If trailers are to be believed, the first movie based on Stephen King’s massive Dark Tower series has a lot going on. Like, more than is even in one of the doorstopper books King’s written. And that’s why the purported 95-minute runtime has so perplexed people.
The runtime comes courtesy of the British Board of Film Classification, which declares that the movie—which stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey—is 95 minutes long. Now, that’s not an official runtime from the studio, but the BBFC, like the MPAA, rates films and does tend to have accurate information.
The arguments for the short runtime are all abstract. In general, we’ve come to expect giant, genre movies to come in around two and a half hours. Certainly not less than two. Wonder Woman was near the two-and-a-half-hour mark, Spider-Man: Homecoming closer to two and quarter, Alien Covenant just barely crossed two hours. The Mummy was barely under two hours, although it felt punishingly longer.
90-minute movies are the province of comedy, low-budget, or animation, mostly. Not giant epics from major studios starring very famous names. And that is actually a shame. A lot of movies could benefit by being slimmed down. It could force everyone involved to figure out the absolute essentials and get them right, rather than throwing everything at the screen in the hopes something works.
And a shorter movie gets more benefit of the doubt. If you’re going to lose that many minutes in a theater, it better make it count. A bad movie is exponentially worse if it’s a bad long movie. Then it feels like two hours of punishment.
As has been noted—frequently—Dark Tower is a fairly complicated story involving multiple worlds, evil beyond comprehension, some time travel, giant towers that anchor reality... that’s a lot. And if this first movie was a stripped down story about one of these things—or even just one character—that might make sense for 95 minutes.
The problem is that the trailer shows a ton more than makes sense for 95 minutes. We know that this movie isn’t telling a single story from the books or even focusing on one character. It’s got a bunch of locations and characters and plot threads from all over the series, which doesn’t seem like a good fit for a short film.
In theory, a short, to the point film might be the best way to introduce new people to the giant world of Dark Tower. In reality, the film we’re getting doesn’t seem to fit into the time given.
And that is a shame. Not just because this movie is clearly trying to do justice to Dark Tower, but because I’d love it if more movies tried to tell 90-minute stories. That would be a great lesson for this movie to teach.