The Big Picture
The Dark Tower film serves as a sequel to the original Dark Tower books, allowing for a new story that doesn’t completely overwrite the source material. Matthew McConaughey’s character in the film connects The Dark Tower to other works by Stephen King, reflecting the multiverse within King’s fictional universe. Despite star power and King’s approval, The Dark Tower film was a critical and commercial disappointment, with a short running time and missed opportunities to explore Roland’s journey.
There are very few constants in this world, but adaptations of Stephen King’s work are definitely one of them. The author’s had a prolific set of novels that have been adapted into multiple films and television series across the years, to varying degrees of success. Some are highly regarded, like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (despite King’s well-founded hatred of the film). Others, like The Tommyknockers, have been consigned to the dust bin of memory. No matter the text being adapted it will split viewers down the middle, whether you’re a dedicated movie lover or a fan of King’s work. A large part of this is due to the fact that most of these adaptations veer sharply away from the source material, and that trend continued with 2017’s The Dark Tower.
The Dark Tower was unique among King adaptations for a number of reasons. It was based on the series that King considered to be his “magnum opus”, mainly because of its vast connections to his other work. It had legit star power in the form of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Most importantly, it served as the culmination of a decades-long effort to bring The Dark Tower to the screen as everyone from J.J. Abrams to Ron Howard had taken a stab at trying to secure the film rights. But what makes the film special is the fact that it actually serves as a sequel of sorts to the actual Dark Tower books.
The Dark Tower Film Leans Into The Multiversal Connections Of The Original Novel
Image via Marvel
The main plot of The Dark Tower centers on Roland Deschain, the last of the warriors known as the “Gunslingers”. Supernaturally skilled with guns, Deschain has been in hard pursuit of Walter O’Dim, aka the Man in Black – the mysterious sorcerer who’s been influencing his life at a young age. Their quest brings them into the vicinity of the titular Dark Tower, which serves as the nexus for all reality. In the final book The Dark Tower, Deschain learns that he has actually reached the Tower multiple times, but has been forced to relive his journey until he can depend on others. He is sent back one final time with a special object in his hand: the Horn of Eld. Passed down throughout the centuries, the Horn was supposed to be in Roland’s care until he abandoned it in a crucial battle.
When The Dark Tower was announced, King posted a picture on Twitter (now known as X) of the Horn of Eld with the following caption: “Last Time Around”. Director Nikolaj Arcel would later confirm that the Dark Tower film was indeed a sequel to the novels, “It is, in fact, a continuation,” he said in an interview with IGN. “It is a canon continuation. That’s exactly what we intended and what Stephen King has signed off on.” Making The Dark Tower an official continuation of the books was a solid move on two fronts; it allowed for an entirely new story to be told that was both free of having to follow the books but didn’t entirely overwrite them either. It also allowed Arcel to focus the film on one of Deschain’s earlier relationships with the young psychic Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor). In the first Dark Tower novel The Gunslinger, Deschain sacrifices Jake to a pit in order to continue pursuing the Man in Black. But in the film he forms a fatherly bond with the boy, risking life and limb to protect him.
Matthew McConaughey’s Villain Connects The Dark Tower To All Of King’s Work
Image via Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group
The Dark Tower kept one crucial aspect from the novels: the bitter rivalry between Deschain and the Man in Black. The latter was known by many names, including Walter O’Dim and Marten Broadcloak, but fans of King’s work may know him by another name: Randall Flagg. Flagg has appeared in King’s other works, particularly his post-apocalyptic novel The Stand, causing death and destruction wherever he goes. His many names, as well as his immense power, serve as a reflection of how The Dark Tower connects all of King’s work. He’s tormented numerous victims – including Roland, as Flagg seduced his mother and led his father to an early death.
Ironically, though McConaughey would portray the Man in Black in The Dark Tower, he was tapped to play a critical role in another King adaptation. Josh Boone was tapped to adapt The Stand for Warner Bros, and he revealed that he wanted McConaughey to play Stu Redman while Christian Bale would play Flagg. The adaptation never manifested due to the rights reverting back to CBS Films. Eventually, The Stand would be adapted as a miniseries on Paramount+ with Alexander Skarsgård stepping into Flagg’s leather boots. McConaughey still manages to convey a fair amount of affable menace in The Dark Tower, providing the perfect contrast to Elba’s stoic gunslinger.
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The Dark Tower’s Changes Didn’t Help Its Box Office Chances
Image via Sony Pictures
Despite King signing off on the film, the star power of Elba & McConaughey, and a summer release date The Dark Tower was a critical and commercial dud. A number of factors fed into its lukewarm reception, including a far too short running time as well as a failure to lean into the more memorable aspects of King’s books. But the biggest sin is that the film never leans into the promise of exploring Roland’s final journey. This was a man who had to learn to rely on others, to forgo vengeance in search of actual justice. With an actor of Elba’s caliber, this could have made for some weighty storytelling; instead, audiences were treated to a run-of-the-mill fantasy/Western.
The saga of the Gunslinger may be done justice, as Mike Flanagan is slated to adapt The Dark Tower for television. Not only has Flanagan received King’s stamp of approval, but he’s also helmed two previous King adaptations in Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep. Flanagan knows his way around a King adaptation, so hopefully he can make any necessary changes while still keeping the spirit of the Dark Tower books intact.