The tortuous process to convert Stephen King’s Dark Tower books into a movie began before the advent of Netflix and Amazon platforms, which would have happily accepted and easily accommodated King’s sprawling series in all its detail.
Instead, it’s been crammed into a 96-minute movie, and though I’m generally not one to complain about a movie being too short, this adaptation seems to have achieved its brevity by eliminating most of what was good about the books and leaving in most of what wasn’t.
King has said he wanted to modernize and world-build something along the lines of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings trilogy, and the echoes are there — a universe of stable worlds is held together by a dark tower protected by warriors and menaced by a sorcerer who wants to destroy it in order to unleash demon armies and a perpetual reign of chaos, suffering, darkness, fire, etc.
Why? You’ll have to ask the sorcerer (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black, also known as – brace yourself for the terrifying name whose mere utterance causes men to quiver and women to weep – Walter.
Walter rules demonically over many worlds but comes to New York to find Jake (Tom Taylor) a boy whose prodigious psychic abilities are the key to destroying (or saving) the tower. The boy understandably wants no part of him, and instead seeks the protection of Roland (Idris Elba), a last-of-his-kind warrior whose sworn duty to protect the tower has deteriorated into a hateful grudge match with Walter.
The various parties use time/space portals to chase one another through various worlds, and that gives director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) a blank canvas and unlimited palette to create wondrous sci-fi/fantasy visuals. Instead, the worlds are drab, the effects familiar, and the dialogue bafflingly bad, given the contributions of four credited screenwriters, and the probable input of many more.
I give Elba enormous credit for maintaining a straight face — he and Taylor account for the movie’s few good moments — but the silly script seems to have awakened the dormant ham in McConaughey, whose weirdly lacquered Walter walks through Manhattan commanding people to “hate” or “stop breathing” and “kill each other.”
He did not command me to hate, but I did anyway, every time he insisted that the plural of magic is magics.
Walter reminded me a little of McConaughey’s other goofy man in black, the guy on TV who tries to persuade people to buy Lincolns by smirking or falling backward into a pool.
Incidentally, the most powerful warlock in the multiverse has limitless psychic means of tracking Jake through time and space, but he does not have GPS — we notice that the kid has his smartphone with him the whole time. In fact, Walter probably could have found him through Facebook.
The Dark Tower
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel. WIth Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Dennis Haysbert, Jackie Earle Haley, Fran Kranz and Claudia Kim. Distributed by Sony Pictures.
- Parent's guide: PG-13 (gun violence)
- Running time: 96 minutes
Playing at: Area theaters