The Dark Tower on the Big Screen

Up to now I admit I've done an indifferent job of writing about film and tv adaptations of books that I've reviewed, although I've got plans to watch some older ones eventually and write about them. Maybe even sooner rather than later. When I posted about The Magicians being on tv, I mentioned that I basically didn't care, except that I recently found out that Arjun Gupta is on the show (playing Penny!), and I think he's a major hottie, so maybe I'll give it a try after all.

Anyway, this post is about the recent announcement that the movie adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower is happening after all, starring Idris Elba as The Gunslinger, and Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black. I'm not sure I think Idris Elba is as perfect for the role as everyone says he is (although he does seem to have the right mix of dignity and menace about him), but that's not what I'm here to complain about today.

Instead, I'm reacting to the details in this article. There will probably be some spoilers and I'm going to assume some level of familiarity with the material, although I'll try to clarify where I can.

"The movie will take place 'in our day, in the modern world'"

Does that mean that the entire thing will take place in our world, and that there's somehow no Mid-World? How does that work? The books bounce between our world and the others pretty liberally, and it makes sense to bring some of those scenes up to modern times (especially in the later books, more on that in a sec). But setting the movie in our world alone would require significant changes that might actually alter the source material beyond recognition*.

"The movie's plot will actually pick up in the middle of the story"

I can only assume that this means they'll start with Wolves of the Calla, for the following reasons:
  • The actual middle book in the series is Wizard and Glass, and unless they can magically age Idris Elba down to John Boyega (who proved he can also do dignity+menace in Attack the Block, and ideally they'd go with an even younger actor) using CGI, they are obviously not starting with Wizard and Glass;
  • I'm not sure what else you'd call the middle of the story, because the first three books are all rising action;
  • Mostly just those two things.
This is a huge problem for reasons that I don't think I even need to state to anyone familiar with the source material, but for everyone else: after Wizard and Glass, the series takes a more or less noticeable dive in quality, depending on how critical you are. As far as I'm concerned all of the best stuff in The Dark Tower series happens in the first three books, with honourable mention to the witch in Wizard and Glass. More importantly, though, the books get weird, and I have no idea how the casual moviegoer will swallow most of what happens in the last three books of the series without being primed by the first three books, and even then it would be a hard sell.

Characters from other Stephen King books (besides The Man in Black) show up. Stephen King himself shows up. The man who nearly killed Stephen King with his vehicle shows up. The accident in which a man nearly killed Stephen King with his vehicle shows up. Susannah has an accelerated pregnancy and eventually gives birth via, let's just say, a number of complications, to a weird demon baby. There is a ton of travel between different dimensions. There are lightsabres and golden snitches. This is without getting into the Crimson King and the Tower and the Rose and God knows what else.

The Dark Tower isn't your run of the mill, straightforward, Game of Thrones-style fantasy epic. It is Stephen King's epic, and that makes all the difference. It's not something you pick up halfway through and catch up as you go along.

The movie I might actually want to watch 

I'd watch an adaptation of The Gunslinger for sure, especially an adaptation that restores some of Roland's sharper edges and moral ambiguity that King shaved off in the expurgated edition (sitting on my shelf). While the plot can tend to meander a bit, that would allow cuts for a more cohesive and contained story that wouldn't make the action completely bewildering to people who aren't familiar with the source material. I suspect other people would also be more prepared to show up for a post-apocalypse fantasy Western than a post-apocalypse fantasy Western parallel universe road trip.

Despite my general dislike of Wizard and Glass, I'd also happily show up to see an adaptation of that. This would allow the filmmakers to capitalize on the current YA film trend and, again, it's a relatively self-contained narrative that wouldn't be overly bewildering to a casual audience. I'm positive that a group of charismatic young actors could overcome virtually every problem that I had with this novel, and getting the witch, Rhea, on screen would give me everything that I wanted and didn't quite get from The Witch.

Just maybe, the whole series could be a tv show instead of a movie. I feel like the work as a whole isn't really adaptable at all, though, to be honest. The early going is so good and then it just descends into half-baked madness. And I say this as someone who really likes the series!

*On the other hand, maybe significant changes to the source material are the whole point. There's more than a little room to improve upon the original, but there's no way that the serial numbers could be convincingly filed off, so instead they might just make something that's informed by the Dark Tower books but doesn't stay faithful to them. I'm more ok with that prospect than I would be with a clumsy attempt to bring the last three books to the screen in a way that's accurate but so abridged that they no longer make any sense. Either way, I won't be seeing The Dark Tower film at all until I see some reviews.

NB: Since initially writing this, I've come across at least one article speculating that the film will actually begin with The Drawing of the Three. I think that's a bad idea, too.

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