One of the first not for kids books I remember reading cover to cover was Stephen King. Now granted, it wasn’t heavy reading at 127 pages, but I was 9 at the time so there’s that. The Mist is still one of the scariest stories for me but that’s because I heard it as a book on tape after reading it. Sound effects and regular mist/fog in Maryland help. I read IT, and The Stand I read in church (the irony isn’t lost), Christine I got in trouble in 9th grade for reading instead of Gatsby. I could never quite get into his work in the 90’s though; something had changed in them that stopped engaging me. It was then I came across his mass market paper back of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I think I read a hundred pages or so into the Dark Tower, but it didn’t grab me. So it, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower itself went unread. That means my usual rules of not having read the book get to apply here. The real question though is:
Did someone finally do Stephen King right?
This movie has been in development hell for as long as I can remember paying attention to movie development cycles. A lot of people claimed it was unfilmable over the years as it’s changed directors, writers, producers, companies and so on. So it appears they did the only sensible thing – they made an original story in the universe set after the books? Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either. The movie invokes the three writer rule, with an add on as we have four. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who no major directing credits, but does have screen play for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2009, gets the last credit. Another Dane by the name of Anders Thomas Jensen has the next credit; who has no credits I recognized from this side of the pond. Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider Man 2) and The 5th Wave who is a frequent collaborator with our final writer the dreaded Akiva Goldsman. When I first started in this business, I read a lot of insider sites and other reviews. Goldsman’s name was dreaded. I couldn’t figure out why at the time. In retrospect I understand. Yes, while I absolutely adore Practical Magic, he is responsible for Insurgent, I am Legend, Angels & Demons, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Lost in Space – and the latest much maligned (deservedly) Transformers The Last Knight.
Goldsman is poison for movies when pen touches paper. As a producer it doesn’t get much better with most of his films being either mildly entertaining to just bad. Mostly on the bad side like this years King Arthur. Why am I picking on Akiva? Because I think I figured out what happens. What it is he does and it happened here. It isn’t so much mediocrity as an art form, but being so unoriginal, so bland, so unwilling to commit to a risk that the project is a colossal meh. I had a conversation just this afternoon about the DC movies and how so many movies today have tonal quality issues. They don’t know what they want to be – is it a comedy, a horror, an action, a sci fi? Studios are afraid of picking one and sticking to it, so they bring a new writer in to ‘polish’ the script and add their own tone. What you end up with is a muddled uninteresting mess.
That’s what happened here. Goldsman and company made a movie so safe, so middle of the road to try to appeal to everyone that it will appeal to no one. Akiva Goldsman is the Syndrome of the movie industry. It’s PG-13, when it could have been R. It has little blood. Little watchable action. Little engaging. Is it Sci fi? Is it fantasy? Is it a western? Is it horror? All and none of the above are true. It wants to be everything and in the end is nothing. The dialogue loops on itself more than a few times or has no context to care so you are left wondering why things happen rather than following them happen.
I don’t think a young inexperienced director like Arcel could handle it; but then again I am not sure Ron Howard (another producer on this) could have saved it had he been in the directors chair either. The shots are bland and reused. There’s nothing interesting in the camera work, the staging, the stock shots of New York, the creature designs (when you see them). It’s either too dark, too jostly, or too fake looking to care. Nothing has weight and you can’t buy any of the risk; thus when loss of any kind occurs nothing can be felt. The most interesting shots of action are what you get in the trailer with nothing more or less fascinating delivered beyond that.
I don’t think I want to talk about the actors. Elba is fine as The Gunslinger. McConaughey is fine as the Man in Black; honestly one of the better things in the movie.. Tom Taylor, as the kid Jake is ..passable. He’s at least not annoying?
It’s technically a very poor movie. As mentioned before there are so few engaging camera shots that one would find above basic. There’s action with no weight. There’s just nothing to work with here to even pick apart. If anything the movie just expects you to follow along and I guess that is ok?
They have forgotten the face of their fathers.
The Dark Tower is a mediocre movie. It’s milk toast. I had an older couple behind me on the ride down the escalator who HAD read all the books and laughed with me when I said it wasn’t good. It may have calls that fans of the books know, but I can’t speak to that. I can speak to the fact that in an attempt to not ostracize people who haven’t read the book they failed everyone. As I said in the main body, it wanted to please everyone and in the end pleases no one.
I think I really would have liked to see the book as a movie or even an adaptation of the book but this wasn’t even that.
Should you see it?
No. Not even Matinee, sorry.
So not buying it?
If I thought burning it as an offering to the things outside the wheel of the tower would keep movies like this from being made – I might.
Anything even remotely fun in it?
Playing the “Guess the Stephen King reference” as the movie goes on. I got Christine, Cujo, The Shining (literally same verse), 1408, It, and Misery. Did I miss any? Wait you aren’t seeing it (I hope). Damn.
Ok so what next?
A few weeks off as there’s nothing in August after this. It’s the graveyard of summer movies typically and this summer (and movie) exemplifies it. I might throw a review or two up of random things like The Core, or the new Batman and Harley Quinn animated movie.
Sorry folks. I know a lot of you were hoping for something here, but I can’t even offer a ray of hope. King has said this line is one his best: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I agree. It’s intense. It’s engaging. It’s evocative and intriguing and the movie is none of these things. The work that is Kings magnum opus has come to this and I am sorry for Mr. King today.
Maybe “It” in September will be as good as we all hope it is.