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"THE DARK TOWER"
(2017) (Tom Taylor, Idris Elba) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: A 14-year-old finds himself in the middle of a conflict where the safety of the universe is at stake.
PLOT:
14-year-old Jake Chambers (TOM TAYLOR) lives in New York City with his mom, Laurie (KATHERYN WINNICK), and stepfather, Lon (NICHOLAS PAULING). She's concerned and he's increasingly perturbed by the boy's claims of having visions of a gunslinger, a man in black, and an apocalyptic scenario.

Little do they or Jake know that he has a supernatural ability known as "shine" that allows him to see into other worlds and dimensions, or that Roland Deschain, a.k.a. The Gunslinger (IDRIS ELBA), and Walter O'Dim, a.k.a. The Man in Black (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY), are real figures who've been locked in battle forever.

The Gunslinger is the last of his kind, a sort of cowboy warrior equipped with six-shooters forged from the legendary sword Excalibur, and he's been tasked with protecting The Tower that holds the universe together. His sorcerer nemesis, The Man in Black, desires to bring that down and thus allow demons like him into the universe, and legend has it that a child will be the only one capable of accomplishing that feat. After testing any number of children, The Man in Black believes he's found the right kid in Jake, but is already one step behind as the teen has discovered and traveled through a portal to Mid-World where he teams up with the Gunslinger.

From that point on, the Man in Black and his minions attempt to get their hands on the boy, all while The Gunslinger tries to protect the boy and get revenge on his nemesis for killing everyone he loves.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As a movie reviewer, the first question I get asked after seeing a film usually falls along the lines of "Is it any good?" The second, when said movie is based on a novel, nearly always is "How does it compare to the book?"

If I've read the literary work I can give my opinion comparing the two, but I always preface that with the statement that novels and movies are two completely different storytelling beasts and that movie adaptations should be able to stand on their own without any working knowledge of their predecessor.

After all, there's little chance an actual film cast and crew can create the world that any reader has rendered in their mind from the author's words. In short, as the reader, you're the director, casting agent, special effects wizard, production designer, cinematographer and more of the story you're taking in.

Of course, sometimes having read the novel or novels on which a film is based can help if the story is sprawling or the involved mythology is complicated. That would certainly seem to be the case with "The Dark Tower," the consolidated, 95-minute adaptation of Stephen King's eight-book series that's comprised of four-thousand-plus pages and thirty years of the novelist's life and work.

I haven't read any of them and thus went into the film -- that's been directed by Nikolaj Arcel from a screenplay adaptation by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen & Arcel -- completely oblivious to what fans of the author and this particular work have loved and anxiously awaited for decades. Having heard from reviewer friends of mine who fall into that category, I've learned that being familiar with the original series is both a help and a hindrance.

It's the latter in regard to the film ending up as a disappointment to diehard fans, although if one has read the books, at least some of what's offered here would make more sense to the newbies among us. In short, we quickly learn -- via onscreen text -- that there's a tower that protects the universe and that a child will be the one who brings that down.

We then see a dream or vision where kids are playing outdoors when an alarm goes off, followed by a view of a few of them strapped to chairs with things attached to their heads that send a powerful energy beam racing through the sky toward and then striking the aforementioned tower.

All of which bring 14-year-old Jake (Tom Taylor) out of his dream/vision and into his New York City bedroom where we see his many sketch renderings of these sorts of visions. His mom (Katheryn Winnick) is worried about him while his stepdad (Nicholas Pauling) has had enough and thus wants him sent off to a mental clinic. But Jake senses something is amiss surrounding the clinic supervisor and her driver who've arrived to take him away (like others, they appear to be wearing masks made of skin, but that's never explained).

He manages to escape from them, find an old, boarded up house from his visions, enter that and somehow activate a hidden portal that allows him to travel to some place called Mid-World where he encounters one character (Idris Elba) he's repeatedly seen in his dreams and visions.

That Gunslinger is determined to find and kill his long-time nemesis, The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who's recently killed The Gunslinger's father and is the sorcerer behind trying to find the right kid to bring down the tower and thus allow demons to overrun the universe.

While the generalities of the plot and characters are easy enough to follow, I imagine having a working knowledge of the universe King created on paper would help explain things and fill in the blanks. It would also help in spotting and recognizing the various subtle visual references (the so-called Easter Eggs) to other King works that are scattered throughout the film.

Notwithstanding that, and as someone with no previous working knowledge of the series, the results here are mediocre at best. It's not the train wreck that some industry insiders predicted (based on reported turmoil with rough cuts and such), but there's nothing special, interesting or engaging with anything that's present. Both Elba and McConaughey seem wasted for what they could and should have brought to their roles, the action isn't exciting (especially when compared to scenes from the recently released "Atomic Blonde") and the story and characters never draw you in.

It's hard to say whether turning this into a number of films or especially a TV series could have helped matters in allowing time for things to unfold, be explained and then build. Considering how TV shows are beating the pants off most movies nowadays in terms of quality, I would have liked to have seen how that would have played out with this material, because after watching the flat "The Dark Tower" I have zero interest in seeing any potential sequel should one be in the works. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed August 2, 2017 / Posted August 4, 2017


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