Why Idris Elba shouldn’t be playing Roland “The Gunslinger”


It is official – Idris Elba will be the Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. And as usual, the Internet goes wild – at least somewhat – over the choice of the actor. But mostly for the wrong reasons.

As one might have thought, the race swapping is the primary reason why people think Idris Elba is not a good choice for the role of Roland, the last Gunslinger, who is on the quest to find the Dark Tower and, well, fix the world.

There was a similar uproar Scarlett Johanssen with who will be playing Major Kusanagi in the movie “Ghost in the Shell”, where people accused the movie producers of “whitewashing”. Hollywood bunch is currently under strong attack for being a white (boy’s?) only club, if it is to be judged by the prizes they are giving away, recently, so people are wondering if the decision to start casting outside the parameters of the initial story motivated by some kind of positive action?

scarlett johannson as major kusanagi

They are really sticking to detail as far as the hair is concerned.

All of this misses the point by a mile. Here are some facts that will help you put things in perspective.

Idris Elba is an excellent actor

It helps that I share that opinion and love the guy. I loved him ever since I first caught a glimpse of him on The Wire. He has presence, charm, dignity, intelligence and strength, all combined in his appearance. This is a very hard feat to pull off, especially in these days, and he does it superbly.

I also have no doubt that he is sufficiently a tough to play the role of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger.

The real problem is not with Idris Elba; it is much rather an issue with the role he is going to pick up as well as the world he is going to try to revive. Let us start with the world.

Stephen King incredible books make (mostly) for poor movies

I am not sure what the deal is, but most of Stephen King movie adaptations are a horrible mess that hurt everyone, including the cast of the movie. Most of the time the adaptation is only a distant relative to the movie itself, as it will probably be the case with this movie. King has had some great movies made based on his books, such as The Shining, Carrie, Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand by me, but from his books also arose a number of horrible movies or TV adaptations that were downright horrible. Lawnmower Man, Silver Bullet, The Mangler, Tommyknockers, The Stand, Maximum Overdrive, The Langoliers, and the Langoliers again… Second, King’s version of The Shining… The list goes on and on. There are also some of the King’s mediocre adaptations like Secret Window with Johnny Depp and Dreamcatcher with Damian Lewis and Morgan Freeman, but the real success are rare and few in between. But why is that?

THE SHINING, from left: Jack Nicholson, Joe Turkel, 1980. ©Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

THE SHINING: Jack Nicholson and Joe Turkel

To put it simply, King loves to write, and he often loves to write long, detailed stories, with deep character development and thousand pages novels. It is what he does. And this more often than not translates very poorly into screenplays. And since that is what many people try when attempting to adapt his books to movies, the results are pretty much obvious.

The only way out of this trap is to take the best parts of the King’s story, the spirit of the novel and “do your own thing”.

Dark Tower series will make for poor movies

While I love the (early) Dark Tower books, they would make for a horrible movie/screenplay.

To sum up The Gunslinger: A guy with two guns stops by in the small village of some 100+ people at the edge of the desert while following the Man in Black, who was previously there and had instigated the entire village to try and kill Roland the Gunslinger. Roland kills everyone in the village, including women and children. It helps that he is the only one with guns and bullets. He goes into the desert, following the Man in Black. He finds Jake, who comes from our world. They follow the Man in Black together. Eventually, there comes a point where Roland needs to decide between saving the boy and catching up with the Man in Black; he chooses to catch up with Man in Black because this guy has info on Dark Tower, which is something Roland is on the quest for. Jake dies (falls into the abyss). Roland and Man in Black have a chat. That “palaver” lasts for many years, and when it is done, Roland falls asleep, then wakes up next to the dead Man in Black. He goes on to the edge of the ocean and, well, there it is where the first book ends.

It took Stephen King around 16 years to write this one down.

the gunslinger

The Gunslinger, the Rose and the Dark Tower

Now, I might seem to be pulling your leg, but The Gunslinger is one of my favorite books, due to the atmosphere that it is building up the entire time. The sense of endless desert, the foreboding doom, the Gunslingers determination to do anything, no matter how painful or difficult, in order to succeed in his mission. It was true poetry.

But it would never work in one-on-one translation to the movies.

Thank God, the people doing this are already aware of this fact, and some things are already way off the course charted by the books. Jake is a psychic, doesn’t get killed off, Man in Black is recruiting an army to stand in Roland’s way, Roland doesn’t get to see his fingers being eaten off by monster lobsters… Yeah, stuff changed.

Alas, the reasons why Idris Elba shouldn’t be doing this role have far more to do with these two parts then anything else. It will be an ungrateful up-hill fight and only if the script, the screenplay and adaptation work well enough will Elba have a fighting chance to portrait one of the most legendary iconic figures of modern literature properly.

I for one salute to Mr Idris Elba and wish him all the luck, hoping that he will make an excellent Roland the Gunslinger in a brave, new adaptation of Dark Tower books.

And let the world move on.


About Author

Vlad The Impaler

Vlad is an old school gamer, all the way back from the times of Commodore 64. Yes, with 30 years of gaming and some 15 years as an editor and author, writing reviews for a number of magazines and online gaming portals, he is the true OG of the gaming generation. Cake is a lie. The chicken is real. The truth is out there.

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