If there's one consistent complaint amongst both filmgoers and critics these days, it's that movies are far too long. The data, however, does not support the case and, if anything, the opposite may be true. At an average of 2 hours 10 minutes, today's big budget offerings are no longer in length than the movies of the 1960s, and it was only during the 80s and 90s that run-times actually dropped back some (and, even then, only by around ten minutes). Instead, what may be at play is that while film lengths haven't changed, the art of storytelling has, resulting in a succession of threadbare plots no longer capable of filling the space provided.
But then comes along a film like The Dark Tower, clocking in at a far more appealing 95 minutes. Given it's also based on the famed eight-book series by Stephen King – and built around a world as richly detailed, expansive and diverse as only a series of that length can create – you'd expect the inverse to be true, in that there'd just be too much story to fit in. As it happens, you'd be wrong.
Somehow the creative forces behind this hotly-anticipated film have managed to take a sprawling, steam-punk-western-sci-fi-fantasy-adventure and sap it of almost all semblance of story. It's the cinematic version of being jack of all trades, master of none, jumping so regularly between worlds and times and characters that none has the opportunity to take hold. Just think how the Harry Potter universe – similarly grounded in the tale of an ordinary yet extraordinary young boy thrust into an unseen war in an unknown world – might have collapsed upon itself had it received the same treatment.
The young boy in this instance is 11-year-old Jake (Tom Taylor), a troubled, earth-dwelling soul whose constant nightmarish visions turn out to be inklings of a nascent psychic power called 'the shine' (remember, this is a Stephen King story). Jake's abilities make him a critical component to the storied warriors on both sides of a centuries-old conflict waged between the light and the dark. On one side stands Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), a mystical gunslinger with a heavy-handed cowboy aesthetic. Against him stands the dark sorcerer Walter (Matthew McConaughey), whose dapper black ensemble makes him seem less wizard and more court-side seats at a Wizards game.
Like Obi-Wan to Luke Skywalker, Roland takes Jake under his wing and begins to teach him both the ways of his psychic abilities and how to wield the ancient and more elegant weapons of a bygone age. Actually, yes…it's really like Star Wars. Together they must confront the forces of evil to protect the all important tower, lest theirs and many other worlds fall into ruin.
Performance wise, The Dark Tower relies entirely upon Elba and McConaughey to keep its head above water. Neither are given a great deal of material worthy of their talents, but find enough soul in Roland and playful villainy in Walter to keep audiences engaged. Interestingly, for a story about a young boy immersed in strange and distant worlds, the film's best moments arise when the opposite occurs and Roland finds himself on earth.
Regrettably, though, The Dark Tower focuses too much on Jake – an entirely dull and annoying character whose presence induces that familiar dragging feeling despite the film's shorter run time. As a consequence, The Dark Tower represents a sad conclusion to the decade-long attempt to see it made; a bland and lifeless recreation of a world that was anything but. The series may yet have life in it, but it'll take a monumental effort to bring it back from where it currently sits.