Stephen King fans all over the world raised their arms in celebration this week as it was finally announced that the long awaited adaptation of his magnum opus, The Dark Tower, was going into production with Idris Elba officially cast as the stoic hero Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the evil Man in Black. This comes after years of being stuck in development hell with various heavy hitting directors, such as JJ Abrahams and Ron Howard, and stars, such as Javier Bardem, Russell Crowe, and Liam Neeson, being attached at one point or another. Stephen King himself tweeted about his enthusiasm for the project and Elba and McConaughey had a fun little bit of back and forth on the social media site. Nikolaj Arcel was confirmed as director and Akiva Goldsman as main screenwriter. We even have a release date of January 13, 2017! Everything is in place for a wonderful, gorgeous adaptation of what is arguably King’s masterwork. There’s one big problem though: it’s not going to work.
Granted, this is just my personal opinion and I’m sure there are loads of people out there all too eager to tell me how wrong I am but guys, I just don’t see it. I say this as a massive fan of the book series and of Mr. King himself. I also say this as a huge fan of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey has morphed into one of the most reliable actors around and I’d watch Elba in anything (I sat through The Losers for fuck’s sake). I’ll even take Arcel as a director. He’s done good work in the past and clearly has a passion for the project. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is a bad idea and that the end result will be a major disappointment for fans and newbies alike.
First of all, The Dark Tower is the very definition of a ‘niche’ story. It’s got its fans, and they are rabid, but there aren’t a whole lot of them. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had the following conversation:
ANY RANDOM PERSON: I love Stephen King. He’s my favorite writer.
ME: Me too!! Do you like The Dark Tower?
ANY RANDOM PERSON: What’s that?
You can also substitute ‘what’s that’ with ‘never heard of it’ or ‘no, looks too weird/too long’, or ‘no, I’ve been meaning to get to it for twenty years’. The Dark Tower is not something that the entire public will get behind. Sure, a movie version might drum up some interest but I sincerely doubt it’ll be enough to warrant the full-fledged franchise they’re trying to create. Take a look at things like John Carter and Ender’s Game. Those novels had their psychotic fans too and how well did their adaptations fare at the box office? One could even argue that it was the fans who drove those movies to ruin as they took umbrage with nearly every creative decision.
And some fans have already taken issue with The Dark Tower, namely Elba’s casting. Their objections are ridiculous, stupid, and racist so we need not address them here. He’s an excellent choice for the role. However, there will no doubt be many, many fans who object to any changes, however minor they turn out to be. It’s already rumored that the action will probably start somewhere in The Waste Lands and utilize flashbacks to tell the rest of the story. I don’t have any specific problem with this but fanboys will. Fans generally fall into two camps when it comes to changes: they either want their precious story adapted slavishly or they’re open to any changes that suit the different medium. I always fall into the latter category. Books are books, comics are comics, and movies are movies. To expect a totally different medium to be exactly the same as another is idiotic, and complaining about it makes you sound like a petty child. But there does come a point when so many changes need to be made that you wonder why they’re bothering in the first place.
To try to fit The Dark Tower into any one genre is a foolhardy exercise. This is the shortest way I can: it’s a post-apocalyptic western-action-comedy-sci-fi-fantasy-horror-time traveling piece of meta-fiction. Any adaptation will have to be streamlined in order to make it more accessible and understandable. The book series is a sprawling mess that hops around so much it can be disorienting. It’s as much a celebration of King’s entire shared universe as a narrative unto itself. For many King readers, the books are a reward for spending so much time in the worlds he created. They won’t be able to translate that to the screen at all (and they shouldn’t try) so what will be left with?
At best, we’ll have a more western themed Mad Max with a few horror elements thrown in for good measure. At worst, we’ll have an incoherent disaster with more tonal inconsistencies than Jonah Hex. If the worst comes to fruition, it’ll upset everyone and turn the series into a bad joke. If the best comes to fruition, who cares? Do we need another sprawling multi-film epic that will borrow heavily from more successful franchises? Fanboys will be disappointed no matter what and newbies will look at it, shrug their shoulders, and go see Deadpool 2 instead. And let’s not forget that Akiva Goldsman is the guy tasked with writing the screenplay. Goldsman is the hack whose previous adaptation of an unfilmable book, Winter’s Tale, was a complete critical and commercial flop.
So, what’s the solution? Easy: don’t bother. Leave the books alone. They work very well as books and it’s too damn hard to adapt them to any medium. Just look at the comics for proof of that. Part of this comes from me being a bit of a purist. Whenever I see a musical adapted for the screen, I think, “eh, leave it on the stage.” It was written for the stage and that’s where it belongs. Of course, many adaptations are terrific successes but this story was so clearly written for the page that I simply cannot see it working out. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I’d love to be! But I can’t shake the nagging feeling of dread in my gut.
I guess I’ve forgotten the face of my father.