I've been trying to compose myself enough to write something about the upcoming “Dark Tower” movie since Stephen King first announced the miscast shell of a project. The Dark Tower is often referred to as Stephen King’s magnum opus and as huge fan of the book series I am not optimistic that this movie will do it’s wonderful source material justice. The series is eight books long and from the release of the first book spanned three decades allowing it to draw a massive fanbase that appeals to many generations in large part to it’s incredible storytelling. This project has gone through many rumored iterations, my personal favorite had Javier Bardem and Ron Howard attached, but each one ended in disappointment. The film that ultimately stole this beloved series’ title is set to be released in a week and is the worst outcome even the most pessimistic fan could have thought of. Fans of the books would be better off with nothing and should probably avoid this film altogether.
The reason I have delayed writing anything until now is I didn't think I could communicate my real concerns without numerous diatribes against little things that will ultimately be inconsequential. Racebending a main characters whose relationships with others in the story relies directly on race is an interesting choice. Handing a very complicated and admired franchise to such an inexperienced director is a bold choice. A soundtrack to a epic western done by electronic artist JunkieXL is a silly choice. Billing a main character who sacrifices a child and kills a town full of people as “good” is stupid choice. I’m obviously biased and dislike a lot of decisions made for this movie, but I admit most of them won't matter to the people who the books don't matter to.
Director Nik Arcel essentially repeated throughout his recent Reddit AMA that fans of the book are not the only target audience while trying to peddle some his fandom for the series. The movie’s producers and makers are going for wide appeal with this film, it is for the summer movie crowd who will watch anything with action that keeps their kids quiet. This explains the PG-13 rating in spite of the adult and at times gruesome nature of the source material. I have a special connection to the Dark Tower series, the first book was handed down to me from my older brother who I idolized. The Gunslinger made me fall in love with reading again after at least a decade of having no interest. So much so that I read it once a year and my son is named after the series’ main character, the last gunslinger himself, Roland. The book series is as good as any saga and rife with time/world travel, fantastical creatures and interesting complicated characters whose relationships are what keep you flipping pages.
I realize there are broad arguments that are brought up every time a beloved book series becomes film/tv, the book is always better, my concerns go deeper however. There are consistent arguments in support of the movie that I keep hearing, even from fans of the series who want to be optimistic. These arguments are all bullshit and if you care about unique storytelling you should completely reject this movie.
First: The movie isn't following the book, it's a sequel set to take place after the books series.
Without spoiling too much the Dark Tower has a few timelines and the movie is supposed to be the last timeline. So while that premise sounds interesting this strategy is a cop out. The studio is trying to avoid the complexity of the storytelling to appeal the dummies who get confused by the intricacies of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As I stated before, proposal after proposal for film, tv or both around this franchise has failed to produce anything, to my understanding even HBO has backed out in the past. If they are willing to greenlight shows centering on murder, incest and alternate civil war timelines but not this it should tell you something. This content is hard to portray, but that doesn’t mean you just give up and take the easiest way out. This source material is not for everyone but if you do it well, the subject matter is already interesting and will allow you to make something incredible that can succeed on a wide scale. Instead of investing more time to make it the best they could, Columbia seems to have just accepted the most generic good vs evil script they could and cast two actors who they think will bring people to the movies. This is why I have doubts about Arcel’s fandom of the series, if he was a fan he would scrap whatever this is and make what was already written, it is great because of its complexities.
Second: Stephen King himself gave his approval, surely that's enough.
With all the Easter eggs they have paraded around in the trailers and PR leading up to release, in an effort to get King fans to theaters, who can blame him? (Is it really an easter egg if you know it's coming?) Who wouldn’t love a circle jerk of appreciation dedicated to all your work? It doesn't mean he's right. With all due respect, if Mr. King thinks his story is in good hands he's a sell out. When you release something into the world and people take to it like fans of this series have it no longer belongs to you, just ask George Lucas. If we ever get to see Oy, as Arcel alludes to, and he’s a Jar-Jar like character I might explode out of rage. King’s opinion shouldn't be the authority on this particularly because of the first argument. This isn't his story right so who cares what he thinks anyway? He has everything to gain by peddling this trash flick to people and a lot to lose if it bombs. I just can’t believe he’d be so reckless with the franchise he has dedicated a lot of his professional life to, maybe his feud with the President is distracting him and lowering his standards.
Third: What if it’s actually good?
First of all my super saiyan level of pettiness will never allow to me to admit this movie is good, even if it was Baby Driver’s equivalent. A lot of people may walk out of this movie thinking it was good but will they know what they were missing? Unlikely, because the studio thought this was “good enough.” As a moviegoer I can and usually even like to sit through garbage to watch mindless action. For example Transformers are big robots that transform into things and blow stuff up especially each other. That’s it. There’s no substance, they're not trying to inspire the next generation of filmmakers it is strictly mindless entertainment. The Dark Tower is so much more nuanced than that, it is a story of betrayal, sacrifice and heartbreak yet everything that has been shown to this point leads us to believe this movie is nothing more than a superhero film with a cowboy skin on it.
I am not trying to be some elitist film school drop out here I enjoy most super hero movies, but it's foolish to think they are more than a fraction of what they could be. I attribute this to what we have been told over and over by movie studios by the movies they put out, audiences don’t want to have interesting stories they want good to triumph over evil, always. So then why is Empire widely regarded,not by me, as the best Star Wars movie? Life is rarely ever black and white and good doesn’t always triumph. Besides as I stated before Roland is not a hero, through a lot of the series I don't even consider him a good man. He’s not Luke Skywalker or Aragorn, some beacon of goodness that the viewer knows is inherently pure and will always take the most noble path. He is one of the Dark Towers best features and what helps set it apart from other sagas, it should be on full display not hidden because it might put a few people off. Movie studios think audiences, are too stupid to have any stakes in a character that is not full of grace and dignity. They have even felt the need to telegraph Roland’s goodness in the most obnoxious way; superimposing the word “GOOD” onto images of him in one of the most recent short trailers.
Individually the movie’s sins are minute to non devotees of the books but when you stack them together it’s not hard to see this movie for the garbage fire, cash grab it is. The only hope I have for this movie is it bombs bad enough to call off all future plans for any sequels, like the Last Airbender before it. I’m sure Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey will do fine and having the budget it does this movie might even be a ‘fun’ watch but you're doing yourself a disservice if you think this is what The Dark Tower is. This movie is an insult to what it could have been and the only solace fans of the books can take is that with any luck Hollywood will reboot in it a few years and we can put this awful insult of a film behind us. To borrow a phrase from the series Stephen King, Nik Arcel, and everyone who made decisions on this movie have “forgotten the face of their father.”
Ok one rant before I go: they put the best and most important freaking line from the first book on the damn movie poster!