I have not read any of the eight books in Stephen King’s massive fantasy series The Dark Towerand I also have to confess I haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to the apparent difficulties filmmakers like J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard had over the years in trying to crack the cinematic code of this story. As circumstance would have it, I also saw this film without much advance warning, so I didn’t have time to do my homework and prepare myself for the lore as embraced by legions of King fans. As I say in my video review above, I just approached it as another summer movie, and on that level it succeeds on the shoulders of co-star Idris Elba who uses the film to prove he is a genuine movie star.

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Channeling Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in spirit if not literally, Elba plays Gunslinger (aka Roland Deschain), who traverses the land known as Mid-World in order to save our existence and the mythical Dark Tower located at End-World, a place he strives to get to before the evil sorcerer hot on his trail, known as the Man In Black (aka Walter O’Dim), does him in and takes over the Tower for his own destructive motives. Matthew McConaughey takes on that role and clearly relishes the opportunity to be a badass.

In the middle of this battle for control is 11-year-old Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who is plucked from his contemporary ordinary existence in New York to be thrust into this otherworldly experience. In other words he’s the chosen one, as evidenced by his constant and disturbing visions of the Dark Tower. His parents are of course concerned by the psychological effect this has on him, but don’t think it is much of anything. When the Man In Black, whose philosophy is “death always wins,” pays a visit, they learn otherwise. It doesn’t take long for Jake to team with Gunslinger in the eternal quest to protect the tower.

It may be comforting to note, as the film’s advertising indicates, Gunslinger likes to say, “I kill with my heart” as opposed to the way the Man In Black kills, apparently. It’s meant to be a distinction in what this fast-moving fantasy adventure (at just an hour and a half) sets up as good versus evil, but amidst all the family-friendly carnage on display it’s something to hang onto when taking sides in this contest. There’s no question, whether or not you have read the books, that this film is more “inspired” by them than trying to be a completely faithful movie version. But the spirit is there and you can’t deny the action is as well.

Certainly Hollywood thought they might have a new Lord Of The Rings-style film franchise on its hands, to go along with a limited prequel TV series that has a commitment from Elba and The Walking Dead‘s Glen Mazzara set as showrunner. If the movie turns out to be only a one-off, though, I think Danish director Nicolaj Arcel, previously Oscar nominated for his Danish film The Royal Affair, has done an admirable job of pulling together the disparate elements (he co-wrote the script with Anders Thomas Jensen, Jeff Pinkner and Akiva Goldsman) and making it somewhat comprehensible for those not already inclined to worship at the altar of King’s creation.

Brian Grazer joins Howard, Goldsman and King as producers of the Imagine Entertainment and MRC production, which Sony Pictures releases everywhere today.

Do you plan to see The Dark Tower? Let us know what you think.