Just a note that this post may contain minor spoilers for anyone has not yet read or completed the Dark Tower series. I won’t be going into in-depth detail on characters or plots, but some of my points will veer into minor spoiler territory.
If you’re a movie fan or a Stephen King fan, then I’m sure you’ll have heard the recent news that Sony and MRC have acquired the rights to Kings epic fantasy Western series. Most of us who have been following King for a while will no doubt be aware of the many similar pieces of news which have been published over the years. Only last year it seemed like it was finally going to happen, with Ron Howard putting himself forward as Director, Akiva Goldsmith writing a draft script, and they put together a plan almost as ambitious as the series itself – multiple movies and an accompanying TV series to ensure the screen adaptation remained as faithful as possible to what Sai King put on paper. For most fans it seemed like a dream come true, with daily discussions on hopes and fears being posted on forums and blogs, and over time various A-list actors began being attached to the series. But it all fell apart.
It’s hardly surprising. Aside from the sheer scope of the series, and the budgets that would be involved, there are many factors involved in creating this project. Sure, some lazy company could make a couple of movies loosely based on a gunslinger chasing a man in black through a desert, and through various worlds in search of The Dark Tower, but what would be the point? Every fan has a will they/won’t they/can they/should they relationship with the series. King fans are a ravenous, faithful bunch, and even such heralded adaptations as The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, and Stand By Me have their detractors. For some The Dark Tower is the Holy Grail, and many fans are waiting for an adaptation to fall foul of dubious script decisions, removals and/or additions of plot points. When considering ‘will they’ or ‘won’t they’, to me it seems like the answer is an inevitable yes.
Almost everything King has written has made it to screen in some shape or form, with The Dark Tower being the ever more conspicuous gap. Even though King’s films are not always profitable, even though they are rarely both critically and commercially well received, it has never stopped people making and releasing them. Hollywood is so out of ideas that it will turn to what it knows best – big names, remakes, and sequels. In horror there is no bigger name than King, and already many of his previous screen adaptations are being remade. The flip side of this point is that Hollywood hates to take a gamble, and The Dark Tower could end up being a costly flop. Possibly the idea of movies could be abandoned altogether, and the series as a whole could be translated to the small screen instead. Shows such as Under The Dome and Haven appear to be doing well, and Game Of Thrones has proven that the viewer is willing to follow a complex fantasy series with a massive cast of characters – as long as it’s done right, and with quality. TV is in a different place than in previous decades, pulling in the finest writers and actors and budgets – get the right people involved and the rest should follow naturally.
That takes me to ‘can they’? This may be the most complex question. What approach do you take, how do you get a cast and crew to commit to something so huge – it’s a series that will take up a considerable chunk of an actor/director/writer’s life, and there are iconic characters which are sure to stick with an actor for the rest of their life and beyond. Where do you draw the line between what is considered for a movie, and what for TV? What happens if the first movie is a flop? How do you adequately explain Roland’s determination to get to the Tower, how do you cover all of the important imagery which permeates each story? How do you convey The Tower as the apex of all worlds without showing those worlds, and their tie-in stories and characters? How do you film an insane, riddle-loving bullet train racing through a Wasteland towards its own destruction? How do you deal with the meta nature of the last few books? How do you film sex in A Speaking Demon ring… what the hell is a Speaking Demon ring? Every few pages of each book there will be something problematic for even the greatest writer and director. The simple answer is that the best writers and directors simply make things work. Like magicians or silver-tongued liars, they can convince us of anything… but it will never be easy. Can they do it? Ultimately, yes. I have no doubt that a dedicated group could make this a seminal moment in Televison and Film history; I have no doubt that a respectful company could craft something entertaining. However, I am fully aware that it could be a resounding disaster.
And so my final question, and the most vague and subjective of the bunch – should they do it? I’m not a snob. As I sit writing this on my Kindle, I have a bottle of Estrella to my left, and a plate of half-eaten cottage pie to my right. My point is that I’m just a normal fanboy. King has been a massive influence of my life in many ways, a constant nightly whisper in my ear, and a source of entertainment and inspiration since my childhood. I’ve been reading King since I was 10, possibly younger, although I was a late comer to The Dark Tower, tackling it (ironically) for the first time when I was 19. There are snobs though… movie snobs, critical snobs, and alas, even King snobs. Most of the time I know that those guys will never be pleased, so there’s little point in even considering them. It’s us Constant Readers that are the biggest concern. I’m a member of several online King and Dark Tower fan groups, and there is rarely a standard consensus on even the simplest issue concerning The Dark Tower and a possible screen outing, from casting choices to favourite book or character. Once again though, the simplest answer is that it will be impossible to please everyone all of the time. Hell, we even criticise King for certain moments in the series, so what chance will a movie have? Therefore, the best option is to respectfully ignore such opinions and just go make it. Most of us want to see it, many of us will be disappointed no matter how great it is, but there’s that chance, that hope that it could be something brilliant.
