Ka is a wheel.
The trailer for the much-anticipated Stephen King fantasy epic arrived finally on the third of May, and there is much to discuss.
Considering Sony’s treatment of the film thus far, with the lack of marketing and communication, it would be difficult to label it as much-anticipated if it weren’t for the dedicated fan base that has been growing since the publication of The Gunslinger in 1982.
For those unfamiliar with King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower, this is a saga of eight novels, a short story, a series of graphic novels by Marvel and now, following almost a decade of labour pains in getting the production rolling, a film. Depending on the success of the film, sequels are sure to follow with the possibly a Netflix series dealing with the back story and formative years of protagonist and gunslinger Roland Deschain. The series would focus on book four, Wizard and Glass.
The story first follows the adventures of Rick and Mort… Roland and Jake, the latter who is pulled from his own world into the dying world of the gunslinger, who pursues the elusive Man in Black on his long journey towards the dark tower, a building of critical importance to the existence of the infinite universes of The Dark Tower series. Later, Roland draws other characters from Jake’s own world, who come (kicking, screaming and hankering for another hit) to join Roland as a ka-tet, or fellowship, of 19. It really is difficult to summarise such a unique story in such a short space, especially without spoiling the magic of the tower, but this is a basic and crude outline.
Multiverse theory allowed Stephen King to pull much of his previously-written work into that of his epic saga, including but not limited to The Mist, The Shining, It, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. We meet Father Callahan from Salem’s Lot in book five The Wolves of the Calla, we experience The Mist or, in dark tower terms, the thinny (a weak spot or tear in reality between universes), and we read of a shape-shifting vampiric entity that heavily mirrors Pennywise the Clown, It. If we are not just including his own work, he too incorporates and makes reference to other fictional works such as Harry Potter, The Lord of The Rings, The Man With No Name trilogy, The Magnificent Seven, The Wizard of Oz, and of course the Robert Browning poem from which the books were first based.
Stephen King himself makes an appearance in several of his books as a fairly important character, which may sound strange, pretentious or a little too much like metafiction, but it makes sense narrative-wise. Several of the events that occur in the final book felt a little rushed, new and old characters fell slightly flat of the mark, including the final boss battle, if you will. King himself has even said on occasion he regrets some of his decisions, but for better or worse, the story ends (kind of) and the ending was solid.
I use kind of, because this is where the film is incorporated. Some of the rather sparse promotional material may be a little confusing to those who have not yet read the novels. For example, King posted on Twitter a picture of a horn; to those who are unaware of the books and, until, mostly unaware that a film was in the works (no thanks to Sony), this means relatively nothing. However, knowing that the horn is rather important both in Roland’s past and in the final moments of the final book, it becomes immensely important to those who have read those final pages. Without any spoilers, it essentially marks that this is more of a sequel to the books, rather than a direct adaptation, which may explain some of the changes we see between the trailer and the books. After all, ka is indeed a wheel.
Though I enjoy the subtle promotion feeding on fan knowledge on some level as much as the next person, it seems a shame that until recently, it had been one of few advertisements for the film due in only August 2017. The Dark Tower is an amazing series that demands an amazing adaptation, though it’s not hard to imagine that due to a current lack of buzz, the film may suffer somewhat, as with Dredd, and I dread to see another great movie deserving of many sequels not obtain them due to marketing, or lack thereof. Now, we have some stills, some posters and a trailer, and though it’s sweet that they released these materials on times and dates with the number 19 in them (a critical number of obsession in the books) it feels like this should all have come a lot sooner. We can consider that It (2017) is to be released later than The Dark Tower (2017), yet the clown’s trailer was released much earlier than the trailer of the latter movie. Whether the movie can successfully continue and finish the last turn of ka’s wheel remains to be seen.
The trailer itself looks great as a generic science-fiction action blockbuster, though there may be a few points of contention among long-time and new readers of the books. Several key elements evidenced within the trailer may provoke a groan from not just book purists – readers should always expect an adaptation to faithfully respect the source material. However, often story elements within a book may not translate well to film, or the authors themselves, like King, may be unhappy about some narrative choices they made within their work. It is when an adaptation is barely recognisable that fans, fairly rightly, feel duped.
So, does The Dark Tower trailer compute? Andy the Messenger Robot says ‘sort of, kind of, maybe.’
First, the biggest controversy surrounding the film and trailer focus on casting choices. By now, anybody following the production of the film will know that Idris Elba is our knight errant gunslinger. There are those complaining purely on the racial angle, and there are those arguing that anybody who dislikes the casting choices are probably racist by default – one need only check the comments on social media – and then there are those in between. Idris Elba is a fine actor, and will make a fearsome Roland.
