Prolific horror and fantasy novelist Stephen King has seen two of his most popular works adapted for the big screen this year. His magnum opus, The Dark Tower, was finally made into a movie after years of development. Starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, The Dark Tower was released in theaters at the start of August. Meanwhile, IT has also returned to haunt us. The clown-centric horror movie, based on King's classic 1986 novel, stars Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, with a cast of pre-teens making up The Losers Club. IT's release came almost exactly a month after The Dark Tower, but while The Dark Tower can be declared a flop, IT has floated to the top, enjoying huge success with the biggest opening of any horror movie, ever. And it's not even Halloween!
Almost doubling predictions, IT grossed more than $120 million in its opening weekend, while The Dark Tower pulled a meager $19.5 million. While admittedly the two movies are very different from one another, they are still both adaptations from the same, very popular, author. Both are well-known works, and both movies were very highly anticipated. So why did IT succeed, but The Dark Tower failed?
The Dark Tower, as previously mentioned, had been in development for years, landing at various studios before finding its home at Sony Pictures. The casting of Elba as The Gunslinger, opposite McConaughey as the Man in Black, was broadly welcomed by fans, and it seemed as though this movie would be one of the highlights of 2017.
The movie also had its challenges, however, since the source material is fiendishly difficult to adapt for the screen. The Dark Tower is a series of seven very long novels, plus two shorter ones, and there's even a comic book series as well. The tale of Roland the Gunslinger's journey is long, detailed, and most definitely worthy of an in-depth retelling. As such, it's impossible to adapt all of the novels into one movie. In fact, if you just took the first novel and adapted that faithfully, you'd be looking at a movie well over three hours long.
Maybe this was Sony, and director Nikolaj Arcel's first downfall; they bit off far more than they could chew. The Dark Tower movie, we learned, would draw material from across all of King's books in the series, while also putting its own slant on things. This would not be a sequel, but a continuation of Roland's journey to the tower - another cycle in the never-ending torment that is his life. While this might sound confusing, it made sense to King fans, and we were mostly excited to see what changes Arcel would have made, and what elements would be kept. We were also told that multiple Dark Tower movies were planned, as well as a tie-in TV series, based on the fourth book (a prequel) "Wizard and Glass."
But as work progressed on The Dark Tower, concerns started to emerge. First came news that Eddie and Susannah Dean would not feature in the movie, even though they're two of the most integral characters in the story other than Roland, Jake, and The Man in Black. Then we learned that other characters, who barely feature in much later books, would have larger parts. Fans accepted this, though we all had questions, but reports of the special effects work being awful, and unfinished, could not be ignored.
As time went on, it became obvious that The Dark Tower simply would not make its original February 2017 release date, and indeed it didn't. More time was needed to finish special effects work, and so it was moved to July, and then to August. While it's not unheard of for this to happen, it's still a concern, especially when its a movie such as The Dark Tower, which relies heavily upon special effects to make certain scenes - such as Roland's gunslinging, to seem as impressive as they are described in the book.
Perhaps The Dark Tower's biggest failing, prior to its release, was Sony's total lack of marketing for the movie. The first trailer didn't arrive until the very end of April 2017. By that point, all the concerns about the delayed release date were already out there, and it's hard to abate those when there's no evidence of a decent movie trailer. And when the trailer did finally arrive, it was good, but not great. The movie posters were similarly dull, subsequent trailers didn't really enhance or add anything to expectations, and all-round promotion for The Dark Tower seemed thin on the ground. Sony upped their game immediately prior to the movie's release, but it was too little, too late.
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