“The Tower Will Fall, Roland”: A Postmortem on “The Dark Tower” Film Adaptation

“You really think I’m gonna let you destroy the universe?”
“Be a lot cooler if you did.”

Adapting books into a visual medium like film is a very tricky gambit. Sometimes the filmmakers care very much about respecting the source material, resulting in cinematic masterpieces like To Kill a Mockingbird and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sometimes the filmmakers do care about the source material, but for one reason or another, they end up making a film that fails to do the book justice, like comic book legend Alan Moore’s work. But by far the worst thing any filmmaker can do is not care at all about the source material, which is what happened with such works as the Percy Jackson series, Eragon, and the subject of today’s review, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

Stephen King’s history with adaptations has always been rather spotty. It seems that for every good adaptation of his work (The Shining, Carrie, Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption), there’s a bad one lurking just behind it (Maximum Overdrive, Children of the Corn, Dreamcatcher, etc.). Perhaps nothing illustrates this dichotomy better than the two big adaptations that came out in the summer of 2017, namely The Dark Tower on August 4th and It on September 8th. Whereas the latter stands at the time of this writing with an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and rave reviews calling it one of the absolute best Stephen King adaptations, the former stands at only 16%, with many critics lambasting it as “wildly unfaithful and simplistic.” And honestly, as someone who read all eight books before the movie came out, I think they were right on the money.

Before I get into why, though, let me clear up a misconception often stated about this movie; Sony Entertainment (who distributed the film under their Columbia Pictures division) was not trying to condense the entire eight-book series (totaling 4,250 pages) into a single film running a measly 95 minutes. It was actually intended as a sequel to the books, which was made possible by how the end of the seventh and last book in the series revealed that protagonist Roland Deschain’s quest to find the tower was actually an extended cyclical time loop. In theory, this would have allowed the filmmakers to keep the story’s basic gist intact while having some license to change some elements around.

In execution, however, the film ends up a confusing mess haphazardly combining story elements from several different books in the series. Even though I’ve read the books, I still had trouble following what was going on, so I can only imagine what the film must feel like to someone who hasn’t read them.

The basic Lord of the Rings meets The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly premise of the books is kept intact. The gunslinger Roland Deschain roams an empty, post-apocalyptic fantasy world called All-World in a quest to find the Dark Tower, a universal linchpin that guards the universe against the primordial chaos. Roland believes that the Tower holds the secret to rebuilding his dying home. He has two main enemies that he faces in his quest. The first is an evil wizard called Randall Flagg (or the Man in Black/Walter O’Dim in the film), who seeks to control the Tower. The other is All-World’s despotic ruler, the Crimson King, who wants to destroy it. He is joined by several companions hailing from Earth in his quest, including Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean, and Father John Callahan.

However, the film seems to shift the focus away from Roland in favor of making his child companion from the first book, the aforementioned John “Jake” Chambers, into the main protagonist. This, I think, does a great disservice to Roland and his actor, Idris Elba. Granted, I think that Tom Taylor (Jake’s actor) is pretty good as far as child actors go, but I also think that more focus on Roland in his fantastical setting would have helped to better establish the unique universe that Stephen King set up in his books.

Of course, the fact that the film is only 95 minutes long certainly doesn’t help matters. You would think that a film in development hell for ten freaking years would have had at least a little more to offer us. This film definitely needed at least another twenty minutes to make it a proper introduction to the Dark Tower mythos.

One thing that definitely suffers from the minuscule run time is the main characters’ motivations. For example, Roland’s tragic backstory, which explains so much of his single-minded pursuit of the Tower and his need to save his decaying land, is very quickly glossed over in the film in a few short flashback sequences (most of which were re-shoots done after poorly received test screenings). We also receive no explanation as to why the Man in Black (played by Matthew McConaughey) wants to use the psychic energy he gathers from kidnapped children to destroy the Tower. The best we get is “Death always wins,” maybe suggesting an ultra-nihilistic viewpoint.

Furthermore, this is the complete opposite goal of his book counterpart. In the books, he wanted to seize control of the Tower and become a god. It was the Crimson King, who is directly related to the demonic creatures that live in the primordial chaos, who wants to destroy the Tower so he can rule over the chaos left in the void. What makes this even more confusing in the film is that at several points, we see graffiti declaring ALL HAIL THE CRIMSON KING, which just made me wonder where the hell he was supposed to fit into this mess if the filmmakers were going to make the Man in Black into a copy of him.

