*Spoilers for both the books and the content of the trailer; also, this post does not include that trailer because we’ll get sued before we had a chance to share it on Facebook*
*I would say go read the books before the movie comes out, but I understand most people aren’t going to do that… so I make no apologies for recommending that folks just dive right into the article because the weirdness I describe will probably generate the curiosity necessary about the source material…*
*And the dozen or so interconnected novels that reference Dark Tower*
I’ll get my bona fides out of the way. I’m a relatively dedicated Dark Tower fan having picked up the novels a little over 20 years ago.The first four I loved and reread several times, the final three, well. I managed to last a few months before acknowledging that they were largely a disappointment and as much as I love Stephen King’s work, this should not have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with some of his endings. I also own some of the Marvel comics that retold the story from Wizard and Glass and expanded on Roland’s journey back to Gilead. I have inhaled every other Stephen King novel that had so much as a tangential reference to Roland and Co. (Black House is the best, in my opinion, Insomnia, less so). I have a DT inspired tattoo. To say I’ve been dream-casting a film adaptation since I was a kid is an understatement, I’ve dream-directed a movie version in my head many times, sometimes with a soundtrack and everything. So when the Sony produced film finally got off the ground after over a decade of speculation and casting rumors, I was simultaneously relieved and thrilled. The casting of Idris Elba was welcoming news, I know some fans flipped out because their imaginary character is Caucasian but to me it was a perfect development. Elba is a fantastic actor capable of leveling a room with the sound of his voice. He has the poise and impossible confidence I have always pictured in Roland and I’m certain he’ll do a great job with the material. And at the same time, and in the other ways the film is departing from the original material, the version of the story in my head is untouched. By creating an entirely unique iteration and leaving the books alone to create a sequel both are able to exist. Like the sacrificial son said, “Go then, there are other worlds than these.” Nikolaj Arjel will have his world and I can keep mine.
This Monday a rough cut of the trailer leaked online and after digging through mirror after mirror trying to outrun Sony’s lawyers, I finally found and watched it twice. What follows are my impressions, as best as I can recall considering the fact that I was drooling and panting during the first time through like a cartoon dog.
The Main Focus is on Jake, Roland and The Man in Black
Seems obvious from the casting. No Sussanah, no Eddie. No Oy, for that matter. It looks like the New York side of the story takes place where Book 3, The Wastelands opened up. Jake is having visions of The Gunslinger, drawing pictures and arguing with a psychiatrist about dreams. I really enjoyed this part in the books, where Jake slowly goes insane and accidentally writes probably the best and creepiest term paper ever. I’m not sure if King is implying that Jake’s increasing instability and experience channeled his inner Bukowski or that he’s tacitly mocking the English teacher for reading into his ramblings and extracting some pretentious nonsense. But I hope that makes it into the film somehow. Blaine, after all, is a pain. And that is the truth.
The Supernatural Elements Have Been Toned Down
In The Wastelands Jake escapes modern day New York by traveling through a door inside of some kind of haunted demon-house and when I saw that house in the trailer my inner child squealed. However, once inside he brushes some dust off a futuristic looking computer console and all at once that child went silent and rolled his eyes. No child eating nightmare buildings this time around it would seem, which is sort of understandable. In tentpole franchises studios generally want everything explained to the audience all the time and part of the creepiness of the house on Dutch Hill was not knowing why it was so evil or how. Also, I’m hoping the effects I saw were entirely placeholder because the image of a door standing alone and impossibly in the middle of nowhere in the book’s illustrations had a powerful imagery to it and what I saw in the trailer lacked that symbolic flair.
The Film is Going to Be More Action Oriented
I briefly recall seeing Idris Elba jump from one rooftop to another, which is…not the most Dark Tower-y thing I can imagine. He’s also firing those pistols all willy-nilly, that’s the only thing that left me a little bit uneasy. If this turns into a run-and-gun type of action shoot-em-up they are going to lose some of the impact that those legendary weapons have in the novels. In the books Roland didn’t break out the irons until it was absolutely necessary and when he did it was to a purpose: murdering the hell out of everything. What the filmmakers have hopefully kept in mind is the fact that although the original books are a mish-mash of all kinds of genres from horror to sci-fi to fantasy, in its most basic DNA it’s ultimately a Western. And the thing about Westerns is that the constant threat of violence propels the narrative, rather than the presence of it. When Jack Palance throws the gun at the sheepherder’s feet in Shane it’s the build-up to the moment, to the kill that makes the genre what it is, not just the presence of cowboy hats and boots.
McConaughey Looks Pretty Dope
“Did you tell the kid that everyone who walks with you dies by my hand?” Matthew McConaughey is going to have a much more expanded role as Walter Paddick, The Man in Black than was in the books and this is a good thing on two counts. One, Mac is killing it these last couple years but I don’t know if I’ve see him straight up scenery chewing evil before. I understand Killer Joe was pretty wicked but Walter is a semi-immortal mage in the employ of a psychotic demon entity hell-bent on unmaking the Universe. This is a role that he can really strut in and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table. Two, the Dark Tower books are weak on villains in a big bad way. They either disappear inexplicably or pop up randomly in the Emerald City (from The Wizard of Oz, I was far more accepting a reader as a child) or end up being nowhere near as menacing or interesting as implied (I’m looking in your direction, Crimson King). Having a persistent antagonist will do wonders for the balance of the story and, hopefully, he’s around for the long haul if, Turtle of Enormous Girth-willing, there is a long haul.
It Feels Like The Dark Tower
I know it’s a very early iteration of the first trailer, with green screen and placeholder effects but the V.O. included the lines that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “I do not aim with my hand, I aim with my eye. I do not kill with my gun. I kill with my heart.” And the crowd goes wild. I think a part of me never believed those words would make it to the silver screen ever, DT is just too weird and fantastic and meta and frankly uneven to make it as a studio production. But there they are. The scale of the story is there. The Low Men abound. The desert appears to be, what little I saw of it, the apotheosis of all deserts. It also feels as super serial as the first book which is probably the least accessible of the series. It remains to be seen if only Jake and Roland can carry the water for the whole film, I’m curious why they haven’t so much as cast the rest of the Ka-tet. As much as I didn’t find Eddie Dean’s jokes as entertaining as the character himself does, that Universe greatly benefited from the levity and self-awareness he brought to it. So we’ll see if they are able to compensate for that in the finished product because there was none of those things in this trailer.
It took me a little while to figure out why I’m not more indignant about the liberties the film is taking with the source material but while writing this recap and looking back over it I’ve realized how absolutely batshit crazy it really is. Brilliant, still, I’m not swearing it off by any means but it speaks to either the talent of Stephen King as a writer and storyteller or the willingness of his audience to embrace his opus that these books contain, among many many other things a 100 foot tall cybernetic bear, a fertile omnisexual/hermaphroditic invisible wind demon, a suicidal sentient super-intelligent train, a death cult populated by midgets obsessed with ZZ Top, a raccoon-dog, a strange homage to Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven, and, oddly, Stephen King himself. It’s a damn miracle it’s being made at all and I formally offer my cautious optimism at the finished product after viewing its unfinished trailer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sharpen my Oriza plates. Oh, that’s right, I forgot the lethal dinnerware. The movie is going to be fine. What I’m really looking forward to is the companion television series based on Wizard and Glass. More of that please.