If there was ever a film that was a regrettable sight and a painful reminder of wasted potential and crushed expectations, it has to be the live-action adaptation of The Dark Tower, starring two of the greatest actors this era has to offer: Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba. The 2017 movie, comprising the mythos and ambitious terrain of the original Stephen King novels failed to do the story justice within its 95-minute screen time and the result was more than just a box office disaster – it was a spectacular travesty in the name of book-to-movie adaptations.
Idris Elba Was Set Up To Fail on The Dark Tower Adaptation
As is the case with most of Stephen King’s novels, the grandiosity of his stories has never failed to make for good fodder for film and television adaptations. His Dark Tower novel series, inspired partly by Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Lord of the Rings series, and a work by the poet Robert Browning, remains one of King’s most ambitious novels to date. As such, adapting a mythology as immersive as The Dark Tower into a reasonably budgeted feature-length production was a terrible idea from the very beginning.
The Idris Elba film, moreover, does the one thing that has always doomed the adaptations of books, animations, and video games to live-action: digressing from the source material to establish its own new arc. On top of its already discursive subject, The Dark Tower attempted to include plots and arcs from all of King’s eponymous novel series rather than focusing on one chapter of the epic sci-fi Western saga, resulting in a blundering mix of differently paced plot lines that annoys even those unfamiliar with the ambitious work of the author of The Shining.
As reported by IMDb, the studio was partly aware of its failings and shortcomings in the sense that the early test screenings of the film returned terrible reviews. In the aftermath, Idris Elba was called back for $6 million worth of reshoots, merely to flesh out the Gunslinger’s character – the only part that was redeemable in the entire film – as opposed to making the overall plot more cohesive.
The Dark Tower’s Failings and Mike Flanagan’s Series Reboot
The film features Idris Elba in the lead as the last gunslinger in Mid-World, Roland Deschain, and Matthew McConaughey as Deschain’s eternal Sauron-like nemesis, namely Randall Flagg, also known as The Man in Black. As the plot weaves in and out of an expansive adventure along the vast geography of Mid-World that only ends when it reaches the Dark Tower and The Man in Black, one element from the movie remains explicitly missing: the factor that makes the audience feel connected to and invested in the story by staying true to the source.
The Dark Tower swiftly navigates the expanse of its plot, and sets out on a path of vengeance without a proper story building surrounding the boy, the hero, and the villain, making the story seem more enthusiastic in filling the screen time with Stephen King Easter Eggs rather than actually contributing to what motivations drive the leading characters, and the narrative rushing to reach its epic conclusion and showdown rather than building the plot in all its fractured parts.
The 2017 film holds a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is currently being prepped for a multi-season series adaptation by horror auteur, Mike Flanagan [Doctor Sleep, Haunting of the Hill House]. The filmmaker, to the great relief of King’s popular fandom, revealed in an interview all the aspects that resulted in the 2017 movie’s failure, and how he wishes to steer clear of those in his series reboot, primarily by sticking true to the source and investing more in world and arc building.
The Dark Tower is available for streaming on Apple TV+ and Prime Video.