If you want to listen to all eight books in The Dark Tower series on Audible, you’ll have to invest 145 hours and 15 minutes, which comes out to just over six days of listening. I didn’t make it more than a couple of hours before I gave up. I’ve heard it gets better, but I didn’t hear anything to make me want to give it another shot. But when I heard that Sony had condensed all 8715 minutes of the book series into a 95-minute movie, I was on board. Sure, the reviews were bad, but I can handle an hour and a half of a bad movie to get a Cliff’s Notes version of the series to see if it’s worth revisiting. After seeing the film, I don’t think I’ll be going back to the books.
There’s a big dark tower at the center of the universe, and it keeps bad things from outside the universe from getting in. It’s said that the mind of a child can destroy the tower, and Walter (Matthew McConaughey) wants to test that theory. He’s been kidnapping children with special psychic abilities (that is, kids who “shine”) and hooking them up to his contraption to shoot a beam of screams at the tower. So far, all he’s been able to do is cause minor damage to the tower, which is felt in all the worlds throughout the universe as earthquakes, but he’s going to keep trying until he finally succeeds.
Jake (Tom Taylor) is a kid who lives on Earth (or “Keystone Earth” as it’s called in the movie) and has been having the same weird dreams over and over again. They’re about some man in black who has been taking kids and using them to shoot a tower, and some other man named Roland (Idris Elba) who is a gunslinger and is the only one that has thus far been able to successfully withstand the man in black. Jake shines hard, and Walter is onto him. He’s got agents out to find him, but Jake manages to stumble across a teleporter and use information he recalls from his dreams to transport himself to another world where he meets up with the gunslinger in an attempt to save the universe.
I don’t think that Stephen King intended to write a young adult series, but that’s definitely what the filmmakers thought it was. The movie is firmly in the same vein as The Maze Runner or Divergent, and it’s about the same level of quality, which is to say not great. Without a doubt, the worst part is the character of Walter. It’s crappily written and isn’t helped by McConaughey’s performance, but at least you can’t accuse him of not committing to it. If they’d gotten someone like Nicolas Cage or Gary Busey, then it could have likely been something highly entertaining in its ridiculousness.
The movie also has a number of references to other Stephen King works. Aside from the “shine”, there are obvious tie-ins to It, Christine, and 1408. King’s name appears prominently on a billboard near the end, and there are a lot of subtler references that are probably nods to his other work but could conceivably be passed off as incidental similarities.
But not everything about the movie is bad, though. In its best moments, like the assault at the end of the film, it is pretty reminiscent of The Matrix. And most of the rest of the time, it mostly resembles a movie made from a YA novel. If you’re into that kind of thing, then maybe you’ll enjoy it. Otherwise, it’s just pretty meh. But it’s surprisingly not as awful as critical reviews might have you believe.