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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 12:04 am

Modest approach topples Tower

Idris Elba as Roland Deschain/The Gunslinger and Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers in The Dark Tower.


Through sheer force of will, Idris Elba (“The Man Who Would Be Bond”) attempts to make Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower something of note. Needless to say, his efforts go to waste in this odd misfire of a movie, a production that takes a surprisingly modest approach to the author’s epic vision. At eight books and counting, King’s saga is a Lord of the Rings-type gambit that deals with the end of the world. Obviously, only so much can be covered in one film (a television series is to be launched to continue the story), but there’s a small-scale feel to the movie that doesn’t provide the epic scope a project such as this demands, which will likely leave viewers less than satisfied.

We’re informed early on that there is a tower at the center of the universe that holds everything together. It is a prophesized that a child will have the power to bring it down, something that the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) is intent on doing. His modus operandi is kidnapping children from various worlds and hooking them up to a device that channels their psychic power towards the tower in order to destroy it. He’s been chipping away at it, but hasn’t found the child he seeks until young teen Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) discovers a portal on Earth that takes him to mid-world where these shenanigans are taking place. Luckily, the kid meets Roland (Elba), a haunted gunslinger who realizes the boy’s power and does his best to protect him.

Now, of course, this is not the sort of film that bears up to any scrutiny where its plot is concerned. For instance, you can’t ask why the Man in Black wants to destroy the tower; it’s just something bad guys do. And as to why Jake has the powers he has, well, there’s no rhyme or reason to that other than the fact that his initials are those of the world’s most famous savior. Nope, this is a tale told in broad strokes that fails to achieve the sort of solemnity stories of this require so that we don’t nitpick them to death.

While McConaughey seems undecided throughout whether to play his Satan-role straight or in a sardonic comic manner, Taylor is very good here, looking appropriately haunted throughout and holding his own with the two screen veterans. As for Elba, this material simply isn’t worth his efforts. His convincing turn as the troubled eternal warrior is the most engaging thing about the film. More background on the character would have been welcome, but the actor’s nuanced turn ably fills in gaps of the faulty script.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the movie is that it seems to be in a hurry and doesn’t adequately mine potentially interesting situations. When Roland and Jake travel back to Earth, not nearly enough is made of the gunslinger’s sense of disorientation or his trying to come to terms with his alien surroundings. His mildly comic approach to his first can of Coca-Cola points to other humorous moments that could have been while potentially poignant scenes in which he could perhaps catch glimpses of his past reflected in events of our own world go unexplored.

The Dark Tower has had a long struggle coming to the screen, with many screenwriters and directors coming and going, daunted by the scope of King’s story. With Arcel’s production, it seems as though he and the rest of his crew realized they had bitten off far more than they could chew and then gave up, the result being a half-hearted attempt in bringing this potentially intriguing world to life.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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