- The Dark Tower
A live-action adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Towerseries was, seemingly, in the works forever, with various directors and producers set to bring the tale of the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead (a pulp epic combination of King Arthur and Clint Eastwood c. 1966), to film or television–or perhaps even to both film andtelevision simultaneously, as was long rumoured. Given the size of the original property and its commercial success as both prose and graphic narrative, King's series seemed ripe for the full franchise treatment, in which a fictional world capable of sustaining a massive mega-narrative, or ideally multiple mega-narratives, is developed and leveraged across a number of media platforms.
When King tweeted a publicity still for the film in 2016, fans had reason to be excited about its potential for the franchise. The still showed the Horn of Eld, something important to Roland's past but lost to him prior to the events described in the novels; at the conclusion of the series's final novel, Roland finds himself transported back in time to the very beginning of his quest to save the eponymous Dark Tower. Just after this happens, Roland finds himself slightly confused by his sudden possession of the Horn, before he forgets all that has happened to him as he starts over again from the place he first began. King thus suggests that Roland has been cursed to repeat his quest over and over again until he gets it just right; the presence of the Horn in the series's final scene could mean that this time it will all be different. The presence of the Horn in the film's publicity still implied, at the time, that the film would not be so much an adaptation of the series as a continuation of it. That an actor of colour, Idris Elba, would play Roland, when all official images of the gunslinger from the novels and graphic novels portrayed the gunslinger as white, further implied that the film would develop and expand the world and its narrative and not simply seek to recreate it. Whereas the Star Trekand Star Warsfranchises have each had to call into question, and in many cases outright eliminate, formerly canonical material in order to maintain the viability and profitability of the worlds upon which they depend, The Dark Towerseemed poised to take a different approach to franchise development. [End Page 155]
Unfortunately, this development fails, perhaps because it runs afoul of what might be the first rule of franchise development: understand your source material.
The Dark Towerfilm is an utterly competent, paint-by-numbers portal fantasy. Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) lives in New York City where he is haunted by dreams of 'darkness and fire' (a line the film puts into several characters' mouths in order to make clear that bad things are happening). These dreams, of course, are not simply dreams, but visions of the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) and his attempts to use the psychic power of gifted children to destroy the Dark Tower, which maintains the integrity of a barrier that holds demonic forces at bay. In a nod to every young adult film franchise ever, Jake is both very intelligent and very troubled. He gets into fights in school and generally feels alienated from the world. It turns out that he is very special, gifted with more psychic power (or 'shine', in a nod to another Stephen King novel) than perhaps anyone in history. The Man in Black thus seeks Jake out as a means to complete his mission to bring about the end of all things. Jake soon finds Roland, who does not want to save the world, but only wants revenge on the Man in Black, who killed his father and the rest of the gunslingers. After an eventual (and rote) change of heart, Roland helps Jake and allows the Tower to stand to see both another day, with, presumably, more attempts...