Rundown: We review the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Does it live up to expectations? The answer is surprisingly long. In our second segment, the men behind HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” announced their next project, a controversial new series called “Confederate,” which is set in the present day and the South had seceded from the Union, and slavery is still legal. We talk about questionable stories and being offended by something you haven’t even seen yet. And speaking of “Game Of Thrones,” Peter Brown from Assignment X joins us to talk about Sunday night’s episode AND last week’s episode since we were on vacation last week.
Topic 1: The Dark Tower and the art of adapting books to film
Sit back folks, this one’s going to be a doozy.
The 1990s was an era of pipe dreams for nerdy story lovers. While more and more genre movies were being made, they missed as much as hit. It seemed moviemakers just couldn’t trust their source material. This was the era where Joel Schumacher took Batman, the raw materials you could use to make The Dark Knight, and chose to make Batman and Robin. Every time a genre movie was made, Hollywood directors and writers would have to put their stamp on it, discarding what fans loved in the source material and replacing it with Hollywoodized versions even while nerd fans dreamed of well-made, direct adaptations of their favorite works. For every Dick Tracy, there was a Saint (starring Val Kilmer, it was awful). For every Contact, starring Jodie Foster, there was a Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone.
It was a time where the greatest nerd stories ever told were just out of reach. I remember discussions in the back of comic book shops about how great it would be to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings into a fantasy trilogy, doing for fantasy storytelling what George Lucas did for sci fi in his original Star Wars. Or wouldn’t it be cool if they used Marvel comics as a basis for movies, but did it like they did it in comics so the characters could cross over into each other’s movies. The smart money said those things were never going to happen.
But in the early 2000s, Hollywood began to get smart. The did faithful adaptations of The X-Men, then in one glorious year Harry Potter and the first Lord of the Rings book. And they were smashes. The more the learned, the better they did. The Harry Potter series became a classic. The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead all showed with the right talent using the respect for the source material could make quality, lucrative movies and shows.
But one series stood out, unmade, above many of these. That was Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Now Stephen King was such a prolific storyteller that there were many undisputed classic movies to his name.. Stand By Me, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Dolores Claiborne, even The Running Man. And the Dark Tower was his magnum opus, his series with the most ardent fans, all begging for a faithful adaptation of this series about a mythic gunslinger traversing a barren, magic filled land to kill a villain who may be the devil himself.
Now surely in the era of Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and The Walking Dead, a studio could see its way clear to do a diligent and modern adaptation of this storytelling icon’s most beloved series.
In fact plans were announced in 2010, with Ron Howard directing the first in a series of movies which was to adapt King’s books into a series of interlocking movies and short-run, Fargo-like TV series. Akiva Goldsman, hot off his Oscar winning screenplay for Howard’s A Beautiful Mind was to help adapt. And then, this, and then that, and then the Hollywood machine ground the idea more and more until Howard dropped out, the ambition was pared down from a seven or eight movie series to a single movie that wasn’t even based off any of King’s existing books. The Dark Tower, which hit theaters this weekend starring Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black, is a story which takes place after the last book in the series.
For Goldsman, one of the credited writers and also a writer on Schumacher’s 1990s Batman and Robin, and director Nikolaj Arcel, it’s like the last 20 years didn’t exist. You have one of the most beloved storytellers of the modern era give you eight books of stories, and no, they’re not good enough, you have to replace them with your own story? Did these guys, or Sony, not learn anything from The Lord of the Rings?
Topic 2: HBO’s Confederate and controversy in TV making
No script has been written and not a single frame has been shot, but the HBO show “Confederate” is already engulfed in controversy. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the men behind “Game Of Thrones” and Nichelle Tramble Spellman, a writer/producer of “The Good Wife” and her husband Malcolm Spellman, a writer and producer of “Empire,” “Confederate” is an alternate-history drama set in modern times in which the South has seceded from the Union, and slavery is legal. Right after the announcement, the Twitterverse was lit up and there were calls for boycotts. A lot of folks don’t love the idea of Benioff and Weiss, two white men who have often faced controversy about “Game Of Thrones” lack of diversity and sexual violence, telling this story, even with the Spellman’s involvement. There are concerns that the timing for this type of show really sucks, because racist Trump supporters are more emboldened than ever. And the flip side, there’s a backlash to the backlash, asking if we’re supposed to offended and start protesting movies and TV shows we haven’t even seen yet? So, yeah, let’s talk about it. Smith, what do you think? Is the outrage premature?
Malcolm Spellman on the fantastic Scriptnotes podcast:
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