The Dark Tower film adaptation comes out this Friday, and while there’s a general buzz about a cool-looking film where Idris Elba plays some kind of cowboy knight from some kind of ethereal realm and Matthew McConaughey plays some kind of wizard with creepy fingernails, and there’s, like, gunslinger kung fu (gun-fu?) and stuff, excitement among fans of the novel series appears mixed.
It has all the makings of a summer blockbuster, and it has Stephen King’s name attached to boot (which arguably is a liability in some circles). But there’s this nagging baggage it seems to be lugging around.
If you haven’t read the series, you probably have a friend who has. Go ask them where they sit on this one, and you’ll probably get a moderately animated shrug, which is weird, especially for a franchise of this magnitude and prestige.
So what’s the deal?
(Minor spoilers for the book series below, but if you haven’t read it by this point, I don’t think you’ll mind. Either way, proceed at your own risk.)
Well, we’ll skip over the racial issues of Idris Elba not being Scott Eastwood (or white with piercing blue eyes), but in short, fans of the books have been eager to see a faithful adaptation in which the man in black flees across the desert and the gunslinger follows, and that’s not what they’re getting.
They’re getting a continuation.
If you haven’t read the books, don’t think about that one too hard. The books are, to put it mildly, bonkers, and not only do we have interdimensional travel, but also time travel, and everyone knows time doesn’t like to be messed with.
Suffice to say, it appears the film has almost nothing to do with the books, and it’s left some of the most die-hard fans of one of the most prominent underground (is that an oxymoron?) fantasy horror series ever written. (I’d also argue it’s one of the most important literary works of the King era, but that would have to be another post.)
As a passionate fan of the series, I understand why other passionate fans are upset. But while I loved The Dark Tower, I also hated almost everything about it.
It makes sense. As a dark fantasy series that is the magnum opus of arguably the most important author of my formative time, a series that spanned King’s career (his children could have grown up and graduated from college before he finished book seven), there are innumerable things to love about it. Unfortunately, since King wrote the series during virtually all of his identifiable time periods (he started it in high school, he worked on it during his cocaine and booz years, and he continued it through his reformation years when he was fairly mediocre, and then he picked it back up and finished it when he almost died under the grill of a minivan … and then he wrote that into the series … I told you it’s freaking weird), it bears all of the marks of those flaws.
Which is a strength in and of itself for anyone looking to study his body of work.
But look, the point is there’s a lot of really brilliant material in The Dark Tower, but there’s also a lot of the most vile drivel any author has ever put to paper. It’s both some of King’s best work and some of his worst. And the bad was so bad that it took me about a year and a half just to get through one particular volume because I kept putting it down and dreading picking it back up.
In the end, I was glad I pushed through, but I maintain that King made some decisions that ultimately meant nothing save to provide shock value and really just created obstacles for himself later. And sometimes, he’s extraordinarily lazy with navigating those obstacles. Like, character-spontaneously-and-magically-regrowing-missing-legs-because-she-has-to-be-able-to-run kind of lazy.
Oops. That’s kind of a spoiler, but honestly, who cares? Stephen King didn’t.
My point is I’m excited because the core of The Dark Tower is brilliant, and I always wished King had waited to write it until he could do it right. The film offers the opportunity to right the wrongs and strengthen that core and bring it to the fore.
I don’t care about the details of the adaptation. I care about the spirit. I care that it’s a couple of characters I loved on the page brought to life by some of the greatest actors of our time. I care that I don’t know entirely what to expect, and as a film, it doesn’t make the books irrelevant but, instead, adds to them in meaningful ways.
I’m excited about the film because books are books and films are films, and normal adaptations live separately, and this one is more inexorably tied than any adaptation ever before.
I’m excited that people who enjoy the film won’t have the books spoiled by it.
I get the disappointment and general displeasure of not getting what you wanted, but I hope my fellow Dark Tower fans will come to find this is better than we could have ever hoped. If not, hey, at least we get a cool flick with a cowboy knight doing gun-fu and facing off with a dark wizard. That’s got to be cool no matter what, right?