Watching the Dark Tower movie trailer, I understood immediately that Hollywood had once again taken a beloved franchise and warped it into something barely recognisable.
Part of these changes are necessary. Adapting a novel into a movie requires requires the filmmakers to make massive changes to fit the new medium. It is a difficult process for one story, much less seven. Looking at the trailer it seems that the Dark Tower movie is inspired primarily by the first book, The Gunslinger. We have Jake, a boy from Earth; the Man in Black, the main antagonist; and Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger. Who is now black.
The race swap isn’t the only difference. In the novels, the Man in Black is merely the servant of the Crimson King, who is imprisoned in a balcony on the Tower and wishes to destroy all existence. In the movie, the Man in Black seems to be the primary antagonist. There is no mention of the other principal characters of the Dark Tower series, such as Eddie and Susannah Dean. Most critically, in the movie, Roland Deschain is on a quest to protect the Dark Tower, the lynchpin of all worlds — but in the novel, Roland strikes for the Tower to demand answers of whatever entity that dwells there, and during his quest he tries to redeem himself for the wrongs he has committed in his life.
The Dark Tower novels explore destiny and damnation, redemption and repetition, obsession and addiction. Going by the trailer, the Dark Tower movie is a generic Hollywood action movie about good versus evil. A major step down from the series described as Stephen King’s magnum opus.
But that is now par for the course.
Coins from Controversy
What do Ghostbusters, Ghost in the Shell, and The Dark Tower have in common?
First, purchase the rights to a beloved intellectual property. Then deliberately alter something about the main characters, making them female or of a different race. After that, create a hue and cry about racism/sexism/misogyny/bigotry. Ride on the controversy to secure media attention and box office sales. Then, disappear forever.
For Ghostbusters, Hollywood took an all-male cast of geeks and replaced them with an all-female cast. In Ghost in the Shell, Hollywood replaced the Japanese Major with Scarlet Johansson. For The Dark Tower, Hollywood replaced a character explicitly described as a white man with bombardier blue eyes with a black man.
Hollywood responded to the predictable outcry by focusing media attention on it. People who criticised the changes were immediately decried as sexists, racists and misogynists. These words are like dog whistles: break them out and hordes of Social Justice Warriors will jump to your cause, circle the wagons, talk up your movie and slam whoever won’t toe the party line. As the release date approaches, reignite the controversy as needed. With all that attention, Hollywood hopes that people will come flocking to the theatres.
It is far easier to generate controversy than it is to write a good story. To do the latter, you need talent and hard work, then invest the time and money to properly build the brand to attract an audience. For the former, all you have to do is to obtain the rights to a well-known IP, make a deliberate casting decision, wait for someone to criticise it, then run screaming to the media and let the SJWs handle your marketing for you.
This is an incredibly short-sighted move. In the short term it may translate into a spike in opening day sales, but if the story is poor, it will undermine faith in the medium and the film companies that produced the adaptations. People will realise that Hollywood is just leeching off famous brand names, and they will walk away from future movie adaptations, or even movies altogether. As seen in how badly Ghostbusters bombed, this will significantly affect the profit margin.
But never trust the players to think in the long term. Hollywood cares about recouping costs and seeing a return on investment, not telling good stories. Social Justice Warriors don’t care about profits or stories, just in pushing their agenda. They don’t have the customers’ interests at heart.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to Hollywood. In comics, we have female Thor, black teenage female Iron Man, Captain America the Nazi, Donald Trump the supervillain, and more. Loyal readers punished Marvel’s ham-fisted attempt at left-wing propaganda by abandoning the company in droves, causing sales to plummet. The recent non-controversy about a female Doctor Who will likely follow a similar trajectory. Social Justice Warriors don’t care the audience, the brands, or even what makes good stories. They just want to push their agenda. They infiltrate well-known IPs, twist it into a gross and soulless husk, and destroy it from the inside out.
This is social justice convergence. Companies that have been converged will turn their customers against them, effectively committing suicide. At best, converged companies churn out forgettable creations, and at worst, they destroy the creative legacy of previous generations.
The Dark Tower That Could Have Been
In The Drawing of the Three, Roland draws Eddie, a white man, and Odetta Susannah Holmes, a black wheelchair-bound woman. Odetta has a split personality: Detta Susannah Walker, a foul-mouthed racist who heaps abuse and racist epithets on the men and plots to kill them. This conflict is the heart of the character drama in The Drawing of the Three, and resolving it forges an unbreakable bond between the trio.
By casting Idris Elba, a black man, as Roland Deschain, Hollywood can’t have that conflict any more. Indeed, in the trailers so far, it’s telling that there is no hint of Eddie or Odetta. After all, portraying a disabled black woman who spouts racist screeds against white men runs against the prevailing left-wing narratives. Better to pre-emptively bury the conflict before it even begins.
The character of Roland Deschain himself is based on Childe Roland of the poem ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’, written by English author Robert Browning. In addition, Roland Deschain’s guns are hinted to have been forged from Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur. King Arthur is a European myth, not an African one. And the gunslinger is an American archetype, born on the frontiers of the Old West. If we use the standards of modern-day progressives, having a black man use the myths of white men is cultural appropriation. But the hypocrisy of the Left runs deep: it’s only cultural appropriation if a white man does it. Notice also how this little nugget went unnoticed in the popular press.
In the books, Roland Deschain the gunslinger is a lawman, a negotiator, a diplomat and an outdoorsman. He is less Rambo and more John F Kennedy. Yet in the trailer, Roland is reduced to a shootist with some fancy tricks. In Drawing of the Three lobstrosities cripple Roland Deschain’s right hand, forcing him to give one of his guns to his companions, symbolising his trust and growing reliance on them and reinforcing the dangers of his journey. In the movie trailer, Roland is a typical invincible Hollywood action hero.
The most critical change is the nature of Roland’s quest, and what it says about his character. In the novels, Roland is monomaniacally focused on reaching the Dark Tower, and will sacrifice anything and anybody if it means taking one step closer to it. His character arc has him seeking redemption and developing bonds with the other characters. In the movie, Roland is already sworn to protect the tower: his motivation is obvious, and knowing Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Roland doesn’t possess the complexity of the original.
The Dark Tower movie has every sign of being all flash and no depth. The plot of the movie doesn’t even come close to the plot of the original. It may even be a decent action flick in its own right, but with all the changes to the story, it might as well be a brand new IP altogether.
But for Hollywood, it is far easier to piggyback off an established brand than to invest the time and money needed to build up a new one. And they will keep doing that, regardless of the cost.