The weekend The Dark Tower came out in cinemas here I watched it twice. As a long time fan of Stephen King’s writing, I’ve waited with increasing excitement for what I imagined was going to be nothing short of a perfect visual translation of the seven books that make up the original series. Then I read a few reviews online and I’m glad I did. I should have known that it was not really feasible to squeeze seven books into a ninety-five minute movie. People were complaining the movie was not faithful to the series, that it was too different. They were right, and I was glad I was forewarned because it would have been disappointing to go to the cinema expecting an epic tale. But the movie worked, because it wasn’t really The Dark Tower in its splendid world-crossing, ka-tet camaraderie and trying adventures.
At first I thought the movie was a distillation of the books, a paring down to their very essence. It reminded me of that time years ago when I watched a modern reinterpretation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which all the actors wore pajamas. Was it good? Yes, it was. The words were there, the story was there, but it was different from the play. And yet in many ways it was the same.
The basic story of The Dark Tower is summed up in the first sentence of the first book, The Gunslinger:
The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.
Roland, the last gunslinger, is trying to prevent the man in black, Walter, from destroying The Tower. Should The Tower fall, chaos and destruction would follow. The seven books (plus one he wrote as a stand-alone) give a detailed account of Roland’s journey to the Dark Tower, of friends he makes along the way, of the epic quest which is one of many he has undertaken before, all with the same purpose, all ending the same way.
I’ve read The Dark Tower books so many years ago that I can only remember fragments, so an in-depth comparison is out of the question. What I did not expect was this: the movie actually picks up where the last book left off – and here I don’t want to spoil it for you so I won’t go into details. Let me just say that when I got the end of that last book I felt cheated and incredibly frustrated, but in retrospective there couldn’t have been a better ending.
In the movie, the cast is reduced to three important characters – Roland the gunslinger, the boy Jake, and Walter, the man in black and Roland’s nemesis. Jake’s dad was a fireman who died on the job – here I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a nod to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or to Joe Hill’s recent novel, The Fireman (Joe Hill is King’s son). Maybe it was both or maybe neither.
It’s obvious the movie was made to accommodate a large audience. People who are new to Stephen King’s work will get a good vs evil action movie with nice special effects and a good story line. Long time fans, those who have read the books the movie is based on, will get so much more out if it (or less, depends on who you’re talking to). For me it was a pleasure to spot references to Christine, It, and The Shining. A passing reference to Oy, a dog-like creature with limited speech abilities, was but a fleeting sequence, but I was happy it was there. I remember Oy in the books – he was one of my favorite characters and I was heartbroken when he died.
By far my favorite parts in the movie were those when Roland said the gunslinger’s creed, something that to me sounds like a cross between a mantra and a prayer. Just seeing that on the screen, after having to imagine it when I read the books, made the movie worth watching. In fact, that was what made me love it. Idris Elba gave a great performance as Roland. I remember being excited when I read about him being cast in the role of the gunslinger. He did not fit with the image I had in mind but I like surprises. He did not disappoint and neither did Tom Taylor who played Jake, one of the members of the group that joined Roland on his quest to the Dark Tower.
As usual, King’s references to pop culture – guns, moral values, soft drinks, medicine, physical appearance, were a nice touch and I loved them all. You should see Roland’s face when he drank a can of soda for the first time. That made me laugh.
Many thanks to richysmalls via Instagram for allowing me to use his art. The entire picture is hand made using dots. Amazing, isn’t it?
Not long after I watched The Dark Tower, another Stephen King movie adaptation made it to the big screen. IT, based on the novel with the same name, is about a group of seven children who call themselves The Losers Club, who band together to fight the evil that is haunting their town. The evil is Pennywise, a clown who’s been kidnapping children and who appears to each of the seven children in the shape they fear the most.
I’ve read IT too long ago to remember many details and it wasn’t one of my favorite King novels. I found it disturbing, which is an understatement when it comes to King’s books, but this one even more so because it involves children. I’m glad one of the scenes in the book didn’t make it on the big screen. It would have been awful.
The movie is not your family-friendly type. There’s blood and mutilation and dirty jokes told by some very young boys. The most disturbing part for me was the woman in the painting which makes a couple of appearances, and that was far creepier to me than Pennywise himself. At least with him we know he’s supposed to be an evil entity, but that painting was something so unexpected it made me nearly jump out of my skin. I thought the children actors did a great job, especially Sophia Lillis in the role of Beverly Marsh, the only girl in the Losers Club. My favorite parts were the interactions between the seven friends. I look forward to the next installment which is going to be about the children who grow up and come back to their town to rid it of Pennywise once and for all.
I didn’t find Pennywise all that scary. Sure, he has some teeth worthy of a creature from Alien but to me he’s just a weird clown. What I found scary (apart from that weird-looking woman in the painting) was the way the adults behaved towards the children – an overbearing mother, a harsh teacher, a sleazy father, they were the true aliens (I will not call them monsters, except maybe for the father, who made my skin crawl).
It’s interesting that Pennywise’s lair is in an old abandoned house. I remembered a similar construction in The Dark Tower, which serves as a portal to another world. The building were nearly identical in my mind but then I’ll have to wait for the movies to come out on CD so I can take a closer look.
Gwendy’s Button Box
I was looking forward to reading this book for two reasons: the first and obvious one because it’s Stephen King and I’d read almost anything he writes, and the second because I was intrigued by the other author name on the front cover – Richard Chizmar. He is the founder of Cemetery Dance magazine (in 1988), and Cemetery Dance Publications (in 1992) which has published several of King’s books.
Whenever I see two names on the cover of a book I wonder whose voice is going to be the prominent one. I haven’t read anything by Richard Chizmar, but I can say this book had King’s unmistakable easy-going style with dashes of humor all over it. The man can spin a story like no other author I’ve read before.
What would you do with a box with magical powers? Would you take it? Would you destroy it to remove temptation?
This is the story of a young girl, Gwendy, who’s given a box by mysterious Mr. Farris. Gwendy is reluctant to take anything from a stranger at first, but Mr Farris can be quite charming and persuasive. It’s not just a regular box that he gives her, but one with powers. A sort of Pandora’s box with instructions and buttons you can push. Some of those buttons can be used for good. Others can do some nasty things. And the box gives out treats, sweet delicious treats. Who wouldn’t want to spend time playing with it?
It’s obvious that what happens in this book goes beyond being just a story. Sometimes you push a button just to see what happens. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you make a mess. And you learn things, not only about the box but about yourself and your limits.
As usual I loved King’s pop culture references, especially the one right at the beginning about women’s bodies.
The media says, ‘Girls, women, you can be anything you want to be in this brave new world of equality, as long as you can still see your toes when you stand up straight.’
Aldous Huxley, you will live forever.