In June of 2016, a YouTube video entitled Sunspring caught attention online for being the first short film written by a computer algorithm. The program was fed hundreds of science fiction scripts and subsequently concocted its own screenplay based on patterns detected, essentially stringing together a series of sci-fi clichés to create something vastly inferior to the sum of its parts. Evidently, Sony Pictures has gotten their hands on that very algorithm.
The Dark Tower is directed by Nikolaj Arcel and acts as a sequel to Stephen King‘s notoriously exhaustive book series of the same name. The film follows Jake (Tom Taylor), a young boy who sees visions of another world and quickly finds himself there alongside stoic co-protagonist, The Gunslinger (Idris Elba). In typical young-adult-movie fashion, the duo is tasked with defeating the cartoonishly nefarious Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who seemingly has no objective beyond destroying the world and acting excessively despicable. Elba and McConaughey do the best they can given the material they are provided, but both characters are so one-note and archetypal, it’s difficult to connect with either of them. This might be excusable if the film’s lead had enough personality or charm to carry the feature, but Taylor’s character is instead frustratingly angst ridden and unintelligent. This isn’t the fault of the actor, but rather the stunted dialogue and careless direction, as Taylor delivers far from the worst of The Dark Tower’s performances.
Fundamentally, we watch movies to be taken on an emotional journey and herein lies The Dark Tower’s greatest flaw. Not unlike the computer that spit it out, the film is entirely void of any humanity or emotion such that the only thing you’re likely to feel is pity for those involved in the film’s production. It’s clear that some talented people attempted to make something of worth with this adaptation, but the finished product is unimpactful and mundane despite its otherworldly setting.
The Dark Tower book series is famously dense and tragic, a far cry from what would widely be considered “young-adult,” so it’s curious that the film feels so firmly cemented in that genre. Without question, The Dark Tower is at its best when it hints at the rich and colourful mythos created in King’s original work, but the film’s simplistic and familiar plot does little to capitalize on the extensive lore from which it’s inspired. Young audiences may find it entertaining, but if you’re over the age of sixteen, walking into The Dark Tower will probably feel like walking into a Build-A-Bear Workshop: there might not be anything inherently abysmal about it, but it’s clearly intended for a much younger demographic.
From a technical perspective, the film is flawed but impressive given its moderate sixty-million-dollar budget. There are occasional moments of lackluster CGI and a few noticeably off-putting sections of dubbed dialogue, but such is to be expected from a blockbuster with such an affordable price tag. Most damaging, however, is the film’s editing, which is brimming with inconsistencies, jarring cuts, and generally questionable judgment. Considering The Dark Tower’s brief runtime and awkward pacing, the crude editing may be the victim of extensive reductions made to the script and final cut. Fans can only speculate on who is to blame, but the finished product is amateurish and clunky regardless.
In the months preceding The Dark Tower’s release, many fans had gradually lost faith in the project. Though the talent involved was initially cause for hope amongst moviegoers, the film’s marketing campaign quickly dispelled any anticipation audiences once had, and despite The Dark Tower’s trailers being wholly underwhelming, they still contained most of the film’s most engaging moments. There are undoubtedly glimmers of competence speckled throughout this Stephen King adaptation, but The Dark Tower is unfortunately too generic to amount to anything beyond trite mediocrity.
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Idris Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Release date: August 4, 2017 (United States)
Running time: 95 minutes
Check out an official The Dark Tower movie trailer