Early reviews for The Dark Tower are in, and they point to Stephen King’s magnum opus receiving an underwhelming adaptation. As much as King is rightfully known as a master of horror, arguably his magnum opus as a writer isn’t even horror at all, but instead the epic dark fantasy series The Dark Tower. This being King, The Dark Tower books do contain plenty of horrific elements, but one would still be hard pressed to call them horror novels. Hollywood has been actively trying to adapt The Dark Tower into a film or films for over a decade now, but for a long time, it appeared that fans of King’s now nine-book saga would be left wanting for a cinematic adaptation.
That was until 2015, when progress on a Dark Tower movie suddenly kicked into high gear. Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel was hired on to direct, from a script co-penned by Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner (Fringe). The following year, A-list actors Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey came aboard to play lead characters Roland Deschain and The Man in Black, respectively. Things looked really promising for awhile there, but then came the trailers.
Reactions to the first Dark Tower trailer were largely negative, with many fans put off by how little it resembled what they had imagined an adaptation would be like. While the film is technically a follow-up to King’s books, many argued that the look and style of the film’s world didn’t seem like The Dark Tower at all. These perceptions weren’t helped much by any of the following trailers, and definitely not by the recent revelation that the film would be a scant 95 minutes long. So were fans right to be worried? The Dark Tower’s early reviews mostly say yes. Presented below are some spoiler-free excerpts from those reviews.
IGN – Marty Silva
“The deeply flawed and compellingly tragic characters that King created are one-dimensional in their on-screen adaptations because the motivations that give them that depth are completely lost to the wind. That’s not to say the performances are bad – in fact, I absolutely adore the casting of the leads. […] But there’s no meat on the bone of the script for arguably two of the finest actors of our time to really dig in and give us something we haven’t seen before.”
Birth Movies Death – Scott Wampler
“The Dark Tower is a deeply flawed movie. It’s a film that feels rushed and plodding, sometimes within the same scene. It’s a film that saddles two of our greatest working actors with clunky dialogue and muddled motivations. It’s a film that feels claustrophobic and oddly contained when it should’ve felt sweeping and epic. After decades of waiting, after months of keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best, it brings me zero pleasure to report that The Dark Tower doesn’t really work.”
Indie Wire – Kate Erbland
“Fans of King’s books will likely be disappointed by the way this long-awaited film adaptation speeds through essential plot points and frantically introduces characters with little in the way of rhythm or care, all in service of a rushed finale that will leave plenty scratching their heads. A tight story is one thing, but a 95-minute feature that is unable to give even the slightest inkling that it’s based on a grand-scale epic masterpiece is something else entirely. The whole universe is at stake here, but “The Dark Tower” wastes precious little time before it delivers any big moments, mostly care of listless action sequences that barely get moving before they’re cut short.”
The Wrap – Dan Callahan
“Most of the scenes in “The Dark Tower” feel like a desperate compromise of some kind, and often there seem to be scenes missing that would simply get us from one point to another. With fantasy material like this, we need to be made to believe in the inventions and the conceits, and we cannot do that if they are shot and staged in such a truncated and perfunctory way.”
THR – John DeFore
“Though far from the muddled train wreck we’ve been led to expect, this Tower lacks the world-constructing gravitas of either the Tolkien books that inspired King or the franchise-launching movies that Sony execs surely have in mind. Though satisfying enough to please many casual moviegoers drawn in by King’s name and stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, it will likely disappoint many serious fans and leave other newbies underwhelmed.”
Collider – Matt Goldberg
“The Dark Tower doesn’t even really do us the courtesy of being laughably bad. That would take some level of ambition, which the movie studiously avoids at almost every turn. Instead, it simply exists, eager to be overlooked and forgotten. It’s a shame that this adaptation didn’t have the funding or the vision to be something remarkable because you can see glimmers of a more ambitious, exciting movie. Sadly, Arcel approaches the story with a flat, uninteresting style, never daring to challenge his audience, invest in his characters, or give us a reason to care. The Dark Tower doesn’t fall because of a child’s mind. It falls because it’s too embarrassed to stand.”
Wow. While many had begun to anticipate that The Dark Tower might receive negative reviews, the above only represents part of the avalanche of vitriol released by critics so far. To be fair, some of the above linked reviews also point out a few good points here and there, mostly related to the acting of leads Elba and McConaughey. However, even most of those few compliments are surrounded by mentions of aspects that didn’t work.
Based on critical reaction so far, the recent report of The Dark Tower’s director, producers, and studio clashing during production and over the film’s final cut seems more well-founded than ever. While the film’s box office take will obviously mean more to Sony than what critics think, one wonders whether plans to continue The Dark Tower via a companion TV series and presumably future films will be affected.
KEY RELEASE DATES
The Dark Tower release date: Aug 4, 2017