Stephen King for teenagers
The list of Stephen King books adapted for the big screen is as long as your arm, from the great – The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and the original Carrie – to the not-so-great or ones that disappeared almost without trace – Apt Pupil and Pet Sematary. The author’s popularity isn’t always a guarantee of success or, indeed, quality.
Which makes The Dark Tower something of a conundrum. While the credits say the film is based on King’s series of novels of the same name, it’s also been well publicised that it’s actually a sequel, picking up the story from where it left off. So the last of the Gunslingers, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) is continuing his eternal quest to destroy evil sorcerer The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey). The Dark Tower defends the world from the forces of darkness but The Man In Black wants to bring it down. To do it, he needs to capture the one child with the necessary power, Jake (Tom Taylor), but Deschain stands in his way. It’s the classic battle between good and evil.
King’s name appears on the credits as the author of the books, but not when it comes to the screenplay. And it shows. Because King writes books for adults, which means his films are for the same audience, with their gore and psychological terrors. But The Dark Tower isn’t for adults. It’s a fantasy which picks up on elements from the original books and makes frequent attempts to be scary, but falls flat on its face every time. It’s more like a YA movie, and the 12A certificate is a bit of a giveaway.
It’s also the second film this week with a double act that promises much. Action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard teams Samuel L Jackson with Ryan Reynolds: this one has Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, and both pairings disappoint. The potential of the Reynolds/Jackson combo isn’t developed enough, while here the two big star names never convince as adversaries. Elba might look the part but wears a miserable expression for most of the time, especially when he’s chanting the nonsensical Gunslinger’s Creed. Maybe all those reported re-shoots to flesh out his character have something to do with it. McConaughey, on the other hand, hams it up as The Man In Black and plays him like a Victorian villain, but without the twirling moustache.
And, for all the money lavished on the film, it looks surprisingly cheap, especially when it comes to the monsters. We never get a decent look at them, which not only means they’re not especially scary, but gives the distinct impression that more than a few corners have been cut.
Stephen King fans are in for a big disappointment – and so is everybody else. Aficionados can amuse themselves by spotting references to other King books and films, but that’s not really what they’ve come for. The rest of the audience will just be unmoved.
The Dark Tower is released on Friday, 18 August.