Three Things That Will Tank The Dark Tower Movie For Fans Of The Books
The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
That sentence for a Dark Tower enthusiast is the equivalent of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” No bullshit hyperbole there. Pick any fandom of a popular epic series—Potterheads, Twihards, Tributes, Whovians, Trekkies, Warsies, Sherlockians, Ringers, XPhiles, Buffistas—and we’ve all seen the frenetic nature of their rabid loyalists. But none can quite parallel the level of devotion that The Dark Tower receives. How is that so? Because it’s an investment of time. The continuous story arc, containing flashbacks and secondary threads, racks up a word count of over 1 million and spans four decades … it takes a dedicated individual to continue that journey to the bitter end. In an eight-book series that didn’t see its climax until 2004 with the self-titled The Dark Tower (and one nonconsecutive entry, The Wind Through the Keyhole, published in 2012), as you can imagine, not everyone lived to see the conclusion. King has told of terminal cancer patients who pleaded with him to privately reveal the outcome.
I joined Roland’s search in 1987 with The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series. And that makes me a late-comer. There are members of this universal ka-tet who started in the 1970s with the publication of the original short stories that were eventually compiled into the first novel. Now, don’t get ready to burn me at the stake for this confession: I’m part of the unfaithful that bailed after The Waste Lands for the simple reason that life got in the way. I would glance at subsequent volumes Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla on the bookstore shelves, but one look at the sheer number of pages—tomes that could block a door open—and I passed it over citing time constraints.
My interest was reignited last year after learning that Sony Pictures was producing a movie adaptation due for release in August 2017. What happened to those characters of Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah, and Oy? Did they make it to the tower? Who lived? Who died? Wanting answers to those big questions, it was time to finish my journey, and I started once again reading King’s magnum opus from the very beginning, steadfast to the end, determined to finish before the movie’s debut. And despite a few minor complaints, The Dark Tower series lived up admirably to my expectations.
So, will Tinseltown screw this up? I can think of a few things they need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen.
As with any sci-fi, fantasy, or horror book, there’s that deep-set fear of ‘how in hell are they going to pull off that passage in the film?’ Beyond visual effects making the impossible come to life, there’s also that concern about Hollywood tinkering with the characters, altering the plot, and chopping the story to bits until it’s no longer recognizable from the book form. Let’s start with the movie preview: it’s formulated to placate longtime fans while roping in fresh blood and more dinero. With blazing guns, swirling action, and engaging mystery, it certainly succeeds in tantalizing the curious. But amid all the swift, splashy effects I hope they don’t forget the core ingredient of what makes The Dark Tower series so powerful…the storytelling. It’s this element of character building and camaraderie forged between the likes of Roland and Jake Chambers, the boy who enters another world, that kept the faithful on the long trek. If the creators shirk solid characterizations in favor of glossy slo-mo action, the center will crumble.
Speaking of Jake, I’ve grown averse to the way Hollywood always inserts the smart-ass, know-it-all kid who spits out life lessons and nuggets of wisdom like they are an incarnation of the Dalai Lama. In the Dark Tower books, Jake comes into his own over the course of the series. He starts where any child does, feeling his way to navigate and understand the vast, strange world he’s been thrust into. By the time of Wolves of the Calla, he’s a full-fledged gunslinger with clairvoyant abilities. Since the filmmakers appear to be condensing books and adding some original material, here’s hoping they don’t make Jake grow up too fast.
In Hollywood’s favor, it seems they have found the ideal gunslinger in actor Idris Elba. A smattering of fans was upset that Roland isn’t going to be a blue-eyed white knight like in the novel, but if that isn’t missing the whole point, I don’t know what is. It’s not the look that makes Roland the man he is, but the attitude and danger he exemplifies. “The guilt of worlds hangs around his neck like a rotting corpse,” is how the last gunslinger is described in the sixth book of the series, Song of Susannah. Remembering Elba’s complex performances in The Wire, Luther, and Beasts of No Nation, there’s no doubt he has the chops, and the intensity, to portray the Roland Deschain.
As for the Man in Black, he’s not just a bad guy but evil itself. In the preview, Jake asks if he’s like the devil and Roland responds that he’s worse. Now, Matthew McConaughey can act, sure, just look at his performances in Mud (2012) and True Detective (2014), but does he have the look of an unholy perversion that can push a kid in front of a moving vehicle? Basically, think Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) or Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (2007) for the level of depraved wickedness that needs to be achieved. “Death always wins,” McConaughey drawls in the trailer, and the audience needs to believe the odds are stacked that high against Roland. A hero is only as good as his antagonist, and so it’s up to McConaughey to channel some of that Fonda/Bardem badness.
That’s it, Hollywood. Quite simple, really. For the movie to succeed with reverent fans, stick to these three general principles:
- Don’t rely on mesmerizing eye candy to float the movie
- Don’t sideline the storytelling
- Don’t lose sight of the integrity of the characters
Yeah, I know, that may be asking too much of them. Fingers crossed it’s not.
To leave a comment