Stephen King’s magnum opus series The Dark Tower was given the big screen treatment last month when it was unveiled to fans and non fans alike. I’ll be honest, I have no interest in seeing the film, much less dusting off books from a shelf to get into the series. So instead I decided to sit down with two good friends to dissect their thoughts after seeing THE DARK TOWER. Michael hasn’t really been exposed to the world of THE DARK TOWER prior to the film, while Cory is a super fan of the book series… Let’s chat!
So coming out of seeing THE DARK TOWER, I guess this question’s for both of you, did you like the movie?
CORY: Mixed feelings.
Alright, let’s delve into it. Michael, let’s start by hearing your first impression of the film as a mere viewer and then compare it to Cory, who’s read the whole series.
M: Compared to him, he’s a huge fan. I’ve never read any of the books. I’ve hung out with him to know enough about them. It did not meet my expectations. Also, why the hell was Matthew McConaughey air bending? That’s not how Stephen King writes. He writes in a way that makes things subtle. This movie was just like another Avatar fanbase.
So what you’re saying is you don’t believe it was true to Stephen King’s writing style?
M: Noooo. If Stephen King saw it, he’d be like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just go back to drinking!’
C: Stephen King has said himself that he doesn’t dislike the movie. He kind of approves of it. He vouches for the movie. Some people think that he’s contractually obliged to say nothing bad about the movie.
That’s a thought. And Michael, was there anything you wish was different about it, as a viewer not really knowing much about the books?
M: There was too much exposition. There wasn’t enough introduction into the world of The Dark Tower, or therefore, worlds of The Dark Tower. What I was expecting the entire time was to have at least a moment to explain what The Dark Tower is. It is the connection of all worlds, including our own in every fictional world Stephen King has created. But it just becomes this maguffin. It’s just this thing in the distance that you have to save… ‘Suuure, I’ll do that!’ Well, why do you have to save it? Because the world will end. Why will the world end? Because it is literally a construct of every world. For all I know, it’s literally just this black spiky thing in the distance.
C: To be fair, as far as the books go, a lot of the book series is just, ‘ Why do we have to reach The Dark Tower?’ Because it’s gonna fall. It’s the maguffin through most of the book series.
M: So I would have the exact same criticism if I were to have read the first six books.
C: He doesn’t really go into why The Dark Tower matters until after book four, it seems.
So do you think it did the series justice going the film route and squeezing good amounts of text into this average time frame of film?
M: Oh, nooo. It needed so much more time. You needed time to get used to the characters. I almost didn’t believe that his mom died, because well, why do I give a shit about his mom? I’ve known her for thirteen seconds…
It seems like there’s a lack of emotional investment, by what you’re saying.
M: Exactly! There wasn’t enough to get attached to the characters.
C: As far as the time frame goes, Stephen King had like, thirty years, 4,500 pages, and seven books to work all this stuff out and to fit all of these answers to questions in. The movie had 95 minutes. The movie isn’t supposed to be a stand alone movie. Ninety-five minutes is nowhere near enough time for an intro to The Dark Tower. It’s long enough for an intro to it, but not enough to explain to an audience what it is.
M: One of the reasons I love Stephen King is that he’s a master of getting you into their world with detail. He describes every scene so perfectly. It’s like I can mentally see everything there is to this world. It’s wonderful! For this movie, I think it would be a much better medium to have it as a series. With the movie, you are rushed. The director basically made this movie knowing they’d have to cut time. The point of any story is to convey a feeling, and there’s no way to instill a feeling if there is not enough time for that feeling to exist.
So Michael, would you someday take a shot at the book series, even after this viewing?
M: Good question! I drive a lot, I work a lot, and I have an audio book subscription I need to use! So it is on my list.
Good deal. So Cory, I’ll ask you this now, how was the film viewing it as a fan of the book series?
C: Hit and miss. There was a lot of stuff in the movie that I really liked seeing referenced, like with Maerlyn’s Rainbow, Matthew McConaughey basically controls unlimited power. There was a lot of really cool stuff that I got a lot more out of than I think the non-book fan would have gotten, just because I knew what they were referencing.
M: Yea, the thing is, I’m not making fun of Stephen King, or The Dark Tower. I’m making fun of the person who wrote that. Whoever wrote the script, because really, man? Like I said earlier, the point of any Stephen King story is subtlety.
C: Well, one of the biggest things I had issue with was that in the book series, and in all of Stephen King’s books that have this same antagonist, everything he does that’s not natural is extremely subtle. The extent of his powers basically manifests as the lady thought she had a knife strapped to her arm instead of a fucking banana, and he took advantage of that. This whole, “Stop breathing! I can control glass now,” wasn’t the deep-felt mind fuck that Stephen King is known for.
