I’m a pretty big Stephen King fan, although admittedly I’ve been a bit lax in keeping up with the prolific author’s output since around “Cell”. The first time I read “The Stand”, I did it in one sitting, forgoing sleep to finish it sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning (having started it on Friday evening). If pushed, my absolute favourite is a three-way tie between “Salem’s Lot”, “Needful Things” and “Insomnia”, all of which I’ve read multiple times. I’m telling you this by way of an apology and explanation for the fact that despite my love for the author and his work, I’ve never read any of the “Dark Tower” books. I’m not sure why, just never got around to them. Maybe, thanks to this movie, that will finally change.
When Jake (Tom Taylor), a troubled young boy plagued by visions of a man in black, a dark tower and a mysterious gunslinger, finds that his visions are driven by the events of a parallel world, he finds himself drawn into the eternal conflict between the heroic gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), sworn to protect the Dark Tower and the Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) who seeks to destroy the tower, which sits at the centre of all universes and keeps all of creation safe.
There’s nothing “The Dark Tower” reminded me more of than the trend in the eighties for glossy American TV series or miniseries to be crudely chopped and edited down into exhibition friendly running times and then shipped to the UK (and other markets no doubt) as a feature film. The pacing is quick and very choppy and everything just kind of lollops along in an ungainly but entertaining fashion. The thing is, and again I say this as someone who – although passingly familiar with the Crimson King – hasn’t read any of the source material, had this been a quick theatrical cash in edited down from a more expansive TV show, it’s a show I definitely would want to watch.
The film is almost intoxicating in the headiness of the ideas on offer but it simply doesn’t have the time or inclination to dwell on anything. It offers enough material for at least four hours of movie without ever sagging or feeling stretched and in compressing it down to a laughably brief 90 minute runtime, it’s like being offered the entire menu from “Beauty And The Beast”’s ‘Be Our Guest’ only to watch the delicacies whizz past your eyes without being allowed to taste any of them. This film hasn’t so much forgotten the face of its father, it’s just rushing by so quickly it probably didn’t have a chance to recognise him.
The cast is tremendous, with McConaughey, in particular, relishing his villainous role. Elba’s Deschain, although saddled with an overabundance of gnomic dialogue, is still an intriguing and imposing character and both hint at plenty of backstory and details which go tantalisingly unexplored. Tom Taylor makes for a great audience surrogate, bringing a touch of the kind of kid-friendly fantasies you got in the eighties to the mix and it’s in that league that “The Dark Tower” actually finds its niche. Whatever dark machinations occurred in the Sony studios editing suite, what Director Nikolaj Arcel has brought to the screen looks great. The hard-to-shake feeling this is a chopped up collection of a TV pilot and the first couple of episodes suggests there’s a longer director’s cut of the film somewhere and maybe, as “Game Of Thrones” has shown, TV is the best place for this kind of intricate and detail rich fantasy storytelling.
As I’ve made clear, I can’t comment on its accuracy or blasphemy against the original novels. What I can say is this is a pretty good fantasy adventure yarn, perhaps a little bit retro in its aesthetic but richer for it. If the secret to show business success is ‘always leave them wanting more’, then “The Dark Tower” succeeds for me. I want to see more of the adventures of Roland and Jake, I want to learn more of the Dark Tower and the world(s) it resides in. I guess I’ll just have to read the books.