As for me, anyone who knows me knows I often speak in highly hyperbolic ways – I feel The Dark Tower is the single greatest piece of art of the 20th Century. The books have been written over the span of decades, and they relate to almost all of the output of the most prolific and important writer of the last hundred years or so. I want to see this series being made, and of course I want to see it be good, and successful. To finish up I’m going to unleash my inner fanboy and explain what I would love to see for the series. I’m not going to mention casting choices, though I do think underused actors such as Ben Foster, Josh Zuckerman, Michael Shannon, and Michael Pitt should be considered. What I would love the most is if the series branched out to encompass the major tie in novels and short stories. Similar to what Marvel has been doing with The Avengers, SHIELD, Thor, Captain America etc etc – they have created a massive living breathing world with familiar cast members crossing over from one film to the next. Every year there is at least one blockbuster related to the overall series, and although each acts as a standalone, there are clear ties to other films and characters which both serve the world, serve the plot, and act as fan service as the nerds recognise some otherwise throwaway comment which relates to some event in a previous or upcoming moment. This is what I would love to see with King’s work – films with ties to The Dark Tower being made as standalones, but like the books, having enough connections to The Dark Tower itself. Actors passing over, character names and imagery dropped, things as minor as a painting of Roland and the Tower in The Mist, up to the true tie ins such as Salem’s Lot, Hearts In Atlantis, Insomnia etc. One of the most important lines in the series is ‘There are other worlds than these’, and what better way to hype up the importance of the quest for The Tower, by having all of these other films and characters directly reference it?
Below I’ll list the books I’d love to see being linked to The Dark Tower series as per the books, but note that I’m aware many of the below are already in the works and the rights to each will cause obvious conflicts. I haven’t read everything yet by King, so there may be some tie-ins I’ve missed. Let me know in the comments what your hopes and fears for the series are, and what you would love to see on screen. Do you have any preferred actors for Roland and his Ka-Tet? Which directors are worthy of the series and could give a movie their own unique vision?
Salem’s Lot: This has seen a couple of mini-series (and a sequel) already, but the world loves vampires, right? The obvious tie-in is Father Callahan, a figure only briefly seen in Tobe Hooper’s adaptation, but given more weight in the Rob Lowe version. A mini series on Salem’s Lot would be cool, given that it deals with the total destruction of the town, and we could also see the wraparound short story prequel and sequel (Jerusalem’s Lot and One For The Road) filmed for added depth. Could we tie in Little Sister Of Eluria here too?
The Stand: The original mini-series is one of my favourite shows/movies ever, even with Molly Ringwold. Although a movie is already in the works, given that it deals with Mr Flagg himself, it’s a chance to have a major actor crossover and explanation of the many beams and levels leading to The Tower. An excellent story on its own, we would get to learn more about Flagg, including the fact that he just won’t go away.
The Talisman/Black House/Sequel: Although King and Straub have dropped hints of a third Jack novel, it hasn’t been written yet. Fans have been crying out for an adaptation for years now, and the first two books alone would make for a stellar movie or TV series. Once again, there are many connections which would answer questions posed in The Dark Tower, but each book stands alone brilliantly.
It: Again, an existing mini-series that I hold dear to my heart, and one which is getting the remake treatment. We could use this opportunity to go into a little more detail about Beams, Guardians, and the fear/emotion sucking demons which inhabit the many worlds.
The Eyes Of The Dragon: Well, why not. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent child/teen oriented fantasy story which is equally suitable for adults. I’d love to see this being handled in the same way as many of the 80s classics by masters such as Richard Donner, Stephen Spielberg, and Joe Dante. It’s Flagg again, and we may meet a few familiar faces along the way.
Insomnia: A terrific book, but one that doesn’t exactly have the dollar sign written all over it. Then again, if it was handled in the style of Cocoon, but with King’s darkness thrown in, it could be a sleeper hit. There’s a whole world of older actors out there, many of which would relish some of the roles encountered in these pages. There is of course the large tie-in of Patrick Danville and The Crimson King himself which would shock and impress those who haven’t read the books.
Desperation/The Regulators: Desperation has seen the screen treatment already, and The Regulators is ripe for social commentary given a lot of the suburban fear and paranoia swirling around the world at the moment. These have the potential for good movies on their own merits, and from a connection perspective we can have the villains using certain words/langauge from Roland’s world, although this would be more difficult to recognise on screen than on paper.
Hearts In Atlantis: The screen adaptation was fine, but left much of the violence and Tower related stuff out. Once again we have a fairly major character crossover, and there’s the potential of confusing matters by having the same actor who plays Jake starring as Bobby from Hearts.
Everything’s Eventual: Aside from Eluria, which should be covered in the main series somewhere, we could have the title story too due to another character crossover. Due to the short length, Dinky’s story could be incorporated into another film as a sub plot.
Cell: Although light in direct connections, there could easily be inserted references and hints that the evil force involved could be siding with The Crimson King.
Under The Dome: Not many connections again, but as this show is already up and running, and going in its own direction from the novel, they could easily drop some Tower references.
Apologies for the lengthy post – hopefully Tower Junkies will find something useful or even entertaining here. Just before I leave, as I was writing the connections, it struck me that a standalone TV series could be created -not as a specific series for one of the DT books, but a unique series based on the tie-in novels, and possibly featuring the main DT players. This could be a Hammer’s House Of Horrors style show with a self-contained episode each time which links to DT or one of the stories above, or have a more serialized approach like SHIELD with both currently existing King stories and characters as above making appearances, but also newly written unique stories – an ongoing struggle against Low Men, vampires, demons, the Crimson King and featuring the recruiting of important Breakers, warriors, and some of the many many lesser characters of the DT books and their connected stories. A man can dream…