Before we begin there are two things you need to know.
One, I am a Kevin Smith fan. Up until a few years ago, I may have used the word huge in there somewhere, but that stopped after I saw what huge Kevin Smith fans actually looked like. Also, without sounding harsh, Smith has changed. He went from writer/director to stand up comedian who smokes a bit too much weed and that never quite sat well with me, although I like to still consider myself a fan.
Two, for most of my life I’ve been driven by a need to see the latest big movie. It’s a compulsion that’s gotten me into some disappointing cinema seats. Batman Forever. Both the Matrix sequels. All the Star Wars prequels. Dark Shadows. Don’t get me wrong, though, I will roll that dice again and again because it’s gotten me in front of some brilliant movies as well. This year alone, there have been some great ones. Baby Driver, I’m looking at you. Still, I’m used to the occasional backfire. Alien Covenant left a mark or two.
This last week I was meant to be seeing four movies in five days. It was a bit of an effort to catch up more than anything else. We had finally gotten The Big Sick at our cinema, so that was Monday night. We’d missed the first week of Atomic Blonde and I wanted to check it out, so that was Tuesday planned. We still had Luc Besson’s Valerian to watch and, of course, on Friday we had a trip booked for The Dark Tower.
As it turned out, Valerian was thrown under the bus again. After two nights at the cinema and a night of house move related paperwork and meetings, we needed to relax. Also, if I’m being honest, two hours plus of pretty special FX but not a huge amount of story really wasn’t getting me into the car. Still, we weren’t changing our plans for Friday. Hell, no. As I’ve said before, I am a Dark Tower fan. I don’t own the compendiums or I haven’t read all the comics, but I love those books. Love them! They blazed a trail in my head that I will never build over.
Now, when I’m at work, I listen to podcasts. It’s a quick and simple way to stay sane whilst blocking out the background stupidity and stress. I’ve got a weekly rotation of shows and then I dip back into their old episodes to plug the gaps as I get to Friday. Yesterday lunchtime, scanning the front page of Stitcher, I spotted the latest episode of Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman. It’s a weekly geek culture and review show that’s always good for a laugh. It’s the only one of his many, many, many podcasts I will listen to regularly. Like I said, not a huge fan. This week him and his co-host Marc Bernardin went through a weekly round up. They discussed the changes at Netflix, what director Tim Miller was up to and which three movies Marc had seen after getting home from a trip to London. He had seen Dunkirk, which he liked but called a little light on emotion. Atomic Blonde, which he didn’t really enjoy. Then, finally, he announced he had seen The Dark Tower. At which point, unlike the other two movies, he told us how it ended.
So, before we go any further, There are spoilers coming. In fact, let’s not beat about the bush HERE. THE spoiler is coming. I’m going to talk about how this movie ends. If you don’t want to know the final score in the match between Elba and The Tower, I recommend you come back after you’ve seen the movie. Okay?
The Gunslinger kills the Man in Black at the end of the movie.
Marc was basically saying they took all those books and made an hour and a half, pretty dull fantasy movie out of them. Jake is now the main character, whilst Roland is basically reduced to appearing as his hero. Then, at the end, they defeat the Man in Black.
Needless to say, I was pretty angry. At first, that anger was aimed squarely at Marc Bernardin. Fatman on Batman has always dabbled in spoilers when it comes to reviews, but they warn you up front. They let you stay away until you’ve seen the movie or TV show in question. I couldn’t believe he’d just jump straight in like that and blurt it out.
Headphones were thrown onto a desk and the afternoon took a turn for the worst. I spent the next hour or so trying to convince myself this might be a good thing. I’d been pretty sure the movie was never going to be the books and this confirmed it for me. This saved me that pain in the cinema. It always saved Sam having to listen to me rant about it. Maybe Marc and Kev had done me a favour. Now I could go in there prepared and forewarned. Besides, didn’t every superhero movie end with the villain being killed? All those classic characters tossed under the grindstone to make a hero look more heroic. Why should Randal Flagg/Walter Padick be any different?
I nearly won myself back over. Nearly. It’s like I told you, I have a compulsion when it comes to new movies. I have to see them. I need to see them. I like to be in that cinema, first night. No other night is quite the same and I like that sensation of getting there first. It’s the closest I get to racing or a competitive sport. Maybe even the closest I get to gossip. Which meant, surely, I had to go and check it out.
