This week we saw the first full-length trailer for The Dark Tower, the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus — a career-spanning Lord of the Rings riff with a large, somewhat finicky fanbase. At the time of this writing I am at the outset of the seventh, and final(ish) entry. I’ve spent the past year working my way through the series, and as such, my experience with it has been a bit different than that of the reader who would have to wait years between novels. That, in conjunction with my general leniency toward ambitious projects regardless of ultimate quality, has me feeling hopeful toward the final product. But I wonder if the film, even if it’s a smashing creative success, will ultimately find the same success at the box office. Outside of folks like myself, I must ask: just who is this movie for??
Stephen King fanboys like myself are absolutely going to see the movie. My ticket may as well already be bought out of curiosity alone. But that’s just me. I know plenty of King fans, both rabid and casual, who are happy to wait until this hits home video. Super-fans are hesitant due to the idea that the series feels to big to be adaptable, and the casual fans don’t see this as an event film worth plunking down hard-earned cash for. We Stephen King fans know that film adaptations of his work are only intermittently fantastic, usually passable, and sometimes dismal. Casual fans know this too, and may also find themselves disinterested in The Dark Tower due to it being neither a full on horror flick, nor a Frank Darabont jailhouse drama.
The trailer, which I found to be promising enough, doesn’t feel aimed at absorbing new fans. If this film is to succeed, it needs to appeal to a broad audience. It needs to appeal to people who are not Tower-savvy. The fact that the trailer is not very broadly appealing tells me that it could be an appropriately weird flick. I love the idea that the film seems to have a unique, pander-free tone … but I lament the fact that it might fail to entice a newbie. The silver lining is that The Dark Tower could become a Watchmen or a Dune, two flicks which audaciously avoided mainstreaming the source material and grew cult followings as a result.
Where The Dark Tower differs from either Watchmen and Dune is that the liberties taken from the source material are already apparent. The trailer already speaks to the type of adaptation this will be. This is not the a story from any one book in the series a la Harry Potter, nor is it an abridged version of the entire story. No, this is a new tale told using pieces of the established lore which may or may not connect with the books. It could be a sequel of sorts (time, as it were, is a bit soft in the source novels, which could offer the looseness required to sequelize), or it could be a story from a parallel universe. There are other worlds than these.
To try and pinpoint exactly what ground needs to be covered in order to make it a success is a fool’s errand. An adaptation like this is unprecedented. This is a bold experiment with a deeply beloved source material as its Guinea pig. No amount of marketing will change the baggage, both good and bad, already attached to the film. The only way I can see The Dark Tower being a big financial success is through word of mouth. To that end the only road to take is perhaps the road least considered by film studios: it has to be a good movie.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.