However, the conscious choice here to cast Roland in such a way means that a significant member of Roland’s ka-tet, Susannah, will be dramatically different, and her relationship to the ‘honky mahfah’, which was at times hilarious and always compelling, will be changed. It is unsure how, but Susannah’s personalities within the book won’t quite be the same, considering they carry a strong impact throughout the entirety of the series. It is part of Roland’s quest to draw her from her world, to get past her hatred of him (which makes sense considering where and when she has come from), help her to overcome the split in her personality and become whole, and for he himself to trust and becomes friends with other people once again. It made for fantastic storytelling, so it will be interesting to see how the the direction and motivation of characters will be taken in the film.
As a sidenote, it will be interesting to find out whether or not Susannah will have her legs in this iteration – Rick still has his hand in The Walking Dead and Tyrion his nose in Game of Thrones, where the source material says otherwise. It is, however, easier to take a limb or appendage off of a character in a book or graphic novel, and much harder to implement constantly in a television show or a film. It is doable, but considering the nature of the ending of King’s books and the nature of this film, it could be plausible that Roland draws Susannah before she ever loses her legs.
Another gripe I and many others I have found concerns the overall look and costume of movie Roland. The flawless silver and grey get-up would look more at home in an Underworld movie, perhaps. The shoes and clothes do not resemble the extremely faded and worn apparel by Roland in the beginning of his story.
This may seem fairly minor, but Roland is supposed to have been journeying for a thankless amount of time, in a dangerous and arid world that has moved on. Instead, movie Roland looks extremely sharp and well-dressed, almost like an overly good cosplay costume from a different series. It’s as if John Wick’s outfitter has access to one of the doors between worlds. The sharp-lined hair cut of Idris’ Roland also seems out-of-place, but perhaps there is going to be far more emphasis on his time in Jake’s world than his own. Given that initially Roland finds Jake in a way station in Mid-World and continues on his journey with his new pal he’s totally not going to sacrifice, this is entirely plausible. Afterall, we do see a lot of Roland in New York in the trailer, so it will be interesting to see the balance between how much the two worlds are featured in the film.
There are a few spine-tingling moments within the trailer, however, including the photographic reference to The Shining’s hotel and the statue of the clown hand that grips a bunch of balloons that sticks out of the earth as Jake comes across the remains of what appears to be a circus. There too is the moment where Roland speedily flicks his bullets into his revolver in a manner that fits right at home with the books. Roland is more of a shooter than a thinker, after all.
For every moment like this though, there is another one in counter to it. Much has been said of the slow-motion action within the trailer, specifically the moment in which Roland catches two full and falling cylinders in each of his guns and begins firing. Though Roland is deadly in the books with his fast hands and reflexes, he is not super-powered. The small segment recalls moments from Underworld and Resident Evil, two franchises that have run themselves into the ground, failing to maintain even a semblance of basic entertainment regardless of the slow-motion shenanigans.
To reinforce this idea of movie Roland being either almost super-powered, we are given the final moment where he shoots via hearing alone. This ability, again, is not something you would typically, if ever, read Roland being able to achieve; ‘I shoot with my heart’ might have been taken too literally here. Perhaps the filmmakers have forgotten the faces of their fathers when they add such pandering moments into an already exhilarating tale. Considering the popularity of the current superhero genre cycle, it makes one wonder whether they felt that had no choice to include such derivative devices by default.
Roland’s gun also glows blue now? Sure.
Finally, it also feels like the Man in Black is being given much more weight as the villain and Roland’s own nemesis. We do see a reference to The Crimson King, so we know he’s still the top boss, but it is perhaps a good idea to focus more on McConaughey’s character earlier on. He is focal point within the first line of the first book, but his conclusion and final moments within the book are less than satisfying. If there I anything I believe this film (and hopefully the sequels) can improve upon, it would be the conclusion to the Man in Black’s story, as well as the reveal of The Crimson King and the battle between him and Roland. The aforementioned last few threads in the final book regarding several characters fell below par when compared to the books that came before, and the long build up to several of these moments feel a little more than wasted. So there is room for redemption in the film(s). That said, since when did the man in Black/Flagg have the ability to magically catch and throw shards of glass?
In conclusion, this adaptation is going to be an entertaining blockbuster with great performances and a few spine-chilling moments as we recollect moments from the books, but I predict that much may have been lost in translation or replaced to feed into the average cinema-going audience, as well as their heart-attack inducing popcorn. The most important thing, however, sink or swim, is that there is finally an adaptation many have been waiting for. Netflix may have been a better place for such an iconic series, but we can’t always get what we want. And though the movie will be canonical, the books can and should be separately read anyway. Who is going to say otherwise – the canon police?
The Film Fanatic