M: Matthew McConaughey glass bending, err, breath bending, as opposed to the example of him turning a knife into a banana, is that it’s entirely possible that that girl just wasn’t prepared enough, and she actually brought a banana with her.
C: In the book series, and in King’s other works, the antagonist is more of an illusionist. He messes with your perception as opposed to actually controlling glass or catching bullets. He wants to convince you that he could, but won’t do it. Some of the only times that Roland misses his shots in the book, are against the Man in Black. The Man in Black doesn’t catch the bullets. Yea, it makes for cool cinematography. It looked badass. I will say, one thing this movie had going for it, is all of the gun fights were kick ass, but they didn’t have this finesse, I guess. It’s all perception-based. It was made to try and capture as big of an audience as possible.
M: It didn’t have the same feeling. You could tell it was made without the same heart in mind. It was made for a paying audience. It wasn’t made for a loving fan base.
M: Maybe I’m not the average moviegoer, maybe I’m just a cynic. I didn’t like the movie. I even tried to take myself out of expecting a lot from it. As someone who’s never read the books, as someone who’s watched enough movies to kind of tell what is a good movie and what isn’t, it was just a good action movie for a total of twelve minutes within it. It didn’t know where it wanted to be on the spectrum of a children’s movie where your imagination can run wild, and an adult movie where just everyone must die. It followed as a movie and that was it. It was a literal movie, and that’s all it’s got going for it.
C: I felt like the movie followed as a movie well. It wasn’t a groundbreaking kind of thing. I could at least follow what was going on, even removing myself from knowing all the references as much as I can. The movie didn’t touch the books. I felt like given another few movies or a tv series, it could touch the books.
So there’s word they’re producing a television series based on book four of THE DARK TOWER series, Wizard and Glass, which covers the origin story of the gunslinger and the formal introduction to the whole world.
C: I always prefer the tv series format to the movie format. From my understanding, they’re planning on doing the kind of stuff that happened way in the past from the books, and the “present,” as the movies. Book four deals with all of the past, and it is the most divisive book in the series. People either love that book or they hate it. But doing it that way would allow people to follow the movie series. Then, if they cared more about this backstory, they can watch the tv series.
M: I feel like I could get into that, if it were executed as a tv series. If it’s done as a movie, I refuse to watch that. There is a difference between taking time, getting into your characters and your world, and then milking it for all it’s worth. That’s why I’m sometimes worried about spin offs.
Briefly, what are your thoughts on the acting in this one? There was some good hype going around that Idris Elba was about the only redeeming factor of the film.
C: The acting was great, I felt. Idris Elba did a wonderful job. He will save anything.
M: It’s not the acting that got me out of it, I feel like the actors themselves did the best they could with what they were given. Idris was awesome.
We can all agree on this. So back to the idea of a cross-platform universe… In the world of the films right now, how did it backtrack to the book’s narrative?
C: Basically, this is not a retelling of the books. This is a new story. It’s a new story with the same characters. It’s not even an adaptation. It has things from the books, but it is not the books.
M: It’s the same intellectual properties. Same characters. Just new plot.
And bringing it to the big screen, good idea or bad idea? Let’s keep in mind the people who are viewing the film with no prior exposure to the world of THE DARK TOWER.
C: If it gets more people interested in the series, it’s always a good idea. If someone went into this and thought, “That has a lot of potential. I need to read the books,” Great idea. More people need to read the series. I cannot stress it enough. This is my favorite book series. It is phenomenal!
M: I guess that’s a good point, because you know there is some nerd out there who’s like,”You know, I’ve been meaning to read The Dark Tower. Oh! They’re making a Dark Tower. I might as well read the entire book series before the movie comes out!” That person was probably disappointed.
C: They were probably really disappointed in the movie, but really happy to have read the book series.
We’ll wrap it up with final thoughts .
M: You physically cannot expect the book to give you the same feeling as the movie, simply because of the format. Because when you read a book, because of how it works, you are in the book! Your brain does the visual screenings for you, basically. With the movie, I have to deal with what they think everything looks like.
C: I’m hoping in ten year’s time when more movies and the tv series have been released, we’ll be able to look back on all this and see that “Oh, this is how it all makes sense.” It makes sense in context of everything. Movies rely on two senses: your sight and your sound. There is nothing past those in a movie. With a book, you can go into detail on every little aspect of the taste of the air, the smell, everything. You get the feeling that you’re in a world that does not want to live anymore.