There were also several instances in the film where I thought that the book’s key terms were misused. For example, when a bolt of psychic energy strikes one of the energy beams that hold up the Tower, Roland refers to the event as a “beamquake.” In the books, however, a beamquake happens when one of the beams actually snaps, which, on top of leaving the Tower more vulnerable to collapse, results in the fiery destruction of any ground that lay in the path of the beam.

Another term I thought was misused was “taheen.” In the film, Roland uses it to refer to the half-human half-rat minions of the Man in Black hunting him and Jake down. However, in the books, the rat-men are referred to as “can-toi,” or “low men.” They are hybrids of humans and the taheen from the books, who are basically humanoid creatures with animal heads (very much like Egyptian gods in appearance) who are speculated to be the only supernatural beings left in All-World. The taheen in this film, however, are basically nothing more than generic evil minions.

Some other miscellaneous elements that didn’t make sense:

  • Roland’s character arc was stupid. He starts out being as nihilistic as the Man in Black, also thinking that the Tower’s going to fall one day anyway, so why bother protecting it? He now only seeks to kill the Man in Black for the sake of revenge. Except… wouldn’t that still be protecting the Tower? You know, killing the single biggest threat to its existence? Roland gets lectured more than once about putting revenge ahead of protecting the Tower. I don’t see how the two can be mutually exclusive in this case.
  • Speaking of things about Roland’s character that don’t make sense, what was the deal with him being immune to the Man in Black’s magic? It doesn’t really add anything to the story other than plot armor for Roland. The optimist in me wants to think that the writers may have had an explanation for this, but it’s probably more likely that they couldn’t figure out a better way to stop the Man in Black from just killing him on the spot.
  • At one point in the film, Roland sees a GEICO commercial featuring talking raccoons and asks Jake if the animals still speak in his world. This joke makes no sense even if you have read the books, because talking animals never show up. The closest we get (aside from the aforementioned can-toi and taheen) is Oy, a billy-bumbler (looks like a cross between a raccoon and a corgi) that Jake adopts as a pet in Book III, The Wasteland. Even then, his speaking abilities are no more developed than that of the average parrot, repeating simple words and syllables that he hears the rest of the team speaking.

There were elements of the film that I liked. While Idris Elba was a controversial pick since his character was white in the books, I personally thought he nailed the gruff personality of Roland Deschain, even if the script didn’t leave him much to work with. I also liked Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, even if he did steal the spotlight for the first half-hour, and the bonding scenes between him and Roland were a definite highlight. Matthew McConaughey was also clearly having a lot of fun playing the deliciously depraved Man in Black, and watching him snatch Roland’s bullets out of the air with his bare hands and kill people just by telling them to stop breathing was both entertaining and terrifying.

The visuals, I thought, were also well done. The portrayals of All-World in all its decaying glory were a lot like how I imagined them. The way the Dark Tower itself was portrayed in the film, soaring high above the clouds, definitely does justice to its status as the center of all reality. Finally, the action scenes were exciting to watch, even if the Man in Black’s death was a little too unrealistic. Seriously, how does a .45 caliber bullet wound to the head not leave any blood? (Speaking of which, the film really shouldn’t have been a PG-13 film. The books had a lot of foul language and bloody violence, as do most Stephen King books. Granted, the former wasn’t really present until Eddie Dean joined the team in book two, but still…)

In the end, I think my main problem with the film comes down to the execution. The world set up in the book series involves an order of Old West-style gunfighters descended from King Arthur and his Round Table knights (Roland’s revolvers are even fashioned from Excalibur’s blade) roaming a post-apocalyptic world that suffered a nuclear war so terrible that the world still hasn’t recovered thousands of years later, with magical and supernatural threats lurking around every corner. On top of all that, the laws of space and time are slowly unraveling due to the Crimson King’s constant attacks on the very Tower that is holding the universe together.

The film does justice to almost none of these elements. It takes a maddeningly pedestrian approach to everything in its unique and imaginative source material, treating it like nothing more than your average shoot ’em up action film, but with a supernatural twist.

I’ve read rumors on the Web that a follow-up series that Amazon is developing (originally a sequel series adapting Roland’s backstory as depicted in the fourth book, Wizard and Glass) will be revamped as a complete reboot of the franchise. I’ll wait for the series to air before I judge it (which might not be a while, since Amazon passed on the pilot in January). As for the film, I give it a 5 out of 10. It is a shame that the filmmakers made such a flat and uninspired film out of such vibrant and imaginative source material. To paraphrase Rotten Tomatoes: “Go then, there are better Stephen King adaptations than this.”

A Quick Update

I know there’s probably no one out there to read this yet, but I figured why the hell not because there’s a few more ground rules I want to set down before I truly get started on this blog.

