The tickets are booked. There’s no going back. Tonight, I’m off to see The Dark Tower movie and I want it to be good. The books are something special to me and not just because they sort of got me back into Stephen King. You see, when I first read The Gunslinger I had really fallen out of any realm of King fandom. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure what made me pick up the first one. I have a feeling it was another book thrown on the pile during a Waterstones binge.
Growing up in the 80s, there was really no avoiding Stephen King. My parents never read horror, but his stories were still everywhere. They were discussed on TV and whispered about on the playground. Carrie was already a palpable hit for both him and De Palma. The likes of Christine, Cujo and Firestarter were infamous. As was Thinner, sneakily written under that tissue paper thin alias he occasionally ducked behind. The Shining was dividing people between preferring the book and the movie; an early precursor to so many comic book movie arguments that were waiting for us in the 21st century. As I grew up the names of his stories became the stuff of legend. Pet Cemetery, It, The Stand, Salem’s Lot.
I first dipped a toe into his world in my early teens. I remember reading It before I watched the TV movie. A lot of my friends saw it before me and wouldn’t stop talking about it. In fact, no offence Mr K, but their descriptions of this grinning, wild demon clown were a lot scarier than anything Tim Curry did with the material. Not the image of him climbing up a lamppost in that photograph has ever left me.
I watched The Shining and the classic Salem’s Lot before reading the books. After that, I read The Stand before I watched the TV movie and heard ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ for the first time. I did also watch the TV version of The Tommyknockers, but we’ll leave that alone. I read all six parts of the original, serialised release of The Green Mile and I think I read Desperation the week it came out.
I remember, quite early on, learning the lesson that King’s stories work better on the page than the screen for me. Even though his writing feels very cinematic, I don’t think it always translates well. There are exceptions. Misery being a chief example for me. Still, for the most part, you get the feeling people are cashing in on the name and throwing the subtext out to clear room for the score and the overacting.
After a few years of trying to read everything the man had written, I got a bit bored by Stephen King. There’s an over saturation point if you just keep picking up paperback after paperback. The length of the later books didn’t help. It was about that time I began to develop a theory that Mr K’s editors were scared of saying no. For me, books like Under the Dome are just way too long. Even Doctor Sleep, where horror sequel meets revision redemption western, could do with the red pen in some places.
I enjoyed riding the King train for a while, though. His books are easy to find on any bookshop shelf and there’s something oddly reassuring in his brand of horror. It’s comfortable discomfort when it works. Of course, you’re going to find a few of the weaker ones, but they’ll soon find a home at a second-hand shop.
I really was done with him when I picked The Gunslinger. I put it to the top of the pile and was pleased to find it was pretty good. Although I wouldn’t say it blew me away. If anything, it was just a further reminder of how young King wrote. The kid who lived in small places and drank more than he should. It was short, grungy and wore its heart on its grubby sleeve. Sadly, for an opening shot, it didn’t really seem to achieve a huge amount; but there was no denying the imagination that had gone into crafting the backbone of the world we were following Roland the gunslinger through. The plot was just pretty dry. It jumped backwards and forwards for no obvious reason. The payoff wasn’t really big enough for me. The losses were too soon to sting. It was a three out of five at best.
I didn’t pick up The Drawing of the Three straight away. It might have been like a year later. Another binge purchase, no doubt. I remember sitting down to see if it could hook me a second time and it did. Oh boy, how it did. Severely. That second book totally caught me off guard. The story kicked in within paragraphs, never mind pages. Jeopardy reared its head and worlds opened up to the gunslinger. Once he was an outsider in a place I understood, I could see his resolve all too clearly. His strength, his pride. The introduction of Eddie and Susannah, who are almost the consummate King characters, made everything flow. Before I knew it, I was buying The Waste Lands and nagging my friends to start reading these books (yep, I’m one of those people).
With a birthday fast approaching, I made my list very simple. All the other Dark Tower books, please. That planned the next couple of months for me. I couldn’t stop reading them. I was racing for The Tower. All around me were genius little links to worlds I had already seen before. To characters I had never expected to see again. To King himself. For me, The Dark Tower really is where Stephen King shines. His love of story, his ability to keep you turning pages, his archetypal but effective characters. It all becomes mythical here, but the horror is still present. That final book left me a broken man. Satisfied, yes; but wracked with something close to survivor’s guilt. No other series has gotten to me in the same way. No other series left me wanting so much more. I’ve read a couple of tie in books like Insomnia and the Marvel comic line since, but they’re never quite as good. Not even the additional novella The Wind that Whistles through the Keyhole really did it for me. Nothing will ever be like the time I spent journeying by the gunslinger’s side, from the desert to the Tower.
Which brings me back to the movie. There’s been a Tower movie coming for a long time. I remember watching Frank Darabont’s The Mist, one of the pretty decent movie adaptations, and seeing the painting of Roland in the opening scenes. Not forgetting we actually saw a few Tower monsters in there as well.
For a while, Ron Howard after that was talking about making a series of movies and TV shows that would cover the whole saga with either Josh Brolin or Javier Bardem due to strap on the six shooters. Once that fell through, I figured that was that, but then the wheels began to turn quickly. They cast Idris Elba as Roland and that got my attention straight away. I could see him giving Roland a world weary strength and poise that felt perfect to me. Then they cast Matthew McConaughey as Flagg and I was certain they were doing it right this time. I felt that way right up until the moment I saw the first trailer. No trailer for this move has ever got me cheering. It looks okay, but nothing more. It looks like they’ve missed the point. If I’m lucky, they’re leaving the good stuff out the trailer. That would make sense. I mean, they want to hook people who’ve never read the books, right? The fans are already coming. Which means they have to show Elba looking cool, a lot of gun fighting and some CGI trickery. Oh, and Matthew shouting and monologing. Although they’ve confirmed the movie is only 95 minutes now and, judging by the reactions over in The States where it opened a week ago, no one is calling for more. Damn it. Please don’t tell me they’ve messed this up. Of all his books, The Dark Tower series seems made to be put on a big screen. He based it on a love of The Good, The Bad &The Ugly and The Lord of the Rings, but we’re not seeing evidence of any of that in the trailer.
So, here’s what I’m thinking; I’ll check it out tonight and I’ll report back next week. I’ll do my best to go in there with an open mind. I’m a comic book movie fan, so I’m used to adaptations in name alone. I enjoy a lot of them, in fact. I’ll try and look at this movie without my love for the books blinding me and I’ll tell you how I fair.
For the record, I want to like it. Not only that, I want everyone to like it. This is like when the first Hellboy movie or the first series of Preacher came out. These stories are my wheelhouse, my happy place. I want everyone to be happy to here. I want them to be treated well whilst they’re here. I really do.
Wish me luck, people.