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David Poland

By David Poland

Review-ish: The Dark Tower (spoiler-free)


It’s not as bad as people made it out to be.

You’re going to read that a lot.

And it’s not. But it is bad. And I am not going to do the normal work of reviewing to explain why. It’s the choices made before they rolled a frame of film that killed this thing, not the choices of the film itself. (And God knows, not the f-ing budget… another hundred million would have made it worse, not better.)

I will even make a list, so editors at entertainment journals can understand it. (You know who you aren’t if you aren’t one of those.)

In order:

1. Not R-rated – This is a movie about absolute evil vs the last stragglers, who hope to save everything. Sorry. McConaughey walking around saying “Stop breathing” in his most deadpan voice is not EVIL. Hundreds of people die in this movie, from central characters to faceless bodies, and you feel nothing. Why? Because they played it PG-safe.

It’s not Peckinpah, Verhoeven or even early Schwarzenegger where the body count had a scent of irony. This piece is as earnest as earnest gets. And every body that falls needs to be unpleasant for the audience.

1a. McConaughey miscast for the PG-13 version – I imagine McCanaughey would be great as an R-rated devil. At some point he (and the movie) reminded me of The Devil’s Advocate, where another great scenery chewer fucked, literally and figuratively, with Charlize Theron’s mind and body. McConaughey could make that fly. But taken down into a low-key register, he is the stiff that he was in his early movie star career, before they released the “alright, alright, alright” in him again and made him someone you love to watch. (Ironically, one of the performances of his that I love in a film that wasn’t beloved was EdTV, where Ron Howard – producer of this film – released Matthew’s goofball as well as Harrelson’s.)

So… they deballed the material. They copied the mediocrity of the Indulgent… Indigent… Indigestion… whatever it is called and that Fox thing with Logan Lerman… neither of which had burned up the box office… and then they cast seriously dark and interesting actors who would never be allowed to deliver on what they really can do… and then they put the script in the hands of…

2. Akiva Goldsman – I was tempted to make him #1. Goldsman’s career has been on the same timeline as my journalistic career and I have tried… God knows I’ve tried… to figure out why anyone has hired him in the past decade. He must be SO great in the room. Also, he is a professional. He knows where the i’s get dotted and the t’s get crossed.

But he is an epic mediocritician. (Coining that word. Send me a dime when you use it.) A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man were lovely movies… both of which probably would have been better with a more passionate writer. But awards and money and Ron Howard and God bless. But since 2005? Not only bad movies, bur bland as the day is long. You want to protest white male privilege in Hollywood? Start there.

I’m sure he’s a great guy. But this year has brought us, as a writer and producer, Rings, Transformers 5, King Arthur, and now The Dark Tower. No career should survive this. He has made tens of millions of dollars in the last 15 years. Retire him. It was beyond over five years ago. I love Fringe, so maybe he’s able to do TV. But his name on your movie is the first sign of creative failure on an imdb page.

And I hate writing artists off. It’s a horrible thing to do. You never know when magic will rise from the dust of defeat and with a writer, you never know how much to blame they really are. But Goldsman was on Poseidon, Jonah Hex, both terrible Da Vinci Code movies, and now this year of epic mediocrity. Enough already. It’s not like he fails from trying to be interesting. His movies are all like watching DogTV in the late night “make your dog sleep” slots.

And again.. nothing personal. Sure you’re a great guy. You have been very successful. Please, go do something else.

3. There really is no #3 – The failure of The Dark Tower is a failure of imagination… not a failure of finance… not a failure of casting… not a lack of effects… not the idea they took from Stephen King (and I haven’t read the book).

It’s GOOD versus EVIL and a teenager is going to be drawn into the multi-dimensional battle because he is special. We have seen in a million times in a million variations. So how do you make this fresh? How do you make it fun?

What was Nikolaj Arcel’s vision? No idea. And I’m not reading any of those trade stories, giddy with the prospect of embarrassing people. But knowing some of his other work, I bet he had a vision. And I bet it wasn’t a PG-13 movie.

