Author Stephen King is one of Hollywood’s most adapted writers because he’s produced some incredible stories which piques his readers’ interests (while also entertaining them). King is known mainly for his horror novels but he has dabbled in other genres. The Dark Tower series, King’s seminal books pitting the Gunslinger against the Man in Black, is a classic tale of good versus evil. With eight books in the series, there is plenty to tell onscreen for filmgoers and King fans alike. It’s taken over 10 years for it to become a reality, but the first in what will hopefully be a new film franchise is finally here. But knowing that, compared with the finished product, maybe Sony and MRC should’ve waited a little longer and worked a little harder.

The Dark Tower was directed by Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) and written by Arcel, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, and Anders Thomas Jensen, and is a combination of genres, which includes western, fantasy, sci-fi and horror. It stars Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Taylor. Elba is Roland Deschain, the last of a historic order known as the Gunslingers, while McConaughey is Roland’s nemesis, Walter O’Dim – the Man in Black. Arcel’s feature focuses on Jake Chambers (Taylor), a young boy haunted by dreams and visions of the Tower, the Man in Black and the Gunslinger. Jake’s dreams leave the youth troubled and he visits counselors to help him cope with the notion that his visions aren’t real. Of course, it turns out everything Jake imagines is not only real, soon he’s in another world, traveling alongside Roland. Roland is stoic and bit standoffish, but he fills in the blanks for Jake in regards to his dreams, and while Roland seeks revenge Walter goes on a manhunt for Jake.

With King’s series being so vast and immersive, adapting all of that material into one film is difficult. One can either stay true to the source, which means one film can only serve as exposition; or one can try and give a singular film its own identity and merely borrow from the source material to make something separate and unique. With Sony and MRC ‘s hopes that this becomes a successful franchise, it seems they opted to go both routes – a decision which looks to be wrong on many levels.

The Dark Tower has a running time of 95 minutes, which is just enough time to lay down the groundwork. Sadly, that foundation is all that’s established – Arcel’s feature takes no time in establishing any of the characters. Viewers will understand this good versus evil story, and they already know from the trailers that the Tower functions as a protector from all that is evil. The problem lies in the notion that viewers have no emotional investment in Roland, Walter and Jake. At no point during this film did I care about Roland or Jake, and I never felt any end of the world urgency. That’s a testament to the idea its running time is too short – nothing was established before the journey set forth.

As for performances, Elba is fantastic as the Gunslinger. He did as well as he could with what he was given, but his turn as Roland isn’t enough. McConaughey, sadly, is miscast. He, too, wasn’t given much to work with, but his take on Walter is misplaced. The Man in Black is a sorcerer, and is capable of true evil, but McConaughey’s approach is that of a laid back magician who only dabbles in evil during his free time. Even if McConaughey made different choices, his Walter is two-dimensional (so is Roland) – there’s no depth nor complexity. Taylor seems spot on as he’s a kid; the writing is just a notch above a 7th or 8th grade level. So I can credit Jake as being written appropriately.

With a budget of $60 million it’s easy to see that this Dark Tower is a stripped down version of King’s books. Sony, MRC and Arcel have taken their audience for granted in thinking they won’t be able to consume a complex tale. Or maybe they wanted to save any complexities for the sequels. With this feature taking some 10 or so years to get off the ground (which saw talents like J.J. Abrams, Javier Bardem, Russell Crowe, Viggo Mortensen, and Ron Howard come and go), it’s safe to assume that his was a troubled production and keeping things simple was the best course of action. Regardless, the problem with alienating their audience is this franchise starter may not make enough money to justify return engagements.

Casual filmgoers, though, may come to like The Dark Tower. There isn’t anything catastrophically wrong with Arcel’s offering – it’s typical Hollywood fare which won’t challenge audiences. But for fans of King’s work this is a savage disservice and they stand to be the most upset. I found it serviceable and not nearly the disaster I’ve been led to believe, but its indifference towards its story and characters left me feeling just as apathetic. If there are sequels, I’ll likely check it out, but if this is the only Dark Tower that’s ever released I won’t be hurt, either.

2.5 stars out of 5

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