If you are a fan of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, you no doubt felt a bit of a beamquake earlier today and there is good cause. The heathens behind the very long awaited film adaptation of King’s magnum opus have now given fans even more to be nervous about when it comes to the Hollywood treatment of the material. So very much more. Not only has King officially announced the casting of Roland, the last gunslinger in a world that has moved on, but more has been revealed about the direction of the first movie which, by and large, is not great. As those who have completed the series will remember, King once gave you a chance to turn back before learning the horrible truth. Constant Readers, here is your chance.
Let’s start with the casting news. For months, rumors surrounding the involvement of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as Roland and his nemesis, The Man in Black, respectively, have swirled and this morning, The God in the Machine himself, Stephen King, has confirmed the casting:
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 1, 2016
Now, those words “the man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed” should be enough to inspire goosebumps, and always are, but the inclusion of Elba as Roland is troubling. In the story, Roland draws his companions from various points in time in our world, and one of those companions is the ferocious and deadly Detta Walker, whose dynamic with the gunslinger is based on pure bigotry and racism. Detta, an African American woman drawn from New York in the midst of the civil rights movement, instantly detests Roland, referring to him as a “honkey mahfah”, in addition to plenty of other racial slurs. Her hatred of Roland and another of his companions, a heroin addict by the name of Eddie Dean, is a key piece of the dynamic that eventually leads to more than a friendship, more than family; it leads to a ka-tet. Taking away this key dynamic changes the story drastically. King, for his part, doesn’t seem too concerned with the casting, while he does repeat that Clint Eastwood was originally Roland in his mind. Speaking with EW, King had this to say:
I visualized Eastwood as Roland. I loved the Spaghetti Westerns and all those widescreen close-ups of his face, especially the ones where he’d been left out in the desert and was all covered with blisters and sunburn. I thought, ‘That’s my Roland.’
There is little doubt that the fans would agree that 1970’s Eastwood definitely held those sandlewood pistol grips while the story played out in their minds. Sure, Clint is a bit long in the tooth these days but, hey, Hollywood! Have you seen Scott Eastwood? Just asking. King continued:
As the years went by, he became a more particular individual in my own mind. He wasn’t Eastwood anymore. He was just … Roland. For me the character is still the character. It’s almost a Sergio Leone character, like ‘the man with no name. He can be white or black, it makes no difference to me. I think it opens all kind of exciting possibilities for the backstory.
Of course, King, while a brilliant novelist, has a bit of a history of letting his characters become shadows of their corresponding novel counterparts once television or movie adaptations have been optioned. Remember, this is the same man who was fully behind the television adaptation of Under the Dome. Sure, his reasoning would make sense with almost any other character in the novel but Roland…Not quite so much. Director Nikolaj Arcel seems to take a similar stance as King, of course:
Some fans are asking, understandably, ‘What about the racial tension? But as the story progresses that will be made clear, how we’ll deal with all those things.
Perhaps the story may make up for this bit of casting but chances are, things are going to get worse before they get better. Oh, wait. Things are a bit worse, already. Before we get to the worse, though, we may as well offer Elba’s and McConaughey’s Twitter responses to the announcement which, in fairness, are perfect:
— Matthew McConaughey (@McConaughey) March 1, 2016
Alright, before the other shoe drops, let’s give credit where credit is due: Matthew McConaughey is going to be an amazing Man in Black. Alright, time to get to that other shoe.
As fans have tracked the progress of the story on the road to the big screen, the project has changed many times and has taken many forms. However, in each of these forms, the saga was expected to be kicked off by the first book in the eight book series, The Gunslinger. After all, The Gunslinger tells the story of Roland and how he was tricked by The Man in Black into an early test of manhood, which led him to become the youngest gunslinger born. The first book introduces readers to the man that boy grew to be: an obsessed creature who will stop at nothing to reach his goal, the Dark Tower, which stands at the center of existence. In the first novel, Jake Chambers, somewhat of a surrogate son to Roland, is found, then lost, revealing the gunslinger’s true soul and the depth of his need to reach the Tower. Readers are taken to the town of Tull, where the gunslinger manages to face an entire town that attempts to destroy him. In other words, The Gunslinger is the perfect beginning because, well, it’s the beginning. So, of course the movies would begin with this perfect introduction, right? Not so much.
According to King:
[The movie] starts in media res, in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning, which may upset some of the fans a little bit, but they’ll get behind it, because it is the story.
Arcel supplied that “[a] lot of it takes place in our day, in the modern world.”. So, rather than start new Dark Tower audiences at the beginning, so that they too can build the relationships readers of the series have enjoyed, the film plans on dumping theater-goers right into the middle of the tale? This makes absolutely no sense and it seems that with every tidbit of news that happens to trickle out about this production points to disaster. If Arcel is referring to modern day New York, the closest the stories get would be in the final two books of the tale, Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower. If that is where the story is to begin on screen, how can new audiences understand the bond between Oy and Jake? Why on Earth would Hollywood discard such a brilliant villain as Blaine the Mono? Why, for that matter, would Hollywood add a completely new villain to the tale, rather than trying to respect the source material, which is rife with useable characters? As the production continues, this project just gets further and further from the dream that Dark Tower fans have had for their beloved tale and (ready for the worst news?) there is still almost another year until the January 13, 2017, release date.
Are you a Dark Tower fan? Are you still excited about this project or should it just go the way of Shardik?