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Review: ‘The Dark Tower’ is utterly forgettable

‘The Dark Tower” — like the titular spire at the center of the movie’s universe — just sort of exists, neither in a realm of good nor bad. But while the tower provides an essential plot point, the film is inessential in every way — the most average of average, probably to be forgotten within a month or so. Among films based on Stephen King books, “The Dark Tower” is more in the realm of quality of “Cujo” or “Pet Sematary” than it is “The Shining” or “Misery.” I haven’t read the “Dark Tower” series, but from what I understand, this movie is sort of an alternate retelling of that story, straddling a line between originality and borrowing from the books.

Teenager Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is thought to be going off the deep end by his loving mom and less-than-personable stepfather after claiming to have repeated dreams about a Dark Tower and a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and finally a man called the Gunslinger (Idris Elba). He also dreams that creatures inside realistic human skin suits are coming after him. Surprise: Jake is not nuts, and after some lifeless exposition and terrible acting on Taylor’s part he is transported to the world where the Man in Black lives, demonic creatures lurk and the Gunslinger roams the desert in exile.

Clocking in at a brisk 95 minutes, this is one of few movies that would actually benefit from being about half an hour longer. The movie just kind of zips over world-building and back-story for creatures, characters, history of the various worlds, etc. giving the audience only the most basic bullet points to understand the plot. The viewer will understand what is going on most of the time, but it may be difficult to care about it to a memorable degree.

This would imaginably be the biggest disappointment to fans of the series and King’s works, as even I know the King stories are rich with world-building and detail. References to the author’s other works such as “It” and “The Shining” will intrigue casual and familiar viewers alike, but are rarely explored beyond a quick shot or verbal reference. (Some of this may be due to rights issues, which is a shame considering how much money was doled out on some of the flashy CGI effects instead of story and character development.) The biggest shame here is that Elba and his portrayal of the Gunslinger, Roland, really belong in a better adaptation of the movie.

It’s clear he took the role to heart and gave it his all, and if the film had been given a much more capable filmmakers (or perhaps a studio that doesn’t want to meddle), Elba could easily carry the series as lead protagonist. He carries this very average rendition, but at least he stands out even more because of it. McConaughey takes terribly written dialogue and at least makes it laughable.

It’s surprising that the mediocre Hollywood writers who churned out this movie script don’t know how to write an antagonist. Taylor is about as lifeless as a kid protagonist can get, with zero personality in his character and close to no enthusiasm for his lines. Maybe it’s too harsh to criticize him that much, but it’s a simple matter that he was just not ready in terms of talent and range to tackle what the character requires, or he just doesn’t care.

It doesn’t help that the writers gave him dialogue with the substance of table scraps. “The Dark Tower” also may suffer from studio meddling, and to me there are some telltale signs of this. The movie is made by Sony Pictures, which is notorious for meddling with its films (such as “Amazing Spider-Man 2”).

It almost seems as if someone didn’t have faith in any weirdness or richness of King’s source material, forgetting that the largest audience would be his fans. The script gives only the bare-bones explanations for everything. The trend these days with big studios is to make films either as quick and short or as long and drawn-out as they can, while hiring several different writers whose various opposing ideas get caught in the mishmash of mediocrity. “The Dark Tower” is one of those movies.

* * * “The Dark Tower” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.

George Haerle holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.

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