At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Dark Tower “2017”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Dark Fantasy-Western/ Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert/ Runtime: 95 minutes

I feel it is safe to say that if there was ever a phrase that had the potential to either elicit applause or groans in equal measure from a movie going audience it would have to be “Based on the story/novel by Stephen King”. This is because whereas there are a few adaptations of this celebrated author’s work that are actually phenomenal, I also feel that there are quite a few which range from being mehhh to just downright bad. Out of all the adaptations that have come from the prolific work of one of the most revered writers of both the 20th and 21st century, one that most were probably looking forward to was the inevitable cinematic take on The Dark Tower Saga. Indeed best described as Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, but set in another universe, The Dark Tower is often seen as revolutionary due in no small part to how it actually confirmed the long-held belief that all of King’s prior works really did take place in the same universe. Suffice it to say then that anticipation from the fans to see this iconic series be brought to life on the big screen was pretty up there. Unfortunately those fans are going to have to wait awhile longer for a great let alone good adaptation of this iconic series. That’s because despite 2 pretty good lead performances this movie, to borrow from one of the leads is not “alright, alright, alright”. Rather it is no more and no less than a disappointing meh that isn’t horrible, but honestly should’ve and could’ve been a whole lot better given the talent it was able to attract in front of the camera.

The plot is as follows: The Dark Tower tells the story of a young boy named Jake Chambers. Jake is an ordinary boy in nearly every facet of the word normal. I say nearly because Jake we quickly discover believes that he is having distinct visions of events going on in a mystical world that although different in many aspects is not that different from our own. Unfortunately his mom and her boyfriend however are not as receptive to Jake’s way of thinking. Instead, from their perspective, Jake is simply a troubled young boy still reeling from the tragic death of his father who plain and simply needs intensive intervention therapy if he wants even a shot in heck at even being able to possibly fit into society….no matter how much that said society continues to put down, discourage, and not accept either Jake or his visions. However, when a pair of agents for a special clinic come to take him away for a weekend, Jake quickly and horrifically discovers that they aren’t who they say they are. Rather these “social workers” are actually agents of an extremely powerful sorcerer from Jake’s dreams known as The Man in Black. A sorcerer who incidentally is also hell-bent on destroying a building known as The Dark Tower. Why is this building so important? Well it may be due to the fact that this building is also the only thing that is capable of holding the known universe together and thus preventing it from falling into the chaos and darkness that the Man in Black so desperately wishes to unleash. Thus, and with no other options Jake flees his attempted kidnappers and manages to find himself being drawn to, and ultimately through, a portal that leads him to the very world that he has been seeing in his visions. Shortly after his arrival however, Jake also manages to cross paths with a man named Roland who is also a mythical “Gunslinger” and coincidentally also the one man who has the capability of standing in the way of the Man in Black’s ruthless vision for the future due to his immunity to the Man in Black’s deadly magical abilities. However when the Man in Black finds out that Jake is exactly what he needs in order to at long last bring down the tower and be rid of Roland once and for all, he begins hunting Jake with a fervent passion and fury thus requiring Jake and Roland to team up on a quest for survival; not just their own, but for the entire universe as well…..

Now I think it is safe to say that the principal reason that The Dark Tower was even remotely worth seeing to begin with is the fact that at the end of the day this is an adaptation of The Dark Tower. Now I know that a film adaptation can only be as good as the literary work that inspired it and even if this one’s literary work has been etched down to the bare minimum, this is still an adaptation of one of King’s most iconic works and that’s still 2 of King’s most iconic characters duking it out on the big screen. Indeed I definitely feel that it had to be a hugely undesirable chore for the unfortunate talent they got to practically reorganize and make significant adjustments to the immense literary source material in order to fit it into a 90 minute runtime of a film. Yet even though the story is barely able to support itself after that, what really does it in is when you find out that this movie’s story is actually a sequel to the novel series rather than a straight adaptation. So now we have a movie that is barely hanging on as is, and it is now officially going to puzzle and annoy both principal audience groups: the fans of the novels because this isn’t the adaptation they were expecting, and the casual movie goer because unless you’ve read the books, and even then, you are going to absolutely clueless as to just what the heck is fully going on in this film. Indeed make no mistake; this is not a horrible film, but it is a movie that definitely is not going to work for 98% of the world out there. Indeed even with some passable characterization for the 2 leads as well as enough action (as schlocky as the final action sequence may be) to please the most bored of movie goers, I definitely feel that although a casual movie goer is going to be able to just brush this aside, I do feel that fans of the source material are definitely going to have a field day with this movie due to the fact that this movie barely manages to resembles the entire series, right down to a toned-down PG-13 rating. Yet nevertheless I guess it should be said that this adaptation of The Dark Tower is in itself something of an accomplishment due to how it manages to move as quick as it does despite the significant limitations that have been placed on it.

With that out of the way I now feel like I can be a bit more negative till I finally get to the main positive that this cinematic outing offers. By main positive though I also mean the only positive. That’s because without the good work provided by this movie’s 2 main actors this is, plain and simply, a sub-par affair. I mean not only is this movie rushed as the director zips from one thing to another without giving the characters or their relationships with one another the proper time to really develop, but this movie’s action sequences for the most part really feel like they weren’t given time to be properly choreographed and they just made up how they would go down as they went along. Indeed it is almost as if the team behind the camera felt forced to get something out as quickly as they could yet in all fairness this had been in developmental hell for over a decade by the time this was released. I definitely do not think more time would have been the worst thing in the world to give this movie in order to make sure the finished product was this…..searches for the most polite word to utilize messy.

That being said though the best asset that this film manages to possess in its disposal would have to be the 2 fairly good lead performances given by Elba and McConaughey. This of course is not so surprising as I feel that these are 2 fairly dependable, hard-working actors who can usually be counted on to give at the very least a decent performance. Suffice it to say that is true for even meh projects such as this as we see a rare antagonist role for McConaughey and yet he relishes it just as much any of the other roles he has played in the past. Indeed, as played by McConaughey, The Man in Black may be pure evil, but he’s also intriguingly charming and possesses a child-like delight in all the chaos and destruction he is causing and I just feel like McConaughey does a wonderful job at playing this affable guy who just also happens to be the Devil incarnate and capable of killing you simply because it would amuse him. Likewise I feel like Elba is also well-cast as Roland. Indeed in the hands of Elba, Roland truly becomes a gritty and gruff man who, despite being beaten down and becoming cynical in his various attempts to protect the tower and through it the universe finds himself, after meeting Jake, slowly regaining not only a renewed sense of purpose, but his humanity as well. Indeed I definitely feel that Elba does a wonderful job of embracing this character and does what he can in not only attempting to look the part, but also manages to do a fantastic job of actually breathing life into this iconic protagonist and really making the role his own.

All in all though why oh why was this made into a frenetically rushed and sloppily edited 95 minute motion picture? I say this because if they had honestly made this “movie” into a TV show with the same cast this would have had the potential to work out significantly better than this huge mess did when it landed in theaters with a resounding thud. Indeed The Dark Tower is not the worst Stephen King adaptation ever made, but with regard to its celebrated source material and the 2 game performances from the lead actors, it is easily among the most disappointing. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Dark Tower “2017” a 2.5 out of 5