Earlier this week, news broke that Amazon will be adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels as a multi-season television series. Hearing this news, I couldn’t help but wish that Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series could get that epic treatment instead.
Lord of the Rings has a well-done, much-loved pop culture adaptation of the original source material*. The Dark Tower novels don’t. Even with this year’s long-awaited big-screen adaptation.
*And yes, I know they left out some of the most beloved characters and combined some character arcs. But honestly, I think the movies are better off for it!
I know the movie was critically panned, but I still couldn’t help but be a bit curious about it. Knowing that it was another “turn of the wheel” for Roland fit in well with how the epic seven-book series ended things. I thought it was a good idea because it allowed the movie version to use the parts of the novels it wanted without necessarily having to be slavishly devoted to the source material. It could serve as a nice entry point to the series for new fans while rewarding fans who read all seven installments — sometimes waiting what seemed like an eternity between books!
Alas, the new movie doesn’t quite achieve any of those results. Instead, it’s a film that feels too rushed for fans who enjoyed the book and unwelcoming to fans who have no idea what’s going on here. With a 90-minute run-time, the film barely has time to do any substantial world-building, something that the books did in spades. It also makes the misstep of having Roland function more as a supporting character than the centerpiece of the stories. Our central character is Jake. In the movie, Jake has a special “shine” to him* giving him dreams of Mid-World and the power to take down the Tower.
*One of many Easter Eggs to previous King works. Or else the movie makers are trying to annoy him by having this movie tied to Kubrick’s version of The Shining, which King is famously unhappy with.
While the movie makes Roland a supporting character, it also beefs up the role of the Man in Black, aka Walter. My guess is that they wanted to get a big name for the role, so we see and hear a lot more from the Man in Black as he works to destroy the tower and bring down the multi-verse. The role of Walter is played by Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughy. And man, can McConaughy chew the scenery. His character is supposed to be dark, sinister and foreboding. And yet, it never quite ends up that way.
Seems that Walter is using kids with “the shine” to try to bring down the Tower. His plan is to harness their energy and attack the Tower. And he’s pursuing Jake, even killing his mother and step-father along the way. I guess we’re supposed to find him bad because he can make you stop breathing by suggesting it and that he wears a lot of black.
I remember reading the first installment in the series, “The Gunslinger” and finding it to be a hard entry point to the series. It’s a very early novel by King and it doesn’t have the same story-telling assurance that some of his later works will. Things pick up quite a bit with “The Drawing of the Three,” which part of me hope that if we got another film, it might follow a similar pattern. But given that the film wasn’t a huge hit like another King adaptation that hit theaters this fall and I’m not holding my breath.
The movie picks and chooses bits from the novels seemingly at random. At one point, Roland is infected in a battle with a mysterious creature. In order to be cured, Jake brings him to his New York and gets him checked out a clinic. Roland gets painkillers and washes them down with soda. This follows a thread from “The Drawing of the Three” where Roland loses a finger and Jake gets him penicillin and soda. In the books, it’s a nice moment. In the movie, it feels like it’s thrown in to get a couple of chuckles.
I wanted to like the movie. But it just never quite all clicked for me.
And I guess I’m disappointed to see one of my favorite series won’t get the adaptation I hoped it would.
So, I guess that means I’ll have to re-read the books at some point. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, after all.