5 Ways to Prep: Dark Tower
By George Rose
August 3, 2017

James Bond and Han Solo get their cowboy up.

With the release of The Dark Tower, we are being offered a story that focuses on two different realities colliding. Since my birthday is in October and I am a libra, I feel that I am capable of seeing both sides to most stories. Usually, I feel strongly about one side and shortly after seeing the other, eventually settling on indifference. Each week when I write an article, I feel strongly about my positive or negative viewpoint and either praise or pummel the new film release. Then I read it online and hate myself because the other interpretation presents itself and I regret my initial opinion. Then a day later I’m over it, already fine with whatever article the fates drove me to and start planning next week’s picks. It’s a vicious cycle.

No person (in my initial opinion) better reflects this dual-reality of criticism than Stephen King. He is supposed to be a great writer, a master of horror and one of the best storytellers around. In reality, the best thing he’s written was a memoir-slash-instruction manual on how to write (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft), which I had to read in college for one of my publication classes. And again, in reality, his most accessible stories (from the list of films I had seen) come from the drama department (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) and not horror (Pet Sematary, It, Children of the Corn, Secret Window). For every one good King drama we are given two horror duds. That was at least my truth in 2004 when I started college. After I read King’s memoir, graduated, and went on to watch some of the good horror movies his books have led to (The Shining, Carrie, Misery, 1408, and more) I grew the biggest horror boner for King.

Skip ahead a decade and now it’s 2017. King has two stories becoming movies; this weekend we have The Dark Tower, a bland looking fantasy-drama-western hybrid thing. Then in September, we have It, a remake of the campy 1990s TV mini-series that early word and trailers promise will be one of the best scary movies in years. I find myself lost and confused with King. It’s like somehow I worship the ground this man walks on, but I always have the desire to spit on his grave. I look up to him, but don’t want my future novels to have his unbalanced appeal. And even though I’m more excited to see It in September and think The Dark Tower this weekend is sure to remind me of some of Hollywood’s other worst western/fantasy hybrid dumpster babies, I refuse to talk poorly about the iconic writer.

Despite my often harsh criticism of King’s classic stories, I’m going to try and find the balance and hope in The Dark Tower. Though this is sure to be the lesser of King’s two book adaptations this year, I want to be friends with Stephen one day, so I’m going to prep you by watching some bad western/fantasy films that help make Dark Tower seem better.

1) Jonah Hex (2010, 12% positive, $47 million budget, $10.9 million worldwide)

Stephen King is a legend, not simply for being a literary critical darling but because of the sheer volume of his library. When you’ve told hundreds of stories there is a good chance of few of them are pretty bad. So let’s take King out of the equation. Just like how comic books as a medium have diehard fans, King has diehard fans. If we remove the source, we can focus on the content. King and comics aside, what we have in common with Dark Tower and the following recommendations is a similar genre. Western + Fantasy = Dumpster Baby.

Going along with this week’s theme of duality, I am a HUGE fan of fantasy films and I couldn’t possibly hate western films more. Focusing on the bad, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised with westerns. Quentin Tarantino, a director I love, has made good western (Django Unchained) and good war (Inglourious Basterds) films, my two least favorite genresm which proves that I am capable of enjoying things I usually don’t like. It should go without saying that even though I like fantasy films, that genre has grilled a few turd burgers too.

With that said, for some reason when westerns and fantasy collide it makes for nothing short of a total failure. If you can’t take an established actor with recent acclaim under his holster (Josh Brolin), a super hot nerd-favorite “actress” with big boobs (Megan Fox), and a fanbase of source material that is generally willing to spend their money on even the worst the medium has to offer (comic book fans) to make a passable movie, then the problem is the genre. Jonah Hex isn’t a Marvel comic book movie, so there usually no need to see this film. It doesn’t fit into any cinematic universe other than being a western/fantasy Garbage Pail Kid. Go watch Bone-ah Hex before Dark Tower to see just how low the bar is for this boner killing genre.

