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‘The Dark Tower’: Why It Was a Missed Opportunity and How the Franchise Could Redeem Itself

After underperforming at the box office and facing bad reviews, does Stephen King's magnum opus still have some life left in it?

Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) in Columbia Pictures' THE DARK TOWER.

“The Dark Tower”

Ilze Kitshoff

The perspective of the movie through Jake’s eyes wasn’t a fundamental concern to me. Why? Because Jake’s perspective is the most logical one to begin exploring the gunslinger’s world. He’s a normal, boring kid who happens upon a completely bizarre alternate dimension. You could read the whole movie as his extended daydream. And that’s exactly what it is in “The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands,” King’s third book, in which Jake has to grapple with the fact that he actually died once before in Mid-World because of a decision the gunslinger made, and winds up being drawn by those confusing memories to a gateway that brings him back to Mid-World again. It’s a riveting journey through King’s prose that’s unquestionably rushed in the movie, and less exciting as a result.

I would agree that, as it stands, Jake’s just not an exciting character; given the various liberties taken with this adaptation, it would’ve been worthwhile to consider other ways of updating him, perhaps by altering his gender or race. We’ve just seen so many supernatural stories about young white kids in peril that the optics are underwhelming now.

“The Dark Tower”

Sony

At the end of the day, I think the failure of “The Dark Tower” is its starting point. The universe is massive, but King built it piece by piece, and the movie feels like an unwieldy brain dump. As a long-form narrative, it begs for the episodic approach, and I wish it would’ve started there. But since the TV series is still in the cards, there is a real chance for “The Dark Tower” to redeem itself — unless, of course, everyone who couldn’t stand the movie won’t give it a chance. Will you?

KATE: As ambitious as the TV series elements sounds — especially in the wake of a mostly disappointing box office result over the weekend — I think that’s the story I’m most interested in seeing, and likely the one that would make me more interested in picking up the books for a deeper dive.

Read More ‘The Dark Tower’ Review: Stephen King’s Magnum Opus Is Now a Disaster of a Film

King and director Nikolas Arcel have been clear about the way the series is meant to function in relation to the films (which are ostensibly being built as “sequels” to the book series), with the show aiming to be “totally canon” and dramatizing the action of King’s books in a more faithful, and obviously more wide-ranging, manner. Much like the choice to tell the story through Jake’s eyes, I think the film’s economical runtime — under 100 minutes! — is a concept that sounds great by design and totally flounders in execution. There’s no way that a single film could encapsulate the bulk of what King has designed in his self-professed magnum opus, but 95 minutes of action was hardly enough to hook me into the story or to telegraph the scope and stakes at hand. A TV series which hews closer to the original vision? That could do it.

Which makes me think that launching the film first might have been the biggest misstep of all. Why not test the waters with a season of the show, then dive into so-called sequel waters with a big, crazy movie?

ERIC: Sure, but in the meantime, a little homework for anyone who has yet to watch “The Dark Tower” and remains curious: Take a stab at King’s books, as well as the vibrant comic book series that Marvel put out several years ago. They’re actually complimentary to a movie that struggles — valiantly, in my estimation — to juggle way too many ingredients at once.

But that’s why I welcome it. Yes, it’s uneven, a little silly, and often not as exciting as the material should be. However, it’s also a brazen attempt to make something totally different from the usual superhero routine, a genre hodgepodge that I bet would’ve played decently on the genre circuit if it had come from another country and didn’t bear the burden of expectations that the King brand always does. It’s just a weird, unpredictable ride. I’ll admit its adapted life has endured a rocky start, but I’m holding out hopes for the next chapter.

“The Dark Tower” is currently in theaters.

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