After years of failed attempts, a Dark Tower movie is here. For better or worse, we finally have a movie. Is it everything readers were hoping for?
Before I dive into that, let me put this movie in context. Before a movie could even be developed, the daunting task of engaging a movie audience with something adapted from 22 novels (8 main series books and 14 tie-ins) totaling a minimum of 10,000 pages seemed an insurmountable hurdle. Many have called the Dark Tower "unadaptable" for this reason. There is just too much material to cover, and to grab an audience with the first movie of a potential long-running franchise, many of whom have never read a single Stephen King book and, therefore, wouldn't be familiar with any of the mythos that connects them, would be impossible (unless they, you know, just adapt a book at a time, you know, like they do with other book series with extensive and complex stories). How do you convince a movie goer to invest the interest, the emotion, really anything into a story that will require many hours of effort for the eventual pay off? One answer is to not even try. Take elements from these 22 novels, make an entirely new story out of it that requires only an hour and a half of the viewer's time, and call it a day. And that seems to be what they went with. Although, this approach plays into the story itself, and if marketed properly, could have really paid off among the fans.
You see, part of the problem that lies with The Dark Tower is in the expectations it set for it's audience to know what they were doing while simultaneously advertising something else entirely. Inquisitive readers know this wasn't meant as an adaptation but rather a sequel to the series as a whole and, therefore, requires a familiarity with the books to really understand it. The marketing campaign completely missed this fact about the movie. A common complaint among the professional reviewers is they were unfamiliar with with the books so confusion abounded, and therefore, it's the movie's fault. Has it happened before in cinematic history that a sequel is blamed for confusing the viewer when said viewer is unfamiliar with what came before it? Although the question is rhetorical, I suspect the answer is no. And, in part, sums up the total weirdness of the project. Movies can be sequels or continuations of a TV series with no problems, and that happens all the time. A movie that is a sequel to a book series, though? Added into that a confusing ad campaign and a movie tie-in cover for the one book in the series that the movie is least based on? That's going to cause a lot of head scratching for those who are only slightly familiar with the material if at all or don't pay attention too closely on these type of things.
How is The Dark Tower movie a sequel? Roland Deschain and his nemesis, The Crimson King (the Man in Black is merely a henchman of the Crimson King), are trapped in a time loop. Every time Roland defeats the Crimson King, reaches the Tower, and climbs to the room at the top, he is transported back in time and space to where the reader first meets him the the Mohaine Desert on the trail of the Man in Black. The movie is supposed to be the journey to the Tower following the book series and is purported to be the journey in which he finally breaks the cycle. Roland is completely unaware he's made repeated trips to the Tower, but the Crimson King knows he's imprisoned by it, thus his desire to destroy it.
As a combination sequel and loose adaptation, I think The Dark Tower succeeds, but as it was marketed as a direct adaptation of the Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, it fails. That's almost like putting out Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them under the title Harry Potter (no subtitle) and claiming it's based on Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. As far as The Dark Tower can be called an adaptation, it's best described as an all-new tale that takes elements (the barest of elements) from The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands, The Dark Tower V: The Wolves of the Calla, The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower, Black House, Hearts in Atlantis: Low Men in Yellow Coats, among others.
The movie, although an enjoyable summer movie, cannot succeed without audience buy-in, and the failed, confusing marketing has all but shot dead any chance of that.
Let me know what you think below.
As an additional note, and to set up the next few topics for this blog, I've listed below all the books officially considered entries in The Dark Tower series. They are listed in order of publication.
The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger
The Eyes of the Dragon
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three
The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
Bag of Bones
Hearts in Atlantis
From a Buick 8
The Dark Tower V: The Wolves of the Calla
The Dark Tower VI: The Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower