There are other worlds than these — and thanks to The Dark Tower trailer, we have finally glimpsed them.
Heat Vision has assembled three writers of varying familiarities with the Stephen King book series to break down the trailer: Kimberly Nordyke (an uber fan), Aaron Couch (liked the first seven books, but hasn’t read them in years) and Graeme McMillan (hasn’t read anything and only vaguely knows what’s going on). Let’s go:
Aaron Couch: Kimberly, as the person most invested in this franchise, how are you feeling after the trailer?
Kimberly Nordyke: I am cautiously optimistic about the movie (I say “cautious” because I’ve been disappointed by most Stephen King film adaptations, and this movie obviously is not a faithful adaptation of the first Dark Tower book). The trailer provides a good sense of who Roland and the Man in Black are. In my opinion, Idris Elba is a good choice as Roland, and true to the books, we don’t get much dialogue from him. I am generally a fan of Matthew McConaughey, but I’m not sure how I feel about him as the Man in Black just yet.
Couch: I am a McConaughey true believer, but I’m not super digging the newfound emphasis on The Man and Black vs. his more guy in the background vibe in the books. I saw extended footage at CinemaCon in March, and was surprised there was a bit of a The Matrix vibe to it — the Man in Black literally catches a bullet from behind. Those bits didn’t quite feel right to me. But what I loved about this new trailer more is there’s a better sense of narrative by having Jake be our entry into this story. A young boy travels to a new world, meets a larger-than-life hero, and joins his quest to kill the bad guy and prevent the end of the world(s). Pretty simple … at least as a book reader. Graeme, is that about right? As someone who knows very little about The Dark Tower, is that what you got from it?
Graeme McMillan: More or less. I have to admit, my first thought on watching the trailer as someone who’s never read the books was, “Oh, so it’s kind of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe but with iconography from westerns and dumb bullet tricks like someone just watched a double bill of The Matrix and Wanted?” Which… is not necessarily the most inviting premise. I was left unconvinced (or uneducated, perhaps) about what made this series so beloved, because it felt like a very serious take on lots of overfamiliar ideas. There didn’t seem to be anything special there.
[Warning: spoiler ahead for 2004’s The Dark Tower novel.]
Nordyke: Purists are likely to be upset about this trailer, given that the movie clearly takes parts of many of the books and combines them. But I’m encouraged that Stephen King has been involved with the script throughout the process and has approved it (which reassures me that there will be no The Shining-like off-course veering that King hasn’t at least had a say in). However, director Nikolaj Arcel, has called this a “sequel” of sorts to the books. Could this, in fact, be what happens after (spoiler alert) Roland opens the door at the top of the Tower in the last book? Unclear, since we don’t see the Horn of Eld (which Roland has with him at the end of the series) anywhere in this trailer (even though, as fans recall, King himself tweeted out an image of a horn teasing the movie a year ago).
McMillan: I am having a “This is what it’s like for people watching the DC movies who don’t get who the Parademons are, isn’t it?” feeling right now, because so much of that went over my head. But if this is a sequel, it’s probably smart of them not to really push that fact. Speaking for myself, the idea of stepping into a story knowing that it’s actually Chapter Nine or whatever is pretty offputting. It feels like there’s a lot of homework to do before sitting down and watching it. (That said, there’s a nerdy part of me that loves the idea. It’s like the ultimate easter egg for fans who do want more!)
Couch: Part of what makes the book series so great are the other characters — Eddie and Susannah — that we don’t glimpse here. Kimberly, is that a problem that they aren’t in this movie, given that it is borrowing from the books they are in?
Nordyke: I am not opposed to this first movie incorporating elements from some of the other books; quite honestly, I don’t think the first book has enough in it to sustain an entire film. But at the same time, with the knowledge that this is the route the screenwriters chose to take, you do feel the absence of Eddie and Susannah. And heck, even Oy. One can only hope that this movie does well enough at the box office — and is good enough! — to warrant a sequel and give the rest of Roland’s ka-tet some screen time.
Couch: The movie is budgeted at a lean $60 million — so it’d really have to go south not warrant more. Now, I’m not the biggest Stephen King expert in the world, but those balloons and the sign reading Pennywise were a reference to It, right?
McMillan: If you’re telling me that Idris Elba is going to shoot scary clowns in this movie, Aaron, I am in.
Nordyke: I love the sly references to other Stephen King books, including It and The Shining (there was a picture of the Overlook Hotel in the therapist’s office). Fans of the author know that’s a trademark of his — to pepper references from previous books into new ones, showing how many of his stories are interconnected in even the smallest of ways — and this is a nod to that. He does this quite a bit in The Dark Tower series, especially in the later books. In blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments, we also get glimpses of Roland’s father (played by Dennis Haysbert); the “Breakers,” telepathic individuals who are trying to break the beams holding up the Dark Tower, who appear in Jake’s drawings posted on his wall (but aren’t mentioned until later in the book series); and, wait, is that little statue in Jake’s therapist’s office that’s holding a horn actually a nod to the Horn of Eld? We also see Jake entering the portal to Roland’s world through the house on Dutch Hill, which actually occurs in the third book in the series, The Waste Lands, after Jake died in the first book.
McMillan: That’s one of the best things for me about trailers for adaptations of beloved material: the ability to have all those nods to things that newcomers like me just don’t even notice, but fans get to geek out about. I want to revisit the trailer now, which I wouldn’t have said after the first viewing. Your (cautious, measured) excitement has made me reconsider my initial skepticism and disinterest, and that never happens!
Nordyke: The last moments of the trailer, where Roland shoots whomever (or whatever) has taken Jake without even looking — while Elba in voice-over recites the gunslinger mantra, including the line: “I do not kill with my gun, I kill with my heart” — were amazing. I actually got chills, and that’s pretty rare for me when it comes to trailers, or anything onscreen, other than The Walking Dead.
The Dark Tower is in theaters Aug. 4.