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Sunlit Horror

by Ross Douthat

Stephen King’s novels and stories have been adapted for the screen about 40 times, and the less said about most of those movies, the better. Back when King was in his prime, in the 1970s and 1980s, some great directors took up the challenge of translation — Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg and of course Stanley Kubrick (though The Shining is so overwhelmingly Kubrickian that the King original is just another ghost in its hotel). But King’s powers have waned, the movie industry’s big players have moved on to other stories, and in the 23 years since The Shawshank Redemption, the list of King adaptations includes a few decent B-movies and a lot of mediocrity and dreck.

This summer’s The Dark Tower was the first attempt at a King-based big-budget movie since Dreamcatcher (a dud adapted from a dud) in 2003. It failed, not surprisingly, because, while King’s Dark Tower novels are superficially perfect for this age of world-building and endless sequels, in reality they are way too recondite and weird and King-specific (some would say, King-up-his-own-posterior) to compete with the Marvels of the world. The Dark Tower movie tried to be more accessible and simple and non-arcane, but that just made it thin and weightless and disposable, and audiences treated it accordingly.

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