Is The Dark Tower Movie Faithful To The Books?

It's all ~happening~. Stephen King's legions of devoted readers had cause to celebrate on Tuesday as the author announced that the Dark Tower movie was — finally — moving forward. Now that it's actually happening, fans are left wondering: is the Dark Tower movie faithful to the books? The Nerdist may have some answers.

But first things first. Let's talk about the casting. Only two actors are officially attached to the Dark Tower movie project at this time. King's Tuesday morning tweet confirmed that Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey will star as gunslinger Roland Deschain and Walter, aka the man in black. Elba and McConaughey have been long-rumored as front-runners for those roles. And although Elba's casting as the gunslinger has raised a few eyebrows, I'm going to go ahead and say it: Anyone who complains about this casting has forgotten the face of his father.

Way back in 2010, Ron Howard signed on to direct the Dark Tower movie, with Javier Bardem — another excellent casting choice — as the lead. Howard's plan was to make three films, which would then be followed with a finite television series to fill in the rest of the details. It was risky, and takers were few, so the project stalled. Howard bowed out, saying he felt that he could not give the movie the attention it deserved.

Now, the Dark Tower film is back on track, and closer to completion than ever before. King says the movie trilogy plus TV series combination is still on the table, and credits "Netflix, and Beasts of No Nation" for introducing new models of filmmaking success.

The Dark Tower filmmakers are reportedly using an older script, at least in part. The Nerdist reports that this draft was set largely in modern day New York City, with ka-tet member Jake Chambers as the protagonist. That's actually not a terrible plan, as we'll see in a minute, and it may still be the path that director Nikolaj Arcel chooses to take. From Entertainment Weekly:

“[The movie] starts in medias res, in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning, which may upset some of the fans a little bit, but they’ll get behind it, because it is the story,” King says.

Arcel declined to specify which books his movie focus on, but he did offer this clue: “A lot of it takes place in our day, in the modern world.”

With this being the case, there are three possible starting points — from a book perspective — for the Dark Tower movie: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands. Let's take a look at each of these options, shall we?

Warning: Spoilers for the first three Dark Tower books — and possibly the movie — follow.

The Gunslinger

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." So begins The Gunslinger: the first book in the Dark Tower series. We get to see what happens when Roland comes to a town that Walter bewitched — hint: Everyone dies. Later on, Roland discovers and adopts Jake, whom he finds at a way station in the middle of the desert.

Jake's part of The Gunslinger is by far the most haunting. The wise-beyond-his-years boy vividly remembers dying in a car accident in 1977 NYC. Except that, rather than waking up in heaven or hell, he wakes up at the way station.

After he travels with Roland for a while, Jake falls off a ledge, and his peril presents the gunslinger with a choice: catch the man in black or save the boy. Roland chooses to pursue Walter, and, just before he falls into the abyss, Jake tells him: "Go, then. There are other worlds than these."

The Gunslinger contains a handful of very important plot points, most of which become relevant much later in the saga, and which I will not spoil here. Despite being the memorable first installment of King's multiverse epic, this book could be skipped over, with its most pertinent details told in flashbacks.

It is possible, however, for Arcel to begin here and still follow Jake's story. But we need a little information on The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands first.

The Drawing of the Three

The Drawing of the Three opens after Roland's fateful meeting with Walter. He finds himself on a beach, faced with three doors: The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and The Pusher. Each door leads him inside the mind of a person in our world, whom he can control, communicate with, or observe as he chooses.

Now, The Prisoner and The Lady of Shadows are super-important, because they allow Roland to draw two members of his ka-tet — Eddie Dean and Susannah Walker — into Mid-World. But the third door is the one we need to focus on here.

Jack Mort is The Pusher. He enjoys causing "accidents" that kill others. As we find out when Roland steps into his mind, he is the man who pushes Jake into traffic and causes the accident that leads him to the way station.

Because Roland is not in Jake's mind, he cannot pull him into Mid-World. The gunslinger can save the boy's life, however, and does so.

The Drawing of the Three would be a great starting point for Arcel. Its narrative is easily divided between the three doors, and provides plenty of opportunities to relay the events of The Gunslinger. Because much of the story is split between the NYCs of 1987, 1964, and 1977, starting with the second Dark Tower novel would fit in with Arcel's comments about his film's setting.

The Waste Lands

We still have one book left to consider here: The Waste Lands. The first half of the third Dark Tower book centers on Roland's quest to complete his ka-tet by drawing Jake out of his home world.

Both Jake and Roland are in considerable anguish after The Drawing of the Three closes. Saving Jake's life created a paradox. Roland remembers his trek across the desert with Jake — and without him. Meanwhile, Jake goes on living his normal life, but he, too, remembers his time in Mid-World. In order to keep themselves from going insane, the two characters must find a way back to one another.

The first half of The Waste Lands has more than a few great scenes in our world, given how much it deals with Jake's handling of his split memories. But too much has gone on before the novel opens to make starting here a good choice.

Starting with The Drawing of the Three and flashing back to The Gunslinger won't give the Dark Tower movie a compelling story, either. The endings of both books ultimately lead to the final drawing of The Waste Lands. The power of this narrative relies on the audience's devotion to Roland and Jake's relationship.

So What's To Be Done Here?

If Arcel wants to keep the first Dark Tower movie in our world, and retain the older script's focus on Jake, he can begin with Jake's last day in NYC, and take us to meet the gunslinger at the way station. After Jake dies under the mountain, Arcel can follow Roland through The Drawing of the Three. The obvious choice then would be to cut back to the no-longer-murdered Jake as he tries to reconcile his memories, ending with his return to Mid-World.

Although I doubt it's what Arcel has in mind, this treatment would set the director up to move into an action-packed second film that follows Roland and his ka-tet through the events of the fifth Dark Tower book, Wolves of the Calla. This leaves the bulk of Wizard and Glass — Roland's backstory — to be told in the Dark Tower television series, and allows Arcel to breeze through to the final confrontations in Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower.

It's obvious at this point that the Dark Tower movie is going to deviate from the books on several levels. It isn't going to tell the gunslinger's story with the progression readers are used to, but King assures us that the story is the same, and I believe him. If Eddie, Susannah, and Jake are all from modern-day NYC instead of three different decades, that's OK. Drugs, racism, and prep schools are — unfortunately — still around, so the characters' individual backstories will remain the same. These few changes don't muck up the fact that the Dark Tower movie is in good hands.

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