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The Dark Tower: That time they tried to fit 8 Stephen King books into one movie

Idris Elba, left, and Matthew McConaughey in the Columbia Pictures film, The Dark Tower." (Ilze Kitshoff/Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP)

Idris Elba, left, and Matthew McConaughey in the Columbia Pictures film, The Dark Tower." (Ilze Kitshoff/Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP)

After eight books, more than 4,000 pages, nobody expects Stephen King's trans-dimensional Gunslinger saga told in barely 90 minutes.

Yet that's exactly what The Dark Tower attempts, shrinking a woolly mammoth plot to lapdog size, defying anyone considering King's literary opus unfilmable. Those people are right, from a purist's perspective.

From the impure perspective of someone who hasn't read King's series, The Dark Tower isn't half-bad. Faint praise, but this movie will take all it can get. It plays like a decent pilot for a TV series, which is reportedly what producer Ron Howard has in mind, that director Nikolaj Artel promises will be "totally canon," unlike his movie.

Luckily, I'm married to a King fan who read his Dark Tower books and can compare Artel's treatment. She noted the screenplay starting at a point several books into the series, the elimination of two mortals assisting the gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) in his vendetta against the devilish sorcerer, the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). Less time wasted in the Wasteland with existential dramatics, plus a key character's fate King didn't dream up.

For me, such economy in all fantasy matters has merit. I appreciated Artel's minimal attention to building netherworlds or complex schemes. There's a tower at the center of the universe to defend or else. What's "else?" Darkness and fire. Fair enough. Frodo just needed to take a ring from one place to another and look how long that took.

The Man in Black's plot to demolish the tower involves screaming beams of lights sucked Matrix-style from the minds of psychic children like Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor). Jake dreams about the tower, Roland and the Man in Black, sketching his waking memories. Jake finds a Brooklyn portal to Mid-World, joining Roland in his quest.

Jake's psychic gift is called his "shine,' the most obvious of several allusions in The Dark Tower to King's literary universe. Notice the abandoned Pennywise amusement park where Jake and Roland are ambushed, the mom and son walking a Cujo double down the street. The Overlook Hotel is glimpsed in a picture frame while a toy Christine car cameos.

Charismatic performances by Elba and especially McConaughey lift the "I'll get you/I'll get you first" dialogue a notch above the page. McConaughey plays it rattlesnake cool, tossing off orders like "stop breathing" and "kill each other" and people do. He can't avoid looking dumb in the finale faking telekinetic powers but who doesn't?

Elba is a different story, his gunslinger constantly dynamic in motion and emotion. Roland knows at least a half dozen awesome ways to rapidly reload his six shooters, emptying them with regretful panache, a Magnificent Seven rolled into one. Elba is reportedly interested in the TV series, reason enough to hope it happens.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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The Dark Tower

Director: Nikotaj Arcel

Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert, Claudia Kim

Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikotaj Arcel, based on novels by Stephen King

Rating: PG-13; gun violence

Running time: 95 min.

Grade: C+

The Dark Tower: That time they tried to fit 8 Stephen King books into one movie 08/03/17 [Last modified: Friday, August 4, 2017 1:15am]
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