On the other hand, it seems Arcel has made this movie before. It was called Island of Lost Souls and here is the synopsis:

14-year-old Lulu moves to a small provincial town with her mother and younger brother. One night, her brother is struck by a beam of white light – actually the spirit of Herman Hartmann from the 19th-century. To her despair, Lulu realizes that Herman has possessed her brother, and the two of them are whirled into a fevered adventure. Joined by Oliver, a rich kid, and Richard, a disillusioned clairvoyant and inventor, they take on the dark, supernatural forces gathering over the town – evil from deep in the land of the dead, determined to take over the world and see them die.

Do I want to watch this to see if it is as mediocre as The Dark Tower? No. I want to believe it is better (on 20% of the budget or less).

So maybe he is #3. I am being kind. (Met him. Like him. Liked A Royal Affair. But….)

That’s pretty much it. I am completely open to a good new version of the same-old same-old. I’d rather have some serious originality, but if you do “expected” well, okay. This movie just made every wrong decision about what it wanted to be when it grew up. And maybe they will be thrilled with another Percy Jackson… which was a Tom Rothman creation at Fox.

Not me.

(P.S. Someone please give Katheryn Winnick a role where she can be beautiful and funny and super-smart and tough. I was really hoping that she would get to act in this film… but no. Shame is a powerful emotion that we never got to see her play. She is stuck being blonde and pretty. Someone please give her a role as rich as Lagertha while still allowing her to be all the other things she is.)

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21 Responses to “Review-ish: The Dark Tower (spoiler-free)”

  1. Pete B says:

    Holy Shit… Lagertha is in this movie and I didn’t know about it until Dave’s review?!? The marketing dept needs to be fired immediately. Just ignore the millions of folks who watch Vikings regularly.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    I’ve never forgotten the humanitarian award, heavily featured in the Beautiful Mind Oscar campaign, from a mental health group that had Goldman’s mother on the Board of Directors. PR for Goldman and PR for his mother’s group. The clueless entertainment press played it straight-up.

    That’s why, one reason why, the Oscar publicists should be named and put permanently on the record. They are a major part of the campaigns, and their histories are a significant part of the story.

  3. hcat says:

    Your PG-13 complaints remind me of how I felt about World War Z. A hard R would have made the danger more immediate, for all the things they did right the danger was never as squishy and uncomfortable as it should have been because I felt like they were going to get scratched and not devoured.

    And has there ever been a PG-13 adaptation of a King novel before? The written for the screen Cats eye maybe or the novella Hearts in Atlantis but all his novels have been securely in R territory.

  4. MarkVH says:

    It’s really bizarre to me how they fucked this up. They had great casting and a story with a built-in audience, similar to what WB had with Harry Potter (if not quite to that scale).

    It’s not that hard. Just film the first book and try to get as much from the page onto the screen as possible. If there’s not enough story, then build it add to it or combine it with the second book. Then, if it works, do the rest. Again, not that hard.

    Did the studio think the books as-written weren’t commercial enough? Then why film them at all? By trying to make them more commercial you risk losing the built-in audience, and if it doesn’t work then nobody else comes either. At the very least you can try to shoot the book, get the hardcore on board and maybe pull in enough additional audience that you can make another one. It just seems like in this case there were so many competing ideas about what this should be that they ended up with this watered-down, truncated thing that pleases nobody. Doesn’t make sense to me.

  5. hcat says:

    I believe I read that this is not a straight adaption of the book, but sort of a continuation of the stories. If I have it correct, and I might not, the Dark Tower books offer up a tale like The Matrix where the Gunslinger rises again and again to defeat the Evil One and then it starts again until it can break the endless loop. The books are one loop and the movie is another.

  6. YancySkancy says:

    I’m not sure what Indignation has to do with this, but I liked that movie and thought Logan Lerman was great in it. Perhaps it was mediocre or “de-balled” compared to the Roth novel? I haven’t read it.

    Goldsman should’ve been retired after Batman and Robin 20 years ago.

  7. Come on, are you surprised? So many King books have been ruined as films. One of his greatest books Salem’s Lot has never been made into a good film. The Dark Tower was eight beautifully detailed books, who thought they could cram it into a two hour film, I mean come on. And when will people realize McConaughey is NOT the second coming of Paul Newman? Alright, alright, alright….

