Friday, November 24, 2017
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE CHILD AND YET ANOTHER APOCALYPSE: a review of "The Dark Tower"
Based upon the novel series by Stephen King
Screenplay Written by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinker and Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
** (two stars)
RATED PG 13
To the fans of The Dark Tower novels, Stephen King's eight volume post-apocalyptic/science fiction/western/fantasy series, I feel your pain.
Dear readers, believe it or not, before this year, I have never read a novel by Stephen King. Yes, that is true! For as much as I have read in my life and for how prevalent Stephen King has been and most certainly remains at the forefront of pop culture and best selling literature, his work has not crossed my path. Not for any real reasons that I can honestly think of, but.King's bibliography has just been something that I was never really that inspired to read, until very late this summer as I was inspired to try and give one of his novels an honest try...the mammoth one thousand page plus Dickensian tome entitled It (1986).
What inspired me to read this particular Stephen King novel was indeed the excellent film adaptation from early this September by Director Andy Muschietti. As I have been reading the book (in which I have just about cracked to 400 pages so far as of this writing), I have found myself tremendously impressed with King's prose, which possesses a 19th century quality in the level of the language contained in the meticulous details, history, characterizations and stories within stories of the children from Derry, Maine who band together to defeat the relentless entity of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and join forces once again as adults nearly 30 years later.
Having seen the film version and knowing a second installment will arrive in two years time, I am even more amazed that Muschietti and his screenwriters have been able to distill such a dense narrative so cleanly at all into one coherent film let alone for the planned second film. For what I loved about "It" was indeed the characterizations, so crucial and essential to ensuring the horror of the piece was truly terrifying. For it would have been so easy for Muschietti to make a swift, 90 minute film of pure shocks and nothing else and call it a day...but he didn't. He took the time, patience and creativity to take King's behemoth novel, crack it's code, and devise a way to tell the story visually and with an emotional depth to make the story resonate as powerfully as possible.
And so, we do arrive at the first film adaptation of "The Dark Tower," as directed by Nikolaj Arcel, a film that was critically panned and faced a rapid box office death at the end of this summer...and just a few mere weeks before the arrival of "It," the critically acclaimed, box office smash. Believe me, I do understand how fans of the book series could have felt so demonstrably let down by the results of this film.
I, on the other hand, a person who has never read the series and possesses a minuscule amount of knowledge concerning the source material, felt that "The Dark Tower" was not that bad. Now that is not to suggest that we had a particularly god film either. Just one that was not a disaster in my eyes but one that proved itself to be an oddly compelling but ultimately uninspiring diversion. Nothing more. Nothing less. Ho-hum...
"The Dark Tower" stars Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, an 11 year old mourning the death of his Father and is also plagued by apocalyptic nightmares involving desert wastelands, figures with scarred faces and the eternal evil entity named The Man In Black who wishes to destroy the titular tower, the monument that protects the entire universe from endless darkness. Jake chronicles the images from his dreams into his sketchbook, determined to discover the meaning of these images, although his Mother (Katheryn Winnick), step-Father (Nicholas Pauling) and therapist (Jose Zuniga), dismiss everything as existing as mere dreams.
Jake soon discovers that his visions are indeed real when he narrowly escapes from two monsters disguised in human skins, travels through a portal into the desolate parallel universe known as Mid-World where Walter Paddick a.k.a. The Man In Black (a strong Matthew McConaughey) malevolently schemes to end existence, and the taciturn Roland Deschain the Gunslinger (the imposing Idris Elba) remains his eternal adversary in their endless battle of good vs. evil.
Joining forces, Jake and the Gunslinger voyage between the worlds of modern day New York City and the barren landscapes of Mid-World to track down and stop The Man In Black from destroying existence in all of its forms.
With that plot description, and just from pure face value, I found Nikolaj Arcel's "The Dark Tower" to be kinda nifty. Arcel, working with Cinematographer Rasmus Videbaek, establishes a crisp, sharp visual palate where the real and surreal converge in a fever dream styled aesthetic that suggests an amalgamation of a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western merged with elements that could be found within the films of Terry Gilliam, Christopher Nolan and even some of the psychological demons come to viscious life in Adrian Lyne's "Jacob's Ladder" (1990).
Essentially, Arcel's adaptation is a chase film, a constant race against time structure and pacing that does indeed lend itself to that aforementioned fever dream quality which also augments the mental state of young Jake Chambers as he struggles to understand and soon navigate the world of his dreams which ultimately reveal themselves to being real.
Both Elba and McConaughey appear to be having fun with their respective roles, instilling each with the proper levels of smoldering gravitas and sinister abandon, respectively, ensuring that both characters are ones that we would be willing to follow within an adventure such as this one.
And yet, with all that I did like as I watched the film, once it was all over, the proceedings did feel to be rather anti-climactic and even disposable to a degree as all of the sound and fury really did not add up to very much and those strong, archetypal characters and performances were unquestionably undone by the weakness of the screenplay (penned by four writers?!) which, for reasons, I am unable to comprehend, completely eschewed with any sense of character development in favor of a relentless pace and one series of shoot-outs after another.
Again, I did not hate this film and perhaps, whatever minor disappointment I felt with the film was due to the fact that I had no pre-conceived expectations for the film as I have not read even one word of Stephen King's book series, which I must repeat consists of eight volumes--more than enough pages, which I am certain contain considerably much more than gunfights and copious amounts of shattered glass. Since Nikolaj Arcel's "The Dark Tower" truthfully is not much more than gun fights and shattered glass, I can see why fans of the series felt let down, to say the least.
Yes, there is quite a lot to "The Dark Tower" that feels generic, run of the mill and downright commonplace as we are indeed given yet another tale of good and evil and an impending apocalypse that must be averted and in that regard, the film is quite uninspiring as I am sure whatever idiosyncratic qualities of the source material have been stripped away in order attain some sense of mass appeal, a tactic that has obviously backfired.
Think of it this way: just imagine if the Harry Potter series had been adapted for the screen and the filmmakers cleaved so much material inherent to the overall success of the books from the film version so that what remained was nothing more than a shell of what had been so beloved. Would that be something that you would embrace? I would think not.
So, that being said, I have a more than strong feeling that fans of The Dark Tower book series experienced something akin to my description with this deflated adaptation, which has undoubtedly ended a new film franchise before it really could ever get off of the ground. But for the uninitiated like myself, you may find yourself kind of enjoying the running around and goings-on...that is, before absolutely forgetting you even watched it once the end credits conclude.