Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels have often been equated to the printed page of comic books. Ahead of its time for crossing over a western genre with the supernatural, literary experts of the 1980s and 1990s still prefer students in high school to read them. Here, King managed to provide hundreds of hours of graphic reading for the kindred who sought vengeance with a gun. A gunslinger with no soul of his own sets out with revenge in his heart for the brutal murder of his father. King always admitted the series was inspired by Tolkien’s novels and spaghetti westerns. (Note: the word spaghetti is illuminated on a theater marquee twice in the film.) When a young boy named Jake Chambers, with an unusual power, stumbles upon the Gunslinger from his premonitions, a father-son relationship grows… only to discover the boy is needed by an evil sorcerer to destroy the universe.
Translating the franchise to film has been a challenge over the years with a number of reported attempts to bring the series to life on celluloid. Only now, decades after the first novel appeared on bookshelves, has the project met fruition — courtesy of producer Ron Howard. But the entry-level phenomenon may run dry simply because of timing. Had this movie been made two decades ago, box office receipts would have been much larger — possibly long lines for advance ticket sales. Compared to film franchises originating out of Hollywood, and with Marvel and Disney raising the bar on recent product, a series of books written and available for almost two generations may not appeal to today’s ticket buyers.
For the record, my wife and I are each 40 years old and I read the first three novels when I was in high school. On opening day, watching the film, I noted we were the youngest in the audience. Which may emphasize, as stated above, why this movie may not profit well financially for the producers who believe this could be a lucrative business with successive sequels.
The film’s saving grace is Idris Elba, who plays Roland Deschain, also known as the last Gunslinger, and Matthew McConaughey as Sorcerer Walter O’Dim, also known as “the man in black.” They add what might be the only spark to stand out in this film. Director Nikolaj Arcel handled the task sufficiently but for some reason, the entire film is as flat as the printed page. With but one scene — The Gunslinger slaughtering every villain who is gunning for him in an abandoned warehouse — there is no monumental moment through the film that is appealing, or enjoyable. The music score was not sufficient to add momentum to the scenes, either.
The eight Stephen King novels contained mythology, as well as dense characterization that provided motives for each character — almost an essential read for beginning writers. This may have been among the complexities in adapting the novel into a motion picture. The first novel would have translated better as a season-long story arc for a weekly television program. Instead, the finished product is practically a high school student’s book report, summarizing the basic action scenes in twenty pages, and producing an adaptation for cinema.
McConaughey and Elba deserved better. And so did the fans.