I’m sure I’ve said as much before, but I love Stephen King. After Chuck Palahniuk, he’s my fave. And part of that ranking is arbitrary since I have read all of Palahniuk’s work, but still haven’t come close to reading all of King’s. I try to get to at least one book a year, and recently finished “The Dead Zone”. However, I refused to touch “The Dark Tower”, simply because that series is quite massive. I’ve got plenty of other King to get thru and still have a variety of literature in my diet. So I was really excited when I saw it was being adapted, thinking I could get all the story without the hard work, but that’s not quite how it turned out.
First off, from what I hear this movie actually takes place just after the events of the book series. So either way, future me still has a lot of homework. Very very future me. Anyways, as I understand it (if I got it wrong, blame the movie), this dark tower is a structure that unites all of the parallel universes. There’s a baddie Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who is bent on destroying the tower and collapsing the worlds (it was never clear to me why). Idris Elba is the last gunslinger, out to protect it. And there’s some kind from our earth that’s somehow involved.
The reviews have been abysmal, but the arduous amounts of reported reshoots could have predicted that. For me, I think there were some moments of potential, but they were squandered. As I said in my Stardust reaction there are basically two reasons why I think this movie fell short.
First off, King is hard to adapt. Hollywood has been so hit or miss, and I think I finally figured out why. Last year when I read Pet Sematary, I realized that I was so invested in the charaters, that I forgot I was reading a supernatural horror story, until weird stuff started happening halfway through. And by then, I was all in. It seems to me that when his work is adapted, the focus is more on the supernatural and the plot points, and we skimp on the character. When it comes to King, the supernatural is the hook, but the character development is where the real meat of the story lies, not the other way around. It’s telling that some of King’s best adapted works (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand By Me, Misery) are ones that are far more grounded in reality and therefore carry over that character work, rather than get distracted by the shiny stuff.
That theory seems applicable here with The Dark Tower. The moments I liked most were learning about our three leads, or when the Gunslinger and the kid were relating to each other. But the focus was clearly on moving the events forward and not our characters. Having realized that, it was so frustrating to watch all those missed opportunities.
The second issue is this current trend in Hollywood to try to build out a franchise or universe from the beginning. The focus is so keen on the big picture, that the small picture gets lost and we get a thrown together movie (I’m looking at you Mummy). If you look at some of our biggest cinematic universes today, Marvel and Fast and Furious, they were built out over years. Marvel always had an endgame, but patiently worked towards it. F&F grew organically as the films found their voice and audience. But they all started with solid films that were crafted individually, without trying too hard to make a big thing. The publicity for the Dark Tower flat out said that this was just a jumping off point. They might as well have said they were just trying to get your money so they could keep going with the stuff they actually cared about. It’s beyond frustrating and leaning towards enraging.
Will they rethink it all now that this movie tanked? I’m not holding my breath. I would love to see this done right, even bringing in other King works as has been hinted at. I just don’t think the current track is the way to do it.
The Dark Tower – \m/ \m/