The Dark Tower The 4DX Experience
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel
Based on the novels by Stephen King
Starring Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley
Release date: August 4, 2017
My wife and I got a chance to take in Regal’s newest way to watch… check that, experience a film, 4DX. 4DX takes the normal theater experience and combines it with a day at the amusement park, making movie-watching a full-body occasion. The film we watched, The Dark Tower, is based on the Stephen King book series and lent itself quite nicely to the tricks 4DX had up its sleeves.
The 4DX Experience
The first thing I noticed was how big the seats are, which are individually numbered and complete with their own footrests and massive armrests. I would not want to use the cupholders, however. 4DX is not for the weak, and they actually have warning signs outside the theater akin to what you’d see in front a rollercoaster. My wife laughed when she saw each armrest had a “water on/water off” option. We figured what the hell, and left it on. Before the trailers started, the audience gets a preview of the effects 4DX offers, including seats that rock side by side, lean forward and back, jolt you from behind, and yes, splash you with spritzes of water as well as gusts of air. Imagine sitting for 90+ minutes watching a movie on a theme park ride on a day with mixed weather. We even had a fog cloud in our theater! During that preview as our chairs started hurling us around, their was audible laughter and excitement from the crowd.
During the film, though, the 4DX took some time getting used to. The Dark Tower has multiple action sequences and features a main character called The Gunslinger. Every bullet was a burst of air on my neck; every kick, punch, and stab was a jolt to the back. In the first twenty minutes, I turned around about to yell at someone for kicking my seat before I realized it was an effect of the chairs. As the light from the screen shines onto the auditorium, it was fun losing myself for a second watching the theater seats and feeling the rush of a rollercoaster. This type of experience really throws you into the action movie.
4DX Pros – Fun. It was totally fun because you’re lost in the world of the film and suddenly you’re a part of, moving with the characters, feeling what they feel. It’s a unique experience that reminded me of the big movie rides at Universal Studios.
4DX Cons – Expensive. The price of our two tickets was $55.00 (full disclosure: we were given free tickets to do this review). Now we live in NYC and saw this at the Regal Union Square in the middle of Manhattan, so prices may have been inflated, but that’s a lot of money for a movie. At the same time, with many people leaving multiplexes behind for fancier dine-in theaters, and with 3D, and IMAX in almost every theater, it isn’t too far beyond the norm.
Overall – The 4DX experience is something I recommend everyone does at least once. Like a rollercoaster, you try it, and if you love it, go again and again. I would rank 4DX way above 3D and IMAX in terms of experience quality.
Now to the movie… The Dark Tower is a truly strange film in concept alone. Like the Lord of the Rings for Tolkien, The Dark Tower was King’s magnum opus, a series of 8 books published over 30 years from 1982 to 2012 and spanning 4,200 pages. It is the central universe for all of King’s stories. For years there was talk and rumor of transferring the story of gunslinger Roland of Gilead from page to screen. But how? A trilogy? A cable television series? After a decade of talk, we got this, one 95-minute movie from director Nikolaj Arcel and written by a team of four writers (usually a bad sign).
As a film, it’s okay. It’s entertaining, and as one critic repeated in his review, it’s “fine.” There’s nothing actively bad in The Dark Tower. In fact, some things are actively good, for starters the two “lead” performances by Idris Elba as Roland the Gunslinger and Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as Walter, the Man in Black. Why did I put the lead in quotations? Because they are essentially backdrop for the real main character, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor). That’s right, Roland the Gunslinger isn’t really the main character of The Dark Tower. For an unknown child actor, Taylor is shockingly competent and holds his own between the two big stars.
See this is why it’s SO hard to review this movie, maybe more so than any I’ve ever watched. The books are more than great stories to me. They are integral parts of my life. I started reading King’s saga back in college in the early 2000s, taking a near decade-long hiatus in the middle. Thanks to my then soon to be wife, I re-read and finished the saga by the time we married in 2010. When she was pregnant with our baby, I floated the name Roland as my first choice for a boy (we had a girl). I love this series second only to Harry Potter and to see these books effectively turned into a Cliff’s Notes condensed version, is so epically disheartening. King didn’t just create characters, he created an entire universe, with different paths along the beam, held together by The Dark Tower. Hilariously, aside from one 30-second expository scene, there is barely any mention of the actual Tower or its significance. Hell, you barely have any backstory to the Man in Black other than “he’s evil, he uses magic, and wants to destroy the Tower.”
If you have never read the King series, then you should really enjoy The Dark Tower movie. I’ve seen scores of bad reviews, and like I said as a super-fan of the books it’s hard to fully enjoy this, but it is not a bad film at all. The action set pieces are pretty good and there are some decent special effects. The acting is pretty on point throughout, though Katheryn Winnick is sadly wasted in a bit part as Jake’s mom and Jackie Earle Haley essentially provides a cameo. That goes back to the main issue of the 95-minute run time. Seriously, the final sequence feels so rushed I almost audibly yelled, “Wait, that’s it?”
There are COUNTLESS easter eggs to the Dark Tower series and other Stephen King books scattered across the movie and my wife and I had fun pointing to the screen: “Look, St. Bernard, that’s Cujo,” “Hey, there’s number 1408!” It almost felt like the writers and director were more concerned with putting these things in the movie than making a really good Dark Tower film. In fact, I joked it would make a fun interactive Bingo/drinking game when the movie is released on Blu-Ray and DVD. Spot the reference, take a drink.
The Dark Tower is a solid action movie with good acting and a decent story… if you’re a Stephen King novice. You’ll get your money’s worth, and the 4DX makes it more fun. However, I just can’t shake my utter disappointment with the whole project. Bright spot though, I am actually encouraged to re-read the series again, because it’s a long journey, but a long journey worth taking… a journey considerably longer than 95 minutes.
2.5/5… though you’ll get more out of it, the less you come in with.
4DX Theater Image Gallery
[Image gallery photos by Dr. Zaius for Geeks Of Doom.]