By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
As a teen and an adult, I have read several of Stephen King’s stories, but have never read the popular Dark Tower series. Thirty-six years after the release of the first book, The Gunslinger, a film adaptation, is opening in theaters. I went into this film only with a very basic overview of the world and story because I did not wish to spoil very much. My initial reaction to the movie was moderately positive, but with a some critiques regarding the film’s limitations. Now that I have seen the film, I did more research into the stories and characters and have to say that this adaptation could have been so much more. My big takeaway from all of this is that die hard fans of the series will absolutely hate this rather limited version of their beloved series, and the uninitiated will probably enjoy it more.
Tom Taylor stars as Jake Chambers, a bright teenage boy haunted by vivid and wild nightmares about another dimension where a gunslinger named Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) seeks out the evil “Man in Black” (Matthew McConaughey). The Man in Black, who goes by the name of Walter, kidnaps children from Jake’s world who have the power to destroy the Dark Tower protecting the universe. After having several of these nightmares, Jake comes to the realization that they are visions of a reality beyond his world’s comprehension. When the dark forces discover Jake’s abilities, they try to take him into custody; however, Jake manages to escape and seeks out a portal to find Deschain.
Adapted by screenwriters Akiva Goldsmith, Jeff Pinker, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel, and directed by Arcel, The Dark Tower movie gives uninitiated audiences only a mere sliver of the wild-eyed imaginative world created by Stephen King in his stories which will, no doubt, frustrate the fans wanting so much more. The writers and director have stripped King’s universe down to the bare basics. It seems as if they were rather restrained by either the studio or by their own reservations with the source material. The result is a movie whose influences by westerns, Tolkien, Arthurian legend, and other sources of science fiction or fantasy play out more obviously and less creatively.
That said; despite the limitations, I still enjoyed this introduction to this universe and found it moderately entertaining nonetheless. Had I previously read the stories, though, this review would probably be much different. The overall premise did seem somewhat hokey, but the development of the protagonists and their earnest motivations make it work better. The ardent and unflappable performance by Idris Elba as Roland Deschain and the wholehearted turn by Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers had me buying into what is otherwise an underdeveloped plot. Walter, the Man in Black, is not a very dimensional villain either, but Matthew McConaughey brings such a casual coolness to his roguish performance that I found it difficult not to enjoy it all. The movie also features solid performances by Katherine Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley, Abbey Lee, Nicholas Hamilton, Dennis Haysbert, and Claudia Kim. Their work in the film is adequate, but definitely plays second fiddle to the awesome turns by the main characters.
And it is mainly because of the performances of Elba, McConaughey and Taylor that this movie won my approval just enough to give it a positive review. Had it not been for their sincerity, I probably would have tuned out completely. For me, these talented actors saved this, otherwise, weak-plotted and not-so-visionary movie that comes from a much more visionary source. I must strongly advise fans of the books to avoid this film, as it will undoubtedly anger, frustrate and disappoint. For audiences who haven’t read the stories, it would be best to catch it as a matinee. I do see the opportunity for more installments, as the material is all there. However, it will take some filmmakers with more courage and creativity to use the material to its fullest potential and build upon this shaky first film.