THE DARK TOWER
Stephen King’s Gunslinger hits the big screen. We shoot him like a varmint.
released OUT NOW! 12a | 95 minutes Director Nikolaj arcel Cast Idris elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, abbey lee, Jackie earle Haley
The Gunslinger begins with Stephen King’s most evocative line: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” One line that splits into two tantalising questions – who is the man in black, and why is this gunslinger following him?
In contrast, there is nothing tantalising about this adaptation. To call it a mess would be underselling its catastrophe. Taking its gun-toting antihero to heart, The Dark Tower shoots its source material to pulp, leaving behind a limp adaptation that quickly bleeds out. Part of the problem is shifting the genre from a slow supernatural Western to a bullet-spewing action film, and part of it is misunderstanding the power of King’s original text.
Idris Elba stars as Roland Deschain, a cowboy in a parallel universe who is haunted by the death of his family. Elba has built a career on the foundations of the gunslinger: he is often gruff and takes no shit. His Deschain is little more than these attributes, however. A silhouette of a character, he grunts and delivers jaded one-liners, but there is no chill to his performance, and the madness that tinges his book counterpart is left on the page.
Matthew McConaughey is better suited to the role of Deschain’s adversary, and he has some slinky, serpentine fun as evil sorcerer the Man in Black. But even McConaughey struggles with the script, stuck with bland dialogue and one-dimensional motivations. The only truly impressive thing about this character is his cheekbones.
The film also suffers from the kind of leaden storytelling that undermines any nuance. The heart of the novel is the relationship between Roland and Jake, a boy from our world who joins Roland on his quest. In the movie, the chemistry between the two amounts to zero; there is no budding bond, no prickly affection. And while there are some genuinely funny moments where Jake shows Roland around New York City (“I haven’t felt this good in years,” Roland deadpans after downing a handful of painkillers), there is no pathos for them to ping against.
Neither is there anything interesting to say, as if the word subtext had never been invented. Children with psychic abilities called the Shine (a nice little tie-in with The Shining) are being taken by the Man in Black to destroy the Dark Tower. Does this explore the exploitation and fetishisation of innocence? No. The Man in Black’s rat-faced lackeys also steal people’s skin to look human. Does this challenge the notion that only beautiful people are valued? Nope.
Plus, by making the film a 12A, all of the book’s dark and demented imagery has been stripped. The creatures, for example, are a horde
This had the potential to be a ghostly and haunting Western
of indistinguishable mush. There are no Slow Mutants and no encounter with a succubus in the woods. The book’s most striking section, where Roland is forced to kill an entire village after they turn on him, has also been omitted. Even the landscape inspires a yawn. In the book Roland chases the Man in Black through a scarred vision of the Old West, punctuated with mountains and pockets of civilisation. Here it looks like a Star Trek backlot; an endless vista of sand and dust.
Many of these infuriating missteps are down to the script’s approach. Rather than directly adapting The Gunslinger – the first instalment of The Dark Tower – director Nikolaj Arcel has plucked elements from all seven books, calling it a remix and a canonical sequel. What this does is zap all of the mystery from the story. Instead of discovering what the Dark Tower is across multiple films, we have scenes that effectively become seminars, telling us what the Dark Tower is and why the Man in Black is trying to destroy it. The beauty of the novel is that we knew hardly anything about Roland’s quest and were hooked into reading more. We weren’t served it all on a plate.
So here we are, drenched in disappointment. This could have been a ghostly, haunting Western and the first stage of a deathly dark Lord Of The Rings. Instead, the filmmakers have softened everything. There is no bite. No bravery or vision. And while the film will be disheartening for fans of the books, the real tragedy is that it may have killed off any future adaptations. Kimberley Ballard
The Dark Tower has a complicated production history. From 2007 to 2013, it was almost adapted three times!
The Macarena had become a popular postshootout ritual.
One season of True Detective and you think you’re the shit.