dark tower roland jake

The Waste Lands

In 2007, Stephen King told an audience at New York Comic Con that Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams would be bringing his fantasy epic series The Dark Tower to life. King had resisted selling off the film rights to the series for some time, stating “I didn’t think much of the chances of it being a good movie.” Perhaps he should’ve continue to listen to that instinct.

Lindelof and Abrams were unable to crack The Dark Tower, and eventually Ron Howard took over the project. Howard’s involvement saw a plan to make both a film trilogy and TV mini-series events to encapsulate the vast mythology created in King’s books.

This, too, doesn’t come to fruition.

Filmmaking duties eventually fell to A Royal Affair helmer Nikolaj Arcel, who finally got the film made, but not altogether smoothly. According a report in Variety, three early test screenings of Arcel’s film were a disaster, with test audiences unable to understand the film’s interpretation of King’s admittedly wonky mythology.

The fault’s of The Dark Tower film aren’t Arcel’s alone, although Arcel’s direction does leave much to be desired. What truly sinks the film is the flimsy screenplay from Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner Anders, Thomas Jensen and Arcel. Of course, there’s a good chance the script was much more in-depth and much of it was cut to deliver the bare bones 95 minute film that hit theaters last week, but as-is, it leaves much to be desired.

And, strangely enough, it ignores almost everything that made the source material so special.

King’s books contain some rather complex mythology – mythology that was always going to be difficult to translate to film. But The Dark Tower doesn’t even seem to make an attempt at doing so. Instead, it’s like a lifeless Cliffs Notes take on the material, or a Wikipedia entry loaded with [citation needed] sentences.

In The Dark Tower’s defense, some internet marketing for the film did try to address this jettisoning of familiar source material by hinting that this wasn’t an adaptation of the book,s but rather a sequel to them. A pretty big spoiler for The Dark Tower books follows, so if you’ve never gotten around to reading them and plan on it, maybe skip ahead. Then again, this is a spoiler review, so what else did you expect?

The Dark Tower Trailer Breakdown 49

The last book in the series, The Dark Tower, ends with the shocking, devastating reveal that Roland, who has spent the entire book series on a quest to reach the Dark Tower, has already reached it dozens of times before. And every time he reaches it, he’s forced through a door that drops him right back at the start of the story, his memory of the journey erased, cursed to re-live it all again.

Before the film’s release, King posted an image on Twitter of the Horn of Eld, a horn that has been in Roland’s family for generations. Roland abandoned the horn in a battle that took place long before The Dark Tower books began, and the books hint that his journey would’ve been vastly different had he had the horn. At the end of The Dark Tower (the book), when Roland is forced to start his journey all over again, he is now in possession of the horn. The image King tweeted has the words “Last Time Around” emblazoned across it. In other words, the films are perhaps Roland’s final journey – this time, perhaps, when he reaches the Tower, he won’t be forced to start all over again.

But here’s the thing: the film never even mentions the damn horn. I don’t even think they show it, once. Again, there’s a good chance there’s a wealth of deleted scenes, and perhaps there we get a glimpse of the horn. But the film that hit theaters neglects it entirely. And even if we want to assume that this film is just another journey for Roland – a sequel instead of a straight adaptation – why would things be so drastically different this time? Why ignore whole sections of the books?

Dreadful reviews were not enough to keep eager fans away from The Dark Tower’s opening weekend, but the film took in a meager $19.5M, and word of mouth is likely going to kill it off. As of now, Sony is still talking about sequels, and there’s still a plan to create a TV series spin-off. The source material is, after all, ripe for the type of “cinematic universe” that execs salivate over. But one can’t help but think of the recently launched, instantly unpleasant Universal monsters “Dark Universe”, which kicked-off with the abysmal The Mummy. Once again, the lesson seems to be that you shouldn’t launch your cinematic universe if you have yet to nail the first installment.

So far, no one involved with The Dark Tower movie has lobbed the tepid “We made this for the fans!” defense, probably because they know the film clearly doesn’t care much about the fans. If it did, it wouldn’t have completely ignored the things that made fans fall in love with King’s books to begin with. And while it may be heartbreaking to some who have waited for so long to finally see a Dark Tower film only to end up with this rot, perhaps there’s some comfort to be had in words that King himself once said.

“There was a college freshman who came to interview James M. Cain towards the end of his life,” King said in a 2006 interview. “And this guy came and sat down with Cain, and the first thing that he said was, he moaned about how the movies had ruined all James M. Cain’s books. Cain said, ‘No, they haven’t, young fella; they’re all right behind me,’ and pointed at the shelf in the back of the room. And that’s true, they’re all there so…I think it’s hard to ruin a book because they’re still up on shelves.”

The Dark Tower film may have been an instant disappoint, but as long as King’s books remain up on the shelves, the Tower will never fall.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net