There are many authors who could never dream of seeing their work be translated to screen; but Stephen King isn’t one of them. As one of the most-adapted authors of all time, his properties have been being turned into films and television shows for more than 30 years.
The newest in Kings properties to be adapted is The Dark Tower series; a roaming sci-fi/fantasy epic which, at the time of writing, spans across 8 novels. The film follows Jake (Tom Taylor, Doctor Foster), a boy in New York City whose vivid dreams point to a world beyond our own; in which The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar) is attempting to allow the demons of the multiverse access to the world by destroying the titular Dark Tower. When The Man In Black sends his agents to kidnap Jake, revealing his dreams to be visions of reality; he seeks out an ally in the form of a “gunslinger” called Roland (Idris Elba, Thor: Ragnarok) to help him stop The Man In Black.
This film goes beyond the realms of an adaptation, however, as it also serves as a sequel to the novel series; with the supposed intention of spawning a television franchise as well. As a result, the script is carefully built to not only provide an introduction to the characters and mechanics of the series to a new audience, but also to serve its purpose as a continuation of the story. The result is that the film draws on material from all eight of the written instalments, in order to build a world which is engaging to fans of the series without treading on old ground, but also establishing suitable context for newcomers.
At least, that is the intention. The actual result is not so grand in its realisation; as the film sacrifices a considerable amount of world-building effort for the new audience so as not to disappoint the old. However, I feel that fans of the series will be left disappointed in this version of King’s self-proclaimed “magnum opus”, as the cheesy, clichéd dialogue and lack of subtlety or identifiable tension don’t exactly bring the skilled writing of the original creator to mind.
McConaughey falls victim to these issues the most and, while he makes the best of the script he’s been given, The Man In Black is very much a 2-dimensional character; who is written with the kind of super-villain dialogue that a child would imagine. Elba and Taylor don’t get off much better, with awkward and unwieldy conversation littering their interactions with each other and with the others around them, making it difficult to remain engaged with the story.
Visually, the film fares a little better. The contrast between Jake’s home of NYC and the sprawling landscapes he traverses alongside Roland are stark, with the latter being beautiful; and there are small moments littered throughout the film to help drive home the differences between the two worlds which play nicely. These sections also have the most natural dialogue, and the film is at its best when Jake and Roland are exploring how important the other will become as the story continues, but it is not enough to save the piece.
The CGI elements are also slightly disappointing, with the Dark Tower itself being somewhat uninspiring in its design; to me, it looked as if the team had copy and pasted some background art from one of the Lord Of The Rings films. There is one key threat presented through CGI at a pivotal moment in the film, and while the creature design is the most King-esque element of the film, it still seems to come across as being just a little too generic when compared to how it should look for a project of this magnitude.
With a TV series and a sequel already in the development phase, it looks like this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Roland and Jake; but we must hope that the future projects learn from the mistakes of this one. If you’re a fan of the novel series then it may still be worth checking out; but maybe wait until it turns up on your preferred video streaming service, rather than seeking it out at the cinema.