2) Cowboys & Aliens (2011, 43% positive, $163 million budget, $174.8 million worldwide)

Shortly after director Jon Favreau launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe to great acclaim with 2008’s Iron Man and after Daniel Craig relaunched 007 with Casino Royale in 2006, these new Hollywood fan favorites came together to create Cowboys & Aliens, based on the 2006 graphic novel. Two different superstars, same fanbase, same two genres mashed up into a bucket full of Hershey squirts (look it up). If Favreau directed Craig in a space movie, it probably would be great. Oh man, if Favreau’s Zathura: A Space Adventure had featured Craig in the comical role that Dax Shepard occupied, that would have been AMAZING!!!

Instead we got Cowboys & Aliens. Aliens, for some reason, need gold. The old west was full of gold. Aliens come down, cowboys die, cowboys steal alien technology, aliens die, everyone dies but the audience. The audience that has to go to work to get gold to spend on movies we hope to love with celebrities we think we love that star in genres we should love mashed up together. Nope. Jonah Hex sucks. Cowboys & Aliens sucks. I bet Marvel could do it better!

3) Ghost Rider 2 (2012, 17% positive, $57 million budget, $132 million worldwide)

Not only can Marvel NOT do it better but they started this whole mess to begin with. Well, technically Sony couldn’t do it better but, still, this proves even beloved source material and good actors can’t save the studios from avoiding a western/fantasy fiasco. In 2007, Sony spent $110 million to make Ghost Rider, received only 26% positive reviews and earned $228.7 million worldwide. Usually earning only twice the budget is not enough to cover advertising costs and lost earnings from the foreign markets taking their international cut of the profits. The classic Marvel property is about a stuntman that sold his soul and became a leather-wearing flamer on a bike... I mean a big gay bear... I mean Ghost Rider. How didn’t that not earn more money?

Later in the movie, the new Ghost Rider meets a former cowboy Ghost Rider (ugh) that lived in world before motorcycles so he rides a flaming horse (uuuggghhh). When a Marvel movie can’t make a good western/fantasy film, nobody else should try. When the second attempt is Jonah Hex, not only should the Ghost Rider franchise die but so should the genre. When Cowboys & Aliens proves to be the third critical and financial dud of the same genre mashup in just three years, you can see that the studios aren’t catching on to the lessons they should learn.

And just when you thought that maybe the third time was the charm, we come full circle in 2012 with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I can understand other studios not learning from Ghost Rider’s mistakes, but why didn’t Sony learn on their own? Not even adding a beautiful chocolate man like Idris Elba could stop this sequel from sucking. The real shock is that this is actually the worst of the four western/fantasy movies mentioned and yet it was the only one that earned almost three times its budget, meaning it was the only one that might have earned a profit.
Maybe Elba is the lucky charm that will save Dark Tower from this very unlucky genre.

4) LotR: The Two Towers (2002, 96% positive, $94 million budget, $926 million worldwide)
Maybe the problem is that I’m focusing too much on Idris Elba’s gunslinging western cowboy and not enough about the Dark Tower itself. If it’s more about the tower, then things are looking up. Fantasy classics about towers have a better track record than westerns. Just look at the Lord of the Rings. The best part of that epic trilogy went on to earn ten times its production budget and won two Oscars. With a budget of only $60 million, The Dark Tower doesn’t need to earn a whole lot to be profitable. Anything more than $200 million worldwide should do the trick. I don’t imagine having half the towers will lead to half the earnings (or even half of the critical acclaim), but if Dark Tower can make even a quarter of Two Towers’ total than everyone wins.

5) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2001 award-winning book)
No matter how bad The Dark Tower is or how little it earns, I promise not to talk trash about it. Mostly because I don’t need the bad karma, but also because Stephen King deserves more respect than that. The man has written so many books and short stories that, like I said earlier, there’s no way they can all be good. If the film version of Dark Tower sucks, I’m going to blame either the genre mashup or the studio. Despite several disappointments from his collection, King still remains one of my icons and a true legend of Hollywood and Barnes & Noble.

I like to read but not fiction. I like my fiction in films. When I read the written word, I prefer there to be at least a hint of truth in it. I like educational texts and memoirs the most, which makes sense considering my favorite thing that King has ever written is a memoir that also serves as a how-to guide on writing. King is a hilarious guy with a coked-up past, proving he has true talent as a writer and is one bad-ass mother trucker. With so many stories already told, it was only a matter of time before he wrote one in the western/fantasy genre. There are many people to blame if/when the Dark Tower fails but Stephen, my future best friend, will remain a King to me.