‘The Dark Tower’ Movie: Why Is it So Short?

The Dark Tower length, The Dark Tower short, The Dark Tower running time Columbia Pictures/Sony

Idris Elba as Roland in The Dark Tower.

After a decade in the works, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series is finally reaching the big screen. Oddly enough, even though the film is based on a series that includes eight novels, multiple short stories and a comic book series, Sony and Media Rights Capital made a film that runs just 95 minutes long! Why is the movie so short when so many other blockbusters typically run close to two-and-a-half hours? Read on to find out.

King started his Dark Tower series with The Gunslinger, which was first published in 1982. The multiverse combines the Western and Fantasy genres to tell the story of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger who chases after the evil “Man in Black” as he travels along the Mid-World’s post-apocalyptic landscape. Over the next three decades, King has returned to the franchise, eventually writing eight novels and several short stories. He also worked with Marvel Comics to craft a series of comics set in the Dark World universe.

With all that in mind, one would think The Dark Tower as a movie would be a mammoth epic running over three hours at the very least. But in July, it was revealed by the British Board of Film Classification that the movie runs just 95 minutes. If you take away the credits, that means the meat of the film runs less than an hour and a half. King, who has been supportive of the film, defended its short running time. “It’s true THE DARK TOWER movie runs a clean 95 minutes. Like the first book in the series (224 pages), it’s all killer and no filler,” the author tweeted.

In an interview with Slash Film, director Nikolaj Arcel explained that The Dark Tower was conceived as just the first film in a franchise that introduces the characters and the world to the general public. The director, who wrote the screenplays for the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films, told the site:

It’s not meant to be all the novels and we’re just trying to cram everything in there. So that’s one thing. And the script was really lean and tight. When I got on board, the script was very short, very lean. That’s one of the things that attracted me to it. I said “This is smart.” You start with a lean, mean story and you don’t try to cram everything in there. You just build the basic ideas. And if people enjoy it and if they like this world and these characters, we can start expanding.

However, it’s starting look like Arcel, Sony and Media Rights Capital (MRC) was putting the cart before the horse by planning ahead. The film has been savaged by critics, with just an 18 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition, Variety reported on August 1 that the film was plagued by production problems, with the studios even debating bringing in a new director during editing.

Sources told Variety that three blind test screenings in October went badly, so the two studios started to worry about their $66 million movie. They ultimately let Arcel finish the movie, but producer Ron Howard (who was at one point going to oversee the project) and writer Akiva Goldsman (who is responsible for Batman & Robin and the latest Transformers movie) were brought in to help him mold the movie.

“On a film with two studios and powerful producers, obviously there is much passionate creative debate on how to work certain ideas or beats,” Arcel told Variety. “But I felt supported throughout, and they all looked to me for answers. If someone had jumped into my editing room and taken over — I would have left instantly.”

The biggest issue was that Sony and MRC were practically on equal footing. They split the cost of the movie and could shoot down anything they didn’t like. King also had complete veto rights on everything. Variety reports that the studios decided to spend $6 million on a five-minute exposition scene.

The Dark Tower stars Idris Elba as Roland, Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black and Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers.

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