However, as the afternoon wound down, another voice piped up in my head. The one that loved the books. This movie had always felt like it was going to be a beginning to me. There would be sequels and they’d confirmed a TV series. This just needed to get things rolling, nothing more. I didn’t need it to wrap things up. I just needed it to set the stage. This was A New Hope (sorry, Phantom Menace, you know I’m right). This was The Fellowship of the Ring (sorry, An Unexpected Journey). This was Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (Fantastic Beasts, you’re fooling no one). This was how you get new people into the world you love.
Sure, make it more about the action if you need. Make Jake an avatar for new fans in the making and set Roland a little more off from us for this movie. They did it with Wolverine. They did it with Han Solo. You can make your hero resent the quest a little to begin with. It’s part of a winning formula. Val Kilmer in Willow, anyone?
Only, to stick with the Star Wars metaphor, what they’ve done here is kill Darth Vader at the end of first movie. Well, Episode 4. You know what I mean Imagine it this way. If Star Wars was a series of novels and comics, then all the fans would know that Vader’s presence has an effect on every story throughout. Even after his own death, there’s a shadow of him that looms until the very end. Well, Flagg has that in the Dark Tower novels. He’s a villain who drives the plot, even when he’s not directly facing our heroes. And they kill him in the movie version in less than two hours?! Let’s not forget that Flagg is such a huge part of other King novels as well. He’s basically The Devil in The Stand and they’re killing him in a gunfight stand off after less time than it took Moana to deliver The Heart of the Ocean? I could let the image of him throwing CGI glass at Roland go in the trailer, but killing him with one little climatic fight at the end of the first movie. What the actual hell?! Even the overly tangled X Men movies know you don’t kill Magneto before the first credits roll.
I couldn’t let it go yesterday. The novels are driven by Roland’s need for vengeance. It can blinker him at times. It can drive him to do some dark and desperate things. Particularly in that first novel. If these people were really set on making the novels they love into movies, they’d have to know that. How could they ignore that?! The thought boiled in my blood. I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t stop ranting about it. It meant they didn’t care. Or it meant they were blind to how story worked.
It got worse when I looked into the TV series that would tie to this movie, it will apparently only deal with Roland’s younger life. So it’ll be the build up to a final movie that’s shorter Wall-E. How is that right?! All that story, all that potential (never mind the stellar cast they’d hired) wasted! How can someone ever claim to adapt a story they love and then just destroy it like that? It’s a violation. They’re abusing the original story. They’re stripping it down and selling it for nothing more than profit.
In the end, yesterday evening, I went through the user reviews and found anyone who’d read the books had a problem with the movie. Anyone who liked it had never read the book said it was basically okay at best.
I read the full plot and seethed some more. Then I made a decision I never thought I’d make. I am never watching this movie.
I’ve never said this before. Not about a franchise or a novel I love. I watched Red Dragon when I’m a huge fan of Manhunter. I am going to watch the new Ghostbusters movie one day, even though I’m not sure I’ll like it. I’ve watched the remake of The Producers even though the original is one of my favourite comedies. I watched the live action Disney remake of Jungle Book when the original one was my first ever trip to the cinema. For all of that, for all of my geekiness, for all of my need to see a big movie as soon as I possibly can….I can never watch this movie.
Back in the 90s, there was a famous theory that all comedians only got into stand up in order to have their own TV shows. Over the past few years, the movie adaptations of novels has gone the same way. It’s where the money is. After Harry Potter, you saw it happen more and more. The likes of Twilight and The Hunger Games got on that bandwagon fast. Recently the 50 Shades movies have done the same things. Or Gillian Flynn’s adaptations. Or the many misfires that never quite landed. There are also plenty of novels that are written screaming to be adapted. Well, yesterday, I finally picked a side on that fight. You want to write a movie, then write a movie. Some novels are meant to stay on the page and The Dark Tower is clearly one of them.
Instead of watching a movie that totally misses the point of the books it’s based on, I’m going to do something else. I’m going to read the books again. I’m going to savour them. They feel a little more precious now. Perhaps that’s the way it was always meant to be.