First of all, I’m pretty sure I’ve completed most of the technical stuff. All I have left to do is to figure out how to purchase SSL certification and change my password away from the automatically generated one I’ve been using since I purchased the domain. I’m sort of at a loss as to where I’m supposed to find SSL certification, mostly because I’m not sure if I want a free SSL or a dedicated one that I’ll have to pay money for. I may need to consult with my parents on this one.

As for the Dark Tower review, I’ve been a bit too busy lately to focus any attention on it. The technical stuff with the blog has been a major reason for this. Another big reason is that it’s that time at the end of the month where all the big streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are purging certain titles from their rosters, which means I’m trying to watch as many of the ones being deleted from my queue as I can before they expire at the end of the month. I don’t even know what’s leaving Netflix yet, since they usually warn me only a week ahead of time (i.e. the day after the time of this writing) as opposed to Hulu, which gives me a two week warning.

Still, Amazon says the Dark Tower movie is free to watch on their site if I sign up for a 14-day free trial, so that should be easy. True, it will probably mean supporting the eldritch monstrosity that Jeff Bezos built, but no worries. I’m sure Bernie will win the election and lay some long overdue ass-kicking on those capitalist pigs, right? Right!?

I’m warning you, Vlad, don’t fuck this up for us!

Let Me Introduce Myself

Pictured: me, introducing myself

Hello, Internet.

I’m a twenty-something New Yorker on the autism spectrum who has decided to take up blogging to make up for his inability actually to say what he thinks needs to be said. I have opinions have I, for one reason or another, do not feel comfortable expressing verbally. Also, for someone who has graduated from college with a Bachelor’s in creative writing, I don’t feel like I’ve done much writing as I would like since I left that broken mess America dares to call an education system in December of 2018. Well, aside from that fantasy novel I’ve been trying to develop for the last few years now. But we’ll talk more about that later.

For now, I’ll just say that I am simultaneously excited and terrified to be undertaking this journey. I’m excited because putting myself out there could potentially open up new opportunities for me. But I’m also terrified because, as someone on the autism spectrum, I have a natural paranoia about how people may react to what I have to say. Still, I’m a big believer in taking risks, even if I’m not exactly the most spontaneous person out there in my normal life. So, here I go, I guess.

First of all, let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I’m sort of on the border between the millennial and Generation Z divide. I was born in the mid-90s to a very normal, albeit conservative Christian family in northern New York. My life has been fairly unremarkable on the whole, with very little drama to speak of. Many of my problems have come more from my Asperger syndrome than not. I got through Pre-K down to college without any difficulties (outside of… shudder… math). My home life has been very stable, barring the usual spats with my siblings when I was younger. Besides the Asperger’s, I was a pretty normal young boy obsessed with normal young boy things like dinosaurs, classic rock, and action-adventure movies.

Basically, I’m here on Blogspot to make as much use as I can out of my creative writing degree, or at least feel like I am. There are quite a few subjects I’m interested in talking about on here. I’m not sure if I’m going to talk about all of them on just this blog or if I might make use of the two-website deal I got with the hosting company that made this blog possible in the first place. But I’ll figure that out later. Let’s talk about interests.

  1. Arts and Entertainment

I know, big surprise, a creative writing major likes to talk about art. Well, maybe not talk, because I don’t have many friends, and my family’s tastes and mine barely overlap, but anyway…

I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music, film, television, literature, etc. My favorite genres are action-adventure, fantasy, science fiction, Western, and historical/war dramas. In music, my big three are country, rock, and metal, although I also like a little Celtic folk, new age, classical, and soundtrack music on the side.

My biggest love in the entertainment world right now, though, is definitely animation. I think the biggest reason I’ve been obsessed with this medium since high school is because, at least in my home country, animation has had this stigma for at least half a century that it is only a genre of children’s entertainment, which is really annoying, because animation, in both mine and many other’s opinions, has the ability to take stories in places where it is literally impossible for live-action entertainment to go. I do think that this “Animation Age Ghetto,” as TV Tropes calls it, is finally starting to die off, but I still think we have a long way to catch up to Japan as far as that is concerned.

You can probably expect me to try my hand at reviewing some of my favorite and least favorite pieces of entertainment. However, I may be somewhat limited in this regard since I’m not financially independent from my parents. For example, I have been interested in checking out the filmographies of what some might call more “arthouse” directors like Terrence Malick, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Ingmar Bergman, but their films are not readily available on the streaming sites my family currently uses (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime). The latter does offer an app on their service based around the Criterion Collection, though that has gotten a few complaints from users saying that it needs the latest model of Firestick or something like that to work.

