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'The Dark Tower' offers some excitement for a younger audience 

Danish writer-director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) helms this adventure-fantasy based on Stephen King's novel series about the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Irdris Elba), who in an alternate dimension is locked in an eternal battle with Walter O'Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black, who's trying to destroy the Dark Tower, a structure that holds the universe together—both their dimension and our own. Meanwhile in our world, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) dreams about this alternate dimension and the raging battle between good and evil, discovers a portal between the worlds, and allows the battle to spill into ours. (95 min.)

click to enlarge THE BAD GUY Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black, seeks to destroy the Dark Tower and bring evil to the universe. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT
  • THE BAD GUY Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), also known as the Man in Black, seeks to destroy the Dark Tower and bring evil to the universe.

Glen If I was a 14-year-old boy, I think I'd love this film. Its young protagonist Jake is very adolescently relatable—awkward, picked on, creative, and damaged by the death of his firefighter father. He's haunted by vivid nightmares that he believes are tied to a series of earthquakes rocking his New York City home and elsewhere. He's often in trouble at school for fighting back, and he regularly sees a psychologist (José Zúñiga), who, like Jake's mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), wants to help Jake but doesn't believe that what he dreams is true. He sees figures with fake skin seamed along the neck, who are putting children in a machine, forcing their fears and screams to focus a destructive beam on the Dark Tower. Things get cooking when Jake's mom and stepdad decide to send him to a special mental home, but when the two "people" who come to pick him up and escort him have the neck seam, he realizes his dreams are true. It's a pretty engaging set-up, but as I understand it, Stephen King's seven novel series focuses its point of view on Roland, not Jake, and when you consider these seven long novels are purportedly crammed into a 95-minute film, what might have been an engrossing and epic read has become a fairly ridiculous fantasy that will mostly appeal to young boys.

Anna I've read that King considers the seven part Dark Tower series to be both his magnum opus and a single novel broken into parts. The first book in the series was originally published in 1982 and the final book in 2004. Considering that his first novel Carrie was published in 1974, the Dark Tower novels have clearly been a beloved mainstay in his writing career. Can a 95-minute movie execute a story that a writer spent three decades developing? I doubt even the most deft of filmmakers would have an easy go of translating such an epic and sprawling storyline onto the big screen with panache. What director Arcel does manage to accomplish with The Dark Tower is a less than epic, yet still engaging, coming of age action adventure. As you said, it is perfect for young teens, as is the PG-13 rating. Shifting the perspective from focusing on Roland and onto Jake gives the story a more relatable keystone character, and allows the gunslinger to be a mysterious and aloof presence with only snippets of his past given away. I'm not sure what fans of the book series will think about the shift, but for the audience this film seems to be aiming for, it works.

Glen Roland's internal conflict is also a big part of the storyline. He's the last of his kind, a warrior sworn to protect the Dark Tower—and hence the universe—from evil. All his comrades, including his father, Steven (Dennis Haysbert), have been killed under O'Dim's direction. He feels as if his quest to save the Dark Tower is doomed, and all he has left is revenge in his heart. His sole goal is to kill the Man in Black. Jake becomes his path to redemption. O'Dim is trying to kidnap Jake and put him in his machine because Jake's "shine" is pure. (Remember Danny from King's The Shining?) But that "shine," or psychic energy, may also be exactly what protects Jake and allows Roland to regain his purpose. If you check rottentomatoes.com, you'll see the critics hated this film with a sad 18 percent rating while the audience score is a respectable 62 percent. It's not a terrible film by any means, and the performances by Elba, McConaughey, Taylor, and Jackie Earle Haley (as Sayre) are solid. There're also great special effects and action sequences. Like his books, films of King's material are easy targets for critics and often not nearly as terrible as they claim. Formulaic? Sure, but also highly creative. If you think you're the right demographic, go see this on the big screen. I was entertained, and at 95 minutes, it's a brisk, energetic ride.

Anna I love that they rounded this film out at an hour and a half instead of bogging it down with too many plotlines and story twists. The energy stays dynamic until the end. It's a forgettable film, but not a terrible one. The writers unsurprisingly ended the film with at least the possibility of a sequel, though I haven't seen anything in the works with the main actors that would hint it's on track to happen. Hopefully the filmmakers will let it stay a single film instead of dragging it out into a series. While there was enough to keep 95 minutes of film interesting, I doubt it could be sustained much longer. The Dark Tower is essentially a sci-fi Western with some pretty decent CGI effects and action, and while it fails at being totally engrossing, it is entertaining. Elba is roguish and tormented as the gunslinger, and newbie Taylor is relatable and sweet as the oddball Jake. It isn't winning the hearts of critics, but that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining to general audiences: The Rotten Tomatoes scores show that. It isn't too long and it keeps the action coming; to me it seems worth a midday trip to the theater when you want to beat the heat and enjoy the AC. Δ

Split Screen is written by Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.


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