The wait is almost over. The Dark Tower will be released on August 4th. I have to keep checking, though, because the usual marketing machine touting a film release hasn’t seemed to hit full stride just yet. There have been a few trailers, sure, and a few featurettes. There was that Entertainment Weekly cover story… from a year ago. After a full decade of hearing about the project’s development, as it changed writers and producers and studios, we will finally see the fruits of all that labor.
And I’m apprehensive as hell.
The latest bit of news is that the film will clock in at a slim 95 minutes. Which may actually sound like a perfectly normal, average runtime, until you start looking at the bloated 2+ hours most other summer tentpole releases reach (Vulture has a great run down on the calculations). The idea of a streamlined action/fantasy release is pretty refreshing, and could be due to the fact that a) the film’s budget is a fraction of its peers, and b) it was in development for so long all the fat was trimmed away, leaving an assured and concise script to follow. But for anyone who knows the original books by Stephen King on which the film is based, the idea of a short Dark Tower anything is laughable. The series spans literally THOUSANDS of pages - how much of that material can they cram into 95 minutes?
The fact is that fans of the books are already on the fence about the movie, because it’s clear that the film isn’t a straight adaptation of the source material. It’s sort of a remix, pulling together elements from the books and wholly new pieces to create a fresh telling of the journey of the Gunslinger. But it’s also more than a remix — it’s a sequel to the books (it all hinges on a particular horn Roland carries, and how it ties to the end of the last book). Which personally I think is genius, as it allows the film to surprise both audiences who are fans of the books and those who know nothing about any of it. It acts as an extension of King’s story, rather than an adaptation of it. The question, of course, is how successfully it does its job.
Casting Idris Elba as the Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as the Man In Black is a good start. It isn’t how any reader could possibly have envisioned the characters, and yet the footage we’ve seen so far indicates that they are perfectly suited to the roles. If nothing else, those two have me excited. And as a fan of the books, I am fine with remixing the intro to the story. King began writing the first novel, The Gunslinger, in 1970 while finishing up college. It was originally published as a series of short stories, and later put together into one novel (that has since been revised and reprinted to clear up inconsistencies with later elements in the Dark Tower series). It’s a good novel, but it’s an early work that doesn’t have the breadth and vibrancy the later installations would have (let alone the connections to the larger universe of King’s works). If you’re trying to launch a film and TV franchise, I’d want to kick it off on stronger footing as well — especially considering how weird the books get as they go on.
Maybe the marketing will kick in full-throttle once we’re past the San Diego Comic Con news cycle, and the eerie quiet we’ve seen so far isn’t a sign that the studio lacks confidence. Maybe the short runtime is a sign of a tight story rather than a lack of material. Maybe we all just need to be realistic about the fact that The Dark Tower is hardly The Lord of the Rings and we’re never going to get 3-hour movies about our favorite ka-tet trying to take down the Crimson King. But if the movie does well, and they make the tv series… and then they make more movies… Well, we could be in for a treat. It’s a lot of ifs and maybes, and it all rides on this one movie.
I’d never bet against the Gunslinger. Or Idris Elba. And I’m definitely going to watch the movie. After a decade of waiting, it’s easy to read any weird scrap of information as an ill omen. But it’s also important to remember than not following the standard Hollywood summer blockbuster formula might not actually be a bad thing.
So: good, bad or ugly, we’ll find out soon.