The Horror Honeys: The Dark Tower: Flee This Adaptation

The Dark Tower: Flee This Adaptation

The Dark Tower succeeds in referencing great Stephen King adaptations, without actually being one. 
A New Release Review with Samantha: @themeatispeople

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed… 

For Constant Readers of Stephen King, the prospect of a film adaptation of his Dark Tower series inspired a heady mix of hope, excitement, trepidation, and outright fear. Despite being the basis for some of most beloved horror movies of all time, the author’s work doesn’t always translate well to film (The Mangler, anyone?). Not to mention that The Dark Tower books are hardly the easiest things in the world to adapt; King’s self-described magnum opus is a blend of wildly different genres, a world where time moves in strange ways and timelines diverge.

Add to that the fact that Sony Pictures (the geniuses who gave us insultingly awful The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Pixels) is behind the adaptation, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Perhaps that’s why The Dark Tower doesn’t feel as bad as it could have been, particularly if you were paying attention to the troubled production that plagued it. Leaving its status as an adaptation out of it (because, really, it’s only an adaptation in the loosest possible sense of the word), the film is as middle-of-the-road as they come.

The Dark Tower stars Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, the last of the gunslingers. He’s chasing the mysterious baddie Walter o’Dim, better known as the man in black (played by a distracting but not-as-distracting-as-he-could-have-been Matthew McConaughey) across the desert… although the film is a lot more interested in misty woods than it is in deserts, for the most part. The man in black is trying to destroy the titular Dark Tower, your friendly neighborhood spire at the center of the universe that stops all the boogeymen from outside from getting in. To do this, he’s kidnapping psychic kids from “Keystone Earth,” because this is a Stephen King movie, and psychic kids are dime a dozen.

One of these kids is Jake (Tom Taylor), a kid from New York who has been plagued by dreams of Roland, the Tower, and Matthew McConaughey (shudder). When some weird creatures wearing human-suits come to snatch him, he outsmarts them, discovers a portal to Roland’s world, and leaps through.
We'd follow Idris anywhere too, kid.
The biggest problem with The Dark Tower is not that it’s a poor adaptation (although it is), but that it punishes you for loving the books while also requiring you to have at least a cursory knowledge of them for its plot and characters to have any depth. Sony reportedly spent $6 million on reshoots to give Roland a backstory, but it’s so rushed and lacking in feeling that they might as well have saved their money. King’s rich mythology, complex characters, and lovingly well-crafted world-building is nowhere to be found. What we’re left with is a fairly standard summer sci-fi fantasy flick, with a few vague attempts at being a western, and more than a little whiff of the Young Adult movie stink.

The saving grace is Idris Elba, who is fantastic as always. He manages to convey the pain and weariness of Roland’s character without needing to say a word, which is handy considering the script doesn’t give him much to work with. It helps that he also looks pretty damn fantastic in his gunslinger outfit, which the Honeys most definitely approve of.

"You're just weird, man."
McConaughey was a weird choice for the man in black (who fans of the books will also know as Randall Flagg, the antagonist of The Stand and several other King stories). The man in black is characterized by mad, manic glee, but when McConaughey isn’t being sleazy, he just seems confused. Faring better is Taylor, who is a likeable enough as Jake to make you not want to see him die a horrible death.

Danish director Nikolaj Arcel (who also directed the Oscar-nominated A Royal Affair) handles the action well, and overall the film makes a decent popcorn flick that will likely hold your attention at least until the end credits roll. But it will not go down in the pantheon of great Stephen King adaptations, which it takes great pains to make you aware of throughout. References to IT’s Pennywise, The Shawshank Redemption’s infamous Rita Hayworth poster, and The Shining’s “shine,” among other nods, might feel a little forced, but are in reality an attempt at capturing the interconnectedness that King toys with throughout his work. In that regard, The Dark Tower book series serves the same function as its titular tower: it is the strange thing that connects all his universes. But while the film deserves some kudos for trying to do the same, it isn’t ideal that its efforts only serve to remind you of a dozen better films you could be watching instead.

Do King a favor, and go read the vastly superior books instead. After all, the series is his baby, and it deserved better.

Long days and pleasant nights, and may you have twice as many if you read the books.

Classics Honey Rating: 2 Distracting Matthew McConaugheys Out of 5