  8. Movieman says:

    “Silent Fall”–the first Goldsman script to get purchased by Hollywood back in the early ’90s–should have finished his career.
    And might have if “The Client” (which he adapted from the Grisham novel) hadn’t made it into theaters first and been a modest success. Stunning that he got that gig on the basis of his spec “Fall” script.
    Goldsman either has nine lives or…the world’s greatest agent.

  9. hcat says:

    “McConaughey is NOT the second coming of Paul Newman”

    Truer words never spoken. Physical resemblance aside I can’t picture McConaughey pulling off any of Newman’s roles. Now second coming of Richard Gere….. that I could see. The remake of Mr. Jones awaits.

  10. Stella's Boy says:

    Silent Fall. Haven’t thought about that movie in forever. Had no idea Goldsman wrote it (and yeah it’s bad). Makes me think back to those days in the 90s when studios released $30 million R-rated thrillers on a more regular basis. He has been getting torn apart for more than 20 years now and yikes looking at what he’s a credited writer on is like a looking at almost anyone’s Worst Movies of All Time list.

  11. Nick Arden says:

    Akiva Goldsman absolutely botched one of the best novels of the last 50 years, WINTER’S TALE. It was his feature directorial debut.

  12. Ray Pride says:

    DEEP BLUE SEA. LOST IN SPACE. I wonder if I still have the daffy interview with him for that film.

  13. amblinman says:

    Has anyone really been comparing McConaughey to Newman lately? That was a thing back when McConaughey was supposed to be a super duper leading man (A Time To Kill). I think the last few years he’s carved out his own niche as the first coming of Matthew McConaughey (pro or con. I like the guy but I think the fawning has been a little over the top.)

  14. Dr Wally Rises says:

    Nice to see some love being given out to the supremely underrated EdTV. Not only is it eerily prescient of today’s YouTube era, it remains my favourite Mcconaughey role. ‘I am on the can, yet I am still a fan…..’

  15. Doug R says:

    The messy middle sibling fight in Hancock, is Akiva to blame for that? At least you get to shake your fist at him in the boardroom scene which also has Michael Mann.

  16. YancySkancy says:

    Are we now supposed to pretend the McConnaissance never happened? Despite a dud period and a stray dud project here and there, he’s been brilliant in a great many things. As far as I know, there are no plans to put him in any of Paul Newman’s iconic roles, and if for some reason that does happen, I’ll do my judging at that point. In theory, I could see him pulling off Cool Hand Luke, not that I want that remade. Not sure I could see Paul Newman pulling off Dazed and Confused, Magic Mike, True Detective…

  17. leahnz says:

    maybe just me but i prefer to pretend the (whocanevenspellit) thing never happened

    also, apart from magic mike (because i think of newman as innately too reserved or something) i’d think 20 something-to his forties newman could crush in those roles, but they’d be different – as would the movies/tv shows – because it’s paul newman

    (my fave mccaughna is probably ‘van zan’ in reign of fire, perhaps because it’s a bit manic, like his ‘wolf’ one)

  18. Pete B says:

    ^ McConaughey in Reign of Fire was the first time I thought, “hey this guy can actually act.”

    Honestly, that mania would have helped Woody Harrelson’s character in War for the Planet of the Apes.

  19. Dr Wally Rises says:

    It’s not terribly well done, but I have a fondness for Reign of Fire too. Ironically, that’s a movie that would be a much bigger hit now than it was at the time. Mcconaughey, Christian Bale, and Gerard Butler are bigger stars now, and dragons seem to be all over modern pop culture.

  20. Movieman says:

    Is it OK to admit that I think Idris Elba is a tad overrated?
    He brings the same intensity to every role; kind of boring.

  21. Hcat says:

    McConaughey has not become a better actor over time. He eventually dropped off of the B list and that led him to better movies in the indie arena but he still as good or bad as he has ever been. Now that he is back on top he will be back in Sahara mode until he slips back out again.

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