Deadline is reporting that Abbey Lee is in talks to join the cast of The Dark Tower as the female lead alongside Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Lee is best known for her role in Mad Max: Fury Road. She looks like this:
Deadline reports that Lee will be playing Tirana.
Who the fuck is Tirana?
Well, as it turns out, Tirana is a can-toi. According to Robin Furth's concordance, "When we meet this obese low woman in the Dixie Pig, she is wearing a strapless, silver evening dress. Detta Walker rips off her mask and exposes the rat beneath."
How this translates to Tirana being the alleged female lead of the first movie is a mystery to me. Except it isn't, because I know the answer: the writers on this movie are butchering King's novels. We already had hints that this might be the case, given that nothing about The Man In Black exactly screamed "Matthew McConaughey," and also given that nothing about Roland screamed "Idris Elba." Call me a racist if you want, but the Roland of the books is a white man, plain and simple. So if the role is being filled by Idris Elba, it's likely that some elements of the story have been adjusted.
If Tirana -- who I had to consult a concordance in order to remember -- is present in the first movie, the story changes seem even more pronounced; if she is the female lead, then it may be that what we are going to see on movie screens under the title The Dark Tower is going to be anything but The Dark Tower as we know it.
On the one hand, this is okay by me. I've been on Earth for almost 42 years now, and in that time, I've enjoyed many, many movies and television shows that adapt their source material very liberally. One of my two favorite Stephen King movies is more a Stanley Kubrick product than it is a reflection of the King novel, and that's fine by me, because I can experience whichever I prefer any time I want to. The Peter Jackson adaptations of Tolkien added characters and changed story, and I mostly loved the movies. There's no point in giving a comprehensive list of adaptations like this, but they are numerous, including the HUGE number of changes (very few of which gall me) to the James Bond novels for the movies.
So yeah, okay, maybe this is fine. And given this massive new piece of evidence showing that the movie(s) will be taking profound liberties with the books, I'm actually now okay with the idea of Idris Elba as Roland. Why? Well, because he's not really playing Roland, and he'll be doing so in a movie that isn't actually The Dark Tower. That ship has sailed; not going to happen. So instead, I can begin to look forward to Idris Elba playing a badass in what might end up being a fun sci-fi-/fantasy/horror/Western. That seems like a thing I could very much enjoy, so hopefully, I'll enjoy this one.
I'll have to force myself to forget the books while I'm watching it, but I guess maybe that's a thing I can at least try to do.
I mean, here's a valid question: why bother calling the character Tirana? She seems unlikely to be anything like the character in the novel, including the fact that they've hired one of the skinniest women on Earth to play a character described as "obese." Perhaps makeup will be involved, and the character actually will be a giant tub of guts, but let's assume that you don't hire an Abbey Lee to bury her under prosthetics. If so, this Tirana will not be anything like the book's Tirana, in which case SHE ISN'T ACTUALLY TIRANA, so why bother calling her that?!?
Again, I know the answer (potentially): because this production's filmmakers know they are fucking about with the source material, and know that King fans (if not King himself) are likely to grumble and complain. Therefore, they are desperate to show that they are actually being faithful to the material. "No, no...!" they will protest to the grumblings. "Tirana is a character from the books! We're using material from the books!"
This is familiar to me. During the current era of James Bond films, there has been a bizarre emphasis on paying homage to the other films by way of references. They have also tried to insert references to Ian Fleming's books and stories, so as to be able to claim that they are still working from Fleming's inspiration. Therefore, in the most recent film, Spectre, Bond pays a visit to a safehouse that is disguised as a "Hildebrand Rarities" shop or warehouse or something. Because, you see, there was an Ian Fleming short story titled "The Hildebrand Rarity." This is a reference designed to make Fleming fans uncross their arms and unsquint their eyes and say to themselves, "By Jove, these new movies are okay!" Problem is, the "Hildebrand rarity" of Fleming's short story is a fish, and as far as I know fish have nothing to do with safehouses. So tell me again how this namecheck reference is an indication of legitimate Fleming content instead of a pandering lie...?
