THE DARK TOWER
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel, based on the eponymous book series by Stephen King.
Runtime: 95 mins.
Australian release date: 17 August 2107
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 16 August 2017.
Based on a series of eight novels by the prolific author Stephen King and obviously a set up for a franchise, The Dark Tower is a sci-fi fantasy film set in modern day NYC and a realm called Mid-World, site of the dark tower of the title, a tower that holds back the forces of evil from overrunning our planet and all the other planets occupying King’s fictional cosmos. Historically, the tower has been protected by the Eld, a line of gunslingers based on the Arthurian knights, but they’ve been decimated and there’s only one of their kind remaining, Roland (Idris Elba).
When we first meet Roland in Mid-World, a parallel domain based on the American ‘Old West,’ he and his father (Dennis Haysbert) are making a last stand against their nemesis, Walter, aka The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). Meanwhile, back on Earth, Walter’s evil minions are attempting to get their hands on Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), an 11-year-old boy who has been having dream visions about Walter, Roland and Mid-World. Walter is convinced that Jake is just the ammunition he needs to advance his efforts to bring the Dark Tower crashing down, thus enabling him to rule over all.
In one sense, this is a classic tale of Good versus Evil but the waters are muddied by a conflicted Roland, who’s intent on revenge rather than protecting the multiverse, while Walter is single-minded in his pursuit of his malevolent goal. Add the innocent Jake into the mix and you can see we’re entering Hobbit territory. Indeed, King has stated that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was one of the influences on his series, along with the legends of King Arthur and even Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. There’s a lot going on here and part of the fun is playing ‘spot the reference.’ These include references to other works in King’s oeuvre, like The Shining, It, and Salem’s Lot.
Tom Taylor is heading for a bright future judging by his performance in The Dark Tower. His character goes through some exceedingly tough times, including a shocking personal loss, but the young actor manages to bring just the right note of doubt coupled with fortitude to the role. The two adult leads are equally strong, Elba as the brooding gunslinger who’s lost his way and McConaughey as evil personified. He could well have been drawing on his personal Christian beliefs for his grim depiction of Walter, a being without conscience or the slightest discernible mote of empathy or compassion. Australian actress Abbey Lee acquits herself well in a number of scenes as Tirana, one of The Man in Black’s underlings. The production design and art direction are terrific and the contrast between the rather grubby, bustling New York as against the austere, almost deserted Mid-World are apposite. The film has been criticised by fans of King’s magnum opus for over simplifying his complex cosmos but if you haven’t read the books, as I hadn’t, that’s not a concern. What you’re seeing is an OK fantasy sci-fi movie that’s quite enjoyable but won’t stay with you long after you leave the cinema. If you’re a fan of this genre, you’re probably better off staying at home reading the series.