Oh, Jeff Bezos, why do you have to be such a money-grubbing asswipe?

And that’s not including all the independent foreign animated features that I want to check out. Still, if one of the greatest dinosaur movies of all time taught us, “Life finds a way.”

2. Personal Stuff

This part covers stuff like my struggles with ASD, as well as my fiction writing. I may discuss how I’ve coped with my developmental disabilities and try to dismiss some myths that have been spread about people on the autism spectrum over the years.

I will also discuss my fiction writing projects, both past and present. I’m especially eager to discuss the biggest project I’m working on, a fantasy saga that I’ve tentatively titled The Divine Conspiracy. The story is an epic urban fantasy narrative centering on Peter Banks, an agent for a secret society that investigates paranormal phenomena, and his fraternal twin children, Ariel and Ronan, who inherited magical powers from their mother, a succubus who was sent from Hell to murder Peter but fell in love with him instead. After their mother is hunted down and murdered by the evil forces she abandoned, the twins decide to join the secret society, helping their father hunt down malignant supernatural entities while searching for answers about the true nature of their powers, trying to stop a new war between the forces of light and dark from destroying the world as we know it, and confronting temptation, existential dread, and questions about the nature of God, the Universe, and their own seemingly insignificant place in it.

I’ll try to keep you posted to see how that goes… that is if it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own ambition first. My plan so far is to post my fiction writing to DeviantArt, but that could change at some point as well, so, as I said, I’ll keep you posted. Oh, and speaking of the paranormal…

3. The Supernatural

This category should be rather self-explanatory. One of my childhood obsessions was ghosts, cryptozoology, and other such urban legends. Basically, anything that may be the subject of stories that begin with, “Once I knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy who knew this guy…”

…who knew this guy’s cousin

Nowadays, I am a bit more skeptical about such fantastical claims as lake monsters and government cover-ups of UFO activity…

Seriously, Loch Ness is only 22 square miles. Why is finding Nessie this difficult?

…but I’m still not entirely convinced that all supernatural occurrences can be explained by mere misfires of the human brain or wayward woodland critters. Maybe it’s because I’m a pretty spiritual person, but I have a hard time believing that the material world we see before us is really all there is.

While I will be talking about paranormal phenomena in this category, I do wish to also shed some light on what the skeptics also have to say since I do feel like they are somewhat neglected by the often sensationalist media of our day and age.

4. Religion and Spirituality

Whereas I would refer to the paranormal phenomena in the previous category as micro-level, or physical, here is where we talk about the supernatural on a macro or metaphysical level. Well, technically the former can’t really be called physical since ghosts are (possibly) the souls of dead people who didn’t move on, and UFOs could be coming from completely different universes than ours that may not have the same type of matter as we do… never mind, I digress.

First of all, let me explain my personal beliefs. As I said above, I grew up in a Christian family. From roughly until college, I was a pretty orthodox Christian who went to church every Sunday (although my childhood obsession with dinosaurs pretty much destroyed any chance I had of becoming a creationist). While I still am a regular churchgoer, in all honesty, I only remain Christian inasmuch as I believe that Jesus was a divine messenger of God. This is mainly because, even though the people at my church are fairly good and honest, I became aware of things like the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and the right-wing fundamentalism eating away at my country’s liberties as I grew older.

I also became interested in how other religions worked as I grew older, and increasingly became skeptical that Christianity was the only true religion. These doubts only grew more strong as I looked up the various spiritualities grouped under the category of Western esotericism, like Hermeticism, Kabbalah, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Neopaganism, and Gnosticism, an early form of Christian faith that is probably closest to the beliefs I have now.

Except maybe the part about the evil lion-snake god thing. At least on a literal level.

If you are sitting there at your computer with a confused look on your face, don’t worry. Since Western esotericism is, by its very definition, esoteric, I will probably have a lot to say about that subject. I’ll also examine the more mainstream religions of our time like Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and others, maybe debunking myths about them here, talking about how they influenced my beliefs there, or talking about how my research into the esoteric influenced The Divine Conspiracy.

Before you say anything, I know talking about religion on the Internet is major flamebait. But wait until you see what I have to say about my final category…

5. Politics

Yes, yes, I know. I can hear you groaning from your own keyboards as I type this. But if there is one thing about autistic people like myself that is true above all others, it’s that we are slaves to our passions. And trust me, I’ve become extremely passionate about politics ever since this brain-dead fascist pig somehow failed his way upward into the White House.

