The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE DARK TOWER"

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower is based on an epic Stephen King saga that takes place over the course of eight books and a novella, although you'd never know it from what's onscreen. Take away the end credits and the movie lasts a mere eighty-eight minutes. That's everything wrong with it in a nutshell. What should feel sprawling instead feels truncated and underdeveloped, leading to a crushingly disappointing experience.

The basic premise is that there's a tower keeping the universe in balance. A malevolent being, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), wants to topple it. A gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), is intent on stopping him. In the middle of this fight between good and evil is Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), an emotionally troubled teen who follows the images from his nightmares and ends up going through an inter-dimensional portal that puts him squarely into the Man in Black's sights. Jake and Roland join forces to prevent the tower from being destroyed.

Admittedly, there was no way to tell the entire Dark Tower story in one movie. This was clearly set up to be the first in a franchise. Nevertheless, the whole concept of the tower is so clumsily explained that it's easy to walk away simply not caring about what's supposed to come next. Roland's background who he is, how he became so proficient with a gun, why he's feuding with the Man in Black are generally glossed over or outright ignored, leaving some major gaps in the plot. We also never learn why the Man in Black is so evil or what, specifically, he's trying to accomplish in destroying the tower. If you're attempting to create a series based on a complex mythology, omitting key details of that mythology is a pretty big step in the wrong direction.

It feels as though important chunks of this film are missing. The more you watch, the more questions arise. Narrative gaps are all over the place gigantic holes where it feels like something belongs. Maybe plot points from King's massive story weren't put into the screenplay in order to simplify it. Maybe there are a ton of deleted scenes on the cutting room floor. Maybe both things are factors. Whatever the reason, becoming wrapped up in the plot is virtually impossible given how many things make no sense. At the very least, director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) could have made sure the absolute basics were clearly established.

Glimpses of what The Dark Tower could have been do exist. McConaughey, Elba, and Taylor all give good performances. Some of the action scenes are stylishly done, particularly the final battle between hero and villain. Enough of these moments exist to make you wish they were placed into a coherent context. Instead, such bright spots get buried beneath a muddled story that never lifts off.

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that makes you think, This used to be something else. Examples of this include Jonah Hex, Fantastic Four, and, most recently, The House. You can literally feel the attempts to reshoot and/or re-edit them into a form that's at least semi-releasable. The telltale signs are always the same: an approach that's disproportionate to the scope of the story, a weirdly short running time, plot holes big enough to drive a tank through. The Dark Tower has all of these signs. It's not the worst Stephen King adaptation ever, but it's certainly one of the least satisfying.

( 1/2 out of four)


The Dark Tower is rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.


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