So it seems to me to be with Tirana. It's a reference designed only to placate fans who are content to not actually ask why things are being done in a certain way. "Oh, she's in the book?" they'll ask, impressed. "Oh, cool!" They will then move on and think no more of it.
That's not me. That's not most of us around here, I bet.
The weird thing is, this news causes two simultaneous but very different reactions in me. On the one hand, it makes me throw up my hands in disgust because it couldn't now be more clear that the producers and writers and director are approaching the novels as something that need to be corrected. If so, I think that's the wrong way to approach them. The novels have issues, but there's no reason you couldn't make a great series of movies out of them. Tweak what needs tweaking, but massive and wholesale changes imply dissatisfaction with what is already there. In other words, Akiva Goldsman and Nikolaj Arcel are looking at these novels that so many fans love (warts and all) and are saying, "How do we fix this? What's here isn't good enough, so how do we make it good enough so that we can make a billion dollars on it?"
And hey, the movie business IS a business, so I get it. But if that's your mindset, you probably need to find a series of novels that are more conducive to earning you that billion dollars. Why buy a set of, as you see it, fundamentally-flawed books and then spend millions of dollars trying to figure out how not to lose money on them? Shit don't make no god damn sense.
So that's one reaction my brain is having. The other one is that I'm now, suddenly, rather okay with the idea of Idris Elba as Roland. As I mentioned in the comments section of a previous post, this is actually an idea I had several years ago: Elba is a badass, Roland is a badass, put them two hands together and start clapping. At that time, I failed to take the racial dynamics of the story into account, and if those dynamics aren't going to be part of the story of these movies, then sure, let's have Elba, by all means. Great actor, superstar on the verge of happening; he's a credit to virtually any production these days. And after all, even if the movie veers as far away from the novels as, say, The Running Man or The Lawnmower Man did, that's no guarantee the movie will be bad. This is not to imply that those are good movie; I've got a soft spot for both, but they are mediocre at best. They aren't that because they failed to closely adapt the King stories they were based on, though, and we can hope that The Dark Tower will be great regardless of how much fealty it pays King.
I suspect that's going to be very little fealty indeed. So perhaps we'd all better abandon all hopes of seeing an accurate and faithful adaptation. Let's begin to expect the following, or something similar:
- Susannah will not be in a wheelchair.
- Neither Odetta nor Detta will exist.
- Jake will be substantially older.
- Roland will not lose his fingers.
- Roland's gun skills will be literal superpowers of some sort.
- No Randall Flagg.
- No Stephen King.
- The entire plot of "Wolves of the Calla," Song of Susannah," and "The Dark Tower" will be ignored and/or eliminated.
- No Father Callahan.
- No flashbacks to Roland's youth.
- The entire plot of "The Gunslinger," with the possible exception of the Jake plotline and the Man in Black plotline, will be jettisoned.
- Jake and Eddie will be combined into a single character.
- Susannah will be white. (Productions like this care about diversity, but they rarely care enough to make more than one of the leads non-whites. If that seems like advance-level tokenism to you, well, it seems that way to me too *coughfantasticfourcough*.)
- The multiverse aspect will be discarded. Susannah and Eddie might not even come from our reality anymore.
- Oy will show up in the first movie.
- Any and all references to other King properties (like The Stand) go bye-bye.
- The Western aspects will be heavily played down.
- The violence will be restrained so as to obtain a PG-13. (Although the R-rated success of Deadpool could cause that to change, I can almost assure you they have been considering it a PG-13 up until this past Friday.)
I could go on, but why bother?
There's always a chance -- maybe even a strong one -- that all those changes could still result in a good movie. But the facts, as they mount up, all point toward zero interest in faithfully adapting the novels. Hollywood continues to mostly have no clue how to adapt Stephen King. They don't seem to ever learn from the good adaptations, which means that folks like Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist), Rob Reiner (Stand By Me and Misery), and Bridget Carpenter (11.22.63, at least so far) continue to be outliers in the King-adaptor community.
It's a shame, but what can we do? Hope for the best while expecting the worst, I guess. I don't know what else to do in a world where Tirana is going to be the female lead of a Dark Tower movie.