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A Russian spy, a sexual predator, and a billionaire walk into a bar…

At the risk of sounding like an unoriginal bastard with this Bill Hicks paraphrase, it’s not that I disagree with Trump’s policies or anything like that. It’s just that I think he’s the spawn of Satan sent to ruin everything that’s actually great about America to enrich himself and his billionaire cronies while leaving the rest of us to suffer and die, either by climate change, targeting by white supremacist skinheads, or from a hail of bullets in our schools because the NRA has convinced us that the right to bear arms extends to military-style assault rifles!

*takes a deep breath* Yeah, I’m just slightly to the left when it comes to these issues.

It wasn’t always this way, though. Like I said above, my family was and still is, politically conservative, and that definitely rubbed off on me during my high school years. There was even a time when I watched Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News every day at 5 until he left to form the Blaze. However, even during the days when I was farthest right, I still had a hard time with the right-wing views on abortion, LGBTQ+ issues, and the environment (even if I was on the climate change denial bandwagon a while).

By the time I graduated from college, I was calling myself a libertarian, mostly because while I believed in things like feminism, gay rights, and systemic racism in the law enforcement system, I still believed that these problems could still be solved within the parameters of free-market capitalism. However, I think in reality I was what author Robert Anton Wilson would call a “frightened anarchist,” because it wasn’t long before I discovered several left-wing channels on YouTube like Contrapoints, Innuendo Studios, Renegade Cut, and Philosophy Tube that advocated for an end to capitalism in favor of a more egalitarian leftist system. Still, it wasn’t until I read the book After Capitalism by Dada Mahesvarananda that I decided to become a libertarian socialist.

So yeah, if it hasn’t become clear to you by this point, let me state this as plainly as I can… I CANNOT FUCKING STAND DONALD J. TRUMP OR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!

I think they are only interested in obtaining as much power as they can for themselves by giving tax cuts to the rich, letting them hide as much money as they can in offshore tax havens while leaving next to nothing for the poor or middle class. That way, they can insulate themselves from the worst effects of the climate change they created while leaving us to fight for scraps of food in the barren hellscape they left behind for us. They insist that hard work alone determines how well you do in life, even as the capitalist system leaves minorities in squalor. Most rich people these days only become rich via inheritance.

They also tend to be fundamentalist Christians who I think are letting the world descend into war-torn chaos because they are convinced that Jesus’ second coming is imminent, so what’s the point of fixing our broken systems if our lord and savior is going to rapture us all to Heaven anyway? Well, except enforce apartheid in Israel because Muslims aren’t God’s chosen people.

And no wonder! Just look at these filthy devil-worshiping heathens! Those Popsicles are dyed with the blood of Christians!

I could go on and on about how much I hate what my country is becoming, but I think I’ve gone on long enough. I’ll end here by saying that I’ll be using this category to explain to people all the problems with both Donald Trump and the Republican Party, why the left doesn’t want to literally turn the United States into a carbon copy of the U.S.S.R., and, probably most important at the time I’m writing this, why you absolutely need to vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the next election!

Also, if you live in Kentucky, please, please, PLEASE vote for Amy McGrath instead of this obstructionist asshole.

In Conclusion

So, yeah, that’s what you can expect from this blog.

Like I said above, I’m a little bit scared to open myself up like this, especially since I’ve never told my family before this about my real feelings about Trump and conservatism as a whole. Still, I know I can’t keep it a secret forever, and I can’t let my fears get in the way of getting my feelings out there.

If you’re wondering what I’ll be writing about first on this blog, I may look through some of the papers I wrote for my writing classes in college and write pieces based on those. For example, I think I may start with a movie review I wrote for a magazine writing class comparing the 2017 film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower with the book series it was based on, explaining how, in my opinion, the film failed to capture the spirit of the books.

I’m not sure when I will be posting that, though, because 1) I would like to figure out how to see the film again before I rewrite the essay so I can be sure my criticisms are accurate…

Although reading all eight books took me 4 1/2 months the first time, so fuck that!

…and 2) I still have a lot of technical stuff to do on my blog before it’s fully ready for action. I still have to upload plugins, purchase SSL certification, figure out how to set up a mailing list, Google Analytics, social media marketing, etc. Still, my aim is about one completed piece a week, posted every Saturday. Also, as you might be able to ascertain from some of the language I’ve used, especially in the more political parts of this writing, I’m not exactly shy about using profanity, so parents, be strongly cautioned!

It’s going be a lot of work, for sure, but still, I have a feeling it will all be worth it in the end.