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.

If creators shirk solid characterizations in favor of glossy slo-mo action, the center will crumble.

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:

  1. Don’t rely on mesmerizing eye candy to float the movie
  2. Don’t sideline the storytelling
  3. 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.

David Cranmer

Column by David Cranmer

David Cranmer is the editor for BEAT to a PULP. His writing has appeared in The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly, Live Nude Poems, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. He’s a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and daughter.

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Heather Green's picture
Heather Green June 23, 2017 - 7:36am

Hey David,

I was one of those fans that devoured the books. Well as fast as I could with life interruptions, like kids, so it took right around 2 years between 2006-2008 for me to finish the first 7. I still need to read "Wind through the Keyhole".

I have been waiting so long for this movie and any others after it to be made.While reading the books I kept thinking to myself that they would make great movies, especially with the special effects such as Shardick the Bear and the lobstrosities, Roland controlling Eddie's mind, his very first drink of a Pepsi, washing down the "astin" and eating tooter fish popkins! I followed any and all news I could find on the subject, thanks to my Google app, which lead me not only to this article that you have authored but also to one that I read yesterday that has left me disappointed. I completely agree with everything you have said here as to what will keep the Gunslinging masses happy with the film. It looks like we may not be too happy with the movie according to the link I will leave for you here to check out. They claim that Stephen King was very nice and polite whenever he had made suggestions to the script/screenplay. The article actually left me feeling as if Stephen King was being kind but also sort of wishy-washy, as if not wanting to step on anyone's toes. One would think if this is his magnum opus that he would have been way more involved in the movie making process and less understanding of a director wanting to make King's life work into his own adaptation of the series and it sounds as if the movie veers away from the actual series..more like a continuation of what happened after the series "ended" and as not to leave a spoiler, I just have a rhetorical question but don't we all know what happens after the end? (Those of us that read all the way up and through book 7, anyway). I already feel heartbroken but still have some hopes that it will be good. And if they don't bring back the other characters later on...I will truly be pissed. 'Scuse my language but I fell in love with all of the Ka-tet, all of their backgrounds, everything about them, most especially Oy. I truly hope we are still getting a 3 part movie deal with a t.v. show to follow.

Well enough of my heart aching over what I read. I would like to hear what you think about the link I am leaving for you. Perhaps you will see it differently and somehow in a positive light.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books June 23, 2017 - 8:15am

One of the theories I'm hearing is that the film is actually a sort of continuation of the books. That being the case, all this would still apply.

Justin Bergmans's picture
Justin Bergmans June 23, 2017 - 7:23pm

What needs to be understood is this is a sequel to the books. There's really no need to invest in the books. I think some critics keep missing that point. If you're looking for a point by point adaptation it's not happening. So, this iteration of the Dark Tower can be more action adventure to appeal to broader audiences.

David Cranmer's picture
David Cranmer June 24, 2017 - 3:55am

@Heather: I read the article and it does give a longtime Tower aficionado pause ... and a little concern. Sometimes, however, unexpected change is welcoming like Twin Peaks: The Return. That's a prime example of taking something old and reinventing the mold into a bold, fresh landscape. Here's hoping the writers for The Dark Tower film have accomplished something along those lines.

@Joshua: I had read that too and hopefully done right will give diehard followers something crisp and exciting.

@Justin: Not desiring a point by point because that would be a drag. Just looking, chiefly, for integrity to the characters or theres little point in calling it The Dark Tower.

Heather Green's picture
Heather Green June 24, 2017 - 3:37pm

@David, I can only hope that if the Creator is happy with it then all of us will too.

@Joshua ha! I didn't think of that before.
Here I was, thinking they were going to change it all up.

Just as a crazy side note, I am a die hard follower. I have been since "The Drawing of Three" (I did find the first and third books a tad hard to get through at least for a little while). Anyway, I was in a group on Facebook for something entirely different but I noticed one of the other group members had a very interesting and familiar looking tattoo on her arm, one that I had thought of getting on my back one day. I asked her if she had the door sigils as a tattoo. She said I was the first one that ever knew right away what they were! And I have had some moments in life as if the Tower was calling me back. Weird, I know, but if you've ever had it happen to you and many claimed they have, you will know it in an instant. Weird things like being in a store and "Someone saved my life tonight" comes on the store's music while you notice a stuffed turtle toy on a shelf in front of you. "All things follow the beam"- Indeed.

tom77's picture
tom77 August 11, 2017 - 2:24pm

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