may be disappointed. The film is only ninety five minutes long and yet it feels as if not enough is going on, the plot moves forward quickly and the world that King imagined that is presented to us here feels cliched regarding a vague evil plot to destroy the world using Love craftian horrors from beyond the universe, it just feels rather underwhelming like ‘’yeah it’s the apocalypse must be Tuesday’’.
Although the performances by our leading men doesn’t disappoint, while Tom Taylor as Jake is just a very bland Harry Potter, McConaughey and Elba are on top form as the Man in Black and the Gunslinger. McConaughey is charismatic and malevolent, charming but never losing that menace and never letting you forget that. Elba’s performance as Roland really captures the characters sense of lost purpose and his struggle to hold on and fight despite being the last of the Gunslingers, , but as for the Dark Tower itself and director Nikolaj Arcel, let’s just say they have forgotten the face of their father .
(If the kid from the Shining could sense the collapse of the tower, he should have gotten Roland, Andy Dufresne, Carrie, Cujo and the gang from Stand by Me to from Stephan King’s Avengers, now that would be awesome.)
By Daniel Murphy