|Scene from The Dark Tower|
There is one common story that comes when discussing Stephen King's magnum opus "The Dark Tower." For a writer so acclaimed, it seems like his eight part series has been a hard sell long before the film. At various readings, he would ask the audience if anyone was a fan of the series. There would always be, at best, a spattering. After all, it is a hybrid fantasy-western-horror-everything movie that encapsulates his entire career. It would be hard to convince anyone to read it short of simply saying "It's great." However, there's still some things disarming about the current round of marketing that suggests that maybe the film is doomed. As much as it's inappropriate to judge a film on marketing, The Dark Tower does seem to be a film that will have to do a lot to overcome publicity that's even more confusing than the plot of the books.
It is likely that there's two types who are going to see The Dark Tower this Friday. The first half are those who have obsessed over the books, following King's slow publishing of each novel and enjoying the adventures of Roland Deschaines and crew. They have been waiting for years, mostly getting teases here and there in other movies, notably in the opening scene of The Mist which features a portrait of Roland. The others, and likely more dominant, will be those who have no idea what The Dark Tower will be. It's still possible for the film to be a great late-summer romp (even if it's opening in the dumping grounds of August), but the marketing has been the most confusing part.
Save for a minute that the trailers actually look decent. They use great passages from the story and feature key scenes that will whet the appetite of book fans. However, one has to wonder about the approach of the movie, especially in what it technically is. Yes, there seem to be scenes pulled from "The Drawing of the Three" and "The Wastelands" among other things. However, some have already become frustrated by Roland's odd casting choice in actor Idris Elba. In the book (and its various picture insertions) depict Roland as being a Clint Eastwood type. It may be controversial, but it's fine as long as Elba (who has proven himself in the past) can play the gruff cowboy with a certain panache.
Beyond the trailer, the movie has gotten King's endorsement - a feat that not even the more acclaimed adaptations like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining received. Still, the issue isn't so much that its characters don't match the book. It's going to be tough enough to dump a lot of exposition and stylized grammar into the movie for newcomers (do you know what "Ka" is?). It's a deep universe full of exciting details and genre mash-ups. It would all be fine if the film introduced this gradually. For all we know, this will be the case. However, the heart of the hesitation for this movie comes from something likely to be more frustrating given that it's the first ever pass at a cinematic Dark Tower universe...
This is a sequel to the final book.
One can go back to the opening paragraph to understand why this is a risky move. King may have some extremely memorable works, but the public understanding of "The Dark Tower" will almost certainly rest on what the film achieves. Considering that many of the scenes look like they pull from the various books, calling it a sequel is a bit confusing. How can it focus on the events it preceded while telling a story that takes place after it? There are ways, but it's risky and doesn't suit a series that is already a hard sell to those outside the fantasy fan base. One must ask why it doesn't just introduce everything within context, or maybe (in less desirable terms) mash-up the early books to tell a rip-roaring journey through literal spaces and times? It's a bit odd that it is a shorter movie (reportedly 96 minutes), but it is less confusing than what the film could possibly achieve by starting after the rich text that spanned decades and universes?
Allegedly, there is a TV series for The Dark Tower in the works that will be more desirable to purists. It isn't a guaranteed deal and if this bombs, it's likely that Mid-world will take awhile before being seen again. There's plenty to pull from King's books to justify the book-a-season structure. After all, it has become the norm with series like Game of Thrones. However, it then raises the question as to why a serialized structure wasn't more ideal to covering the stories. Whatever the case may be, the future of the franchise is just as uncertain as the film's potential. Much like recent fantasy film Valerian, it does stand a chance of under-performing due to having a high concept story. It would be unfortunate if the series ended before it got a chance to get started.
Of course, the hesitation for The Dark Tower mostly comes from the same hesitation that pursued Wonder Woman. Here was an iconic property that meant so much to so many people for decades now. There's a thrill of seeing it portrayed correctly on the big screen. Of course, there is the flip side. What if it's horrible and doesn't do well? At the heart of the issue is that the marketing hasn't given much reassurance in the film being more than a fun fantasy western. There is nothing wrong with that, but it would be disappointing that what may end up being people's gateway into the book series ends up being an inaccurate depiction rued with continuity errors. Of course, it could be good and just a hard movie to sell. One could hope to bank on the latter, but this has been several decades in the making. Why not have higher hopes?