Spotlight Columns

Buttered and Salty: “The Dark Tower”

By From page A9 | August 09, 2017

“The Dark Tower” commits the cardinal sin of bad movies: It’s boring. That’s quite a feat for a motion picture that is only 95 minutes long. 

Before getting to the meat and potatoes of this review, let’s turn back the clock a bit; one of the four writers of “The Dark Tower” is a man named Akiva Goldsman. Mr. Goldsman has had a bit of a roller coaster career when it comes to consistency. His highs have been stratospheric, having won an Academy Award for his work on “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) and getting nominated for “Cinderella Man” (2005). While his lows have brought us the likes of  the excruciatingly awful “Batman and Robin” (1997) as well as the failed “Lost in Space” movie from 1998. 

“The Dark Tower” belongs in the “Batman and Robin” category. It is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the last five years, but that shouldn’t stop it from making money. The “Transformers” series is one of the most successful in film history, for goodness sake, and they are in development on a sixth film in that stubborn series. 

This film will not be successful enough to warrant a sequel and thank goodness. I don’t think I could sit through another incarnation of this adaptation. Apparently the film’s co-financier is developing a television series. They should have gone the HBO route to begin with.  

Stephen King is a master storyteller unmatched in the last 40 years. When a novelist is as mainstream as King has been since 1973, it is easy to forget what a gifted writer he is. In fact, in my opinion, his best stuff has always been of the non-horror type (Stephen King has always taken issue being designated a “horror writer”). “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me” and “11/22/63” are some of the most accomplished works he has put to the page. There may be strange or supernatural elements to be found in those stories but they are certainly not “horror.” 

The “Dark Tower” series is a combination of all of Mr. King’s strengths. Fantasy, Western, science fiction; and yes, a bit of horror can be found in these books. 

After spending an hour and a half with this movie, I had no idea what genre “The Dark Tower” was going for or what story it was trying to tell. That’s a typical conundrum when combining two or three novels into one Disney-length feature. It crams as much information into the first 30 minutes as it can, treating the entire audience like it has attention deficit with fast editing and quick flashbacks. By the time the film slows down and asks you to care about these characters, it’s too late. We don’t. 

Too bad for Idris Elba, who is an inspired casting choice failed by a weak script and uninspired direction. Matthew McConaughey, a fine actor who I was excited about when he was first announced, is miscast here. He is not frightening, powerful or intimidating as his character “The Man in Black” should be. 

I have watched bad movies where I walked out of the theater and immediately went to purchase or stream the soundtrack. The music here, composed by “Junkie XL” (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), is forgettable. Such fascinating characters as “The Gunslinger” and “The Man in Black” should at least have memorable individual themes, yes? The location of Mid-World in and of itself should have a strong theme, like the boats approaching Hogwarts in the “Harry Potter” series or the plane approaching Isla Nublar in “Jurassic Park.” This score can be placed in the same file as the rest of the production — rushed and flavorless.

At the 45-minute mark, I found myself thinking about “Battlefield Earth.” Is this movie as bad as that film? Probably not, but there is something to be said when it comes to the entertainment factor when talking about bad movies. When comparing the two flicks, at least “Battlefield Earth” is entertaining, even if it’s not in a good way. “The Dark Tower” feels generic. It has a made-for-TV feel that keeps it slogging along with low energy. 

Was there anything I liked about the picture? There were a few minutes where “The Gunslinger” is in modern-day New York. These fish-out-of-water moments were at least amusing, but ultimately fleeting.  

As I walked out of the theater I thought about Mr. King. He will be 70 years old in a matter of weeks. As healthy and prolific as he continues to be (luckily for us!), a disappointing thought occurred to me. Because of the failure of this motion picture, we probably won’t see another attempt at adapting this series of books for a while. He may not be around to see his magnum opus successfully brought to audiences. 

That’s a shame, because if Sony Pictures would have taken the time to give these eight books the tender loving care that Warner Bros. gave the “Harry Potter” series or New Line Cinema gave the “Lord of the Rings” films they could have had something extraordinary on their hands. 

Joshua B. Porter is a writer/director/producer. The most recent film he produced, “August Falls”, is currently available on Amazon Prime as well as other streaming services. He can be reached at [email protected]. 

Joshua Porter

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