A few years ago, I wrote a fairly scathing indictment of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.
This was coming from a jilted lover – as I sought a break from a series that burrowed its way into my heart when I was a mid-teen – that time when your lifelong passions really start to take shape. It was later in life that I felt this series wasn’t treating me as well as it once did, so I contemplated ending things before I could get to the grand finale.
It was The Drawing of the Three (the second novel in his epic 7-part sci-fi/fantasy/apocalyptic Western) that initially caught my eye. While on vacation in New Hampshire’s White Mountains region with my family, I found the newly released paperback edition in the book rack of the town’s general store and snapped it up. Having gobbled up every King release that my Dad left lying around the house, I had been hooked on his grim fairy tales from an early age – so that name on the binder was all I needed to make the impulse buy.
When I returned to our vacation cottage, I read the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book and realized the error of my ways. This was the second step along a road that King promised would be long and winding. He thanked his Constant Readers for saddling up alongside him when he first published Book 1 – The Gunslinger a few ears earlier but even he admitted that he had no clue how far away we were from our Final Destination. This tale, as the best stories often do, would tell itself.
Well, the cover (featuring an open door, standing incongruously on a desolate beach) called to me and I decided to dive in. I’d pick up The Gunslinger when I returned home and treat it like a little bit of back story. And to King’s credit, I found myself able to identify with The Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and his plight in record fashion.
I tore through the novel in a few measly days and then counted the minutes until vacation would end and I could peddle my bike as fast as possible towards our town library and grab hold of The Dark Tower: Vol. 1 – The Gunslinger.
Once I’d ripped through that book – and then reread the second – I began to wait… and wait… and wait… as King released annual novels, none of which brought us back to Midworld. And then when I was a sophomore in college, I pledged allegiance to a new longtime friend, Joe (who just so happens to be my son’s Godfather), and found we shared a kinship in King. It helped that Joe just happened to have the latest release in The Dark Tower mythos – Vol. 3 – The Wastelands.
Joe devoured it and then set the table for me. I immediately dropped all my coursework and journeyed alongside Roland and his ka-tet of Susannah, Eddie Dean from New York, Jake (the boy he first pulled from our side) and Oy, their critter companion – as they chased The Man in Black further into The Wastelands in a bid to prevent the Dark Tower from falling – the very spindle upon which all universes rotate.
The Wastelands deepened the saga – leading me to dream of the ideal film adaptation. Roland was a no-brainer; having obviously been inspired by Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name in those blood red spaghetti Westerns, such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. We were a couple years off from really getting to know Angela Bassett but once we did, she made a perfect Susannah – probably still does. As for Eddie Dean, he was a little more difficult to cast. Over the years, I’ve leaned towards Joe Pantoliano (when he was younger) but these days; maybe Ryan Gosling or Ben Foster. They both have that wounded vulnerability with a street-wise edge – the hero who needs to prop himself up a bit.
Four additional volumes followed over the next decade – and the further we traveled down King’s spiraling rabbit hole, the crazier things got – making me think this thing could never be filmed. Hell, if they were to adapt every last page, it would be an incomprehensible mess. What works on the page doesn’t always play well on the screen.
And – as I discussed in my Leaning Tower piece – I felt that King had rushed to the finish – a last stretch driven by his desire to outrun any more errant vans that may have him in their sights. He was mucking about with metaphors a little too much for my liking in those later novels and somewhere around the time he wrote himself and his real life accident into the story – he almost lost me. He didn’t stick the landing of his 7-part epic in the same way that his beloved JK Rowling did.
I eventually finished The Dark Tower and over the last couple of years, I’ve cottoned to it. In fact, a friend recently dropped a great line on me. “It’s his story – let him tell it.”
That immediately brought to mind a piece I read over at hitfix.com where their resident film and entertainment writer, Drew McWeeny, recounted a story where he found himself seated behind George Lucas at a benefit screening of Star Wars – A New Hope. This was the original version; a pristine print from the 1977 first run – meaning all of those obvious matte paintings and light gray cell margins of Tie Fighters streaking across ink-black star fields REALLY stood out.
McWeeny watched Lucas and noted that he had a very palpable, uncomfortable reaction whenever any flaw reared its ugly head. After all – he had only so much to work with when he first took a crack at committing his vision to film and technology had only grown so far at that point. Hell – it’s worth noting that it took Star Wars’ massive success to fund Lucas’ special effects house, Industrial Lights & Magic, which in turn could later go back and take a crack at perfecting what he was trying to do all along. Star Wars became its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
But that version that screened before so many of us wide-eyed moppets back in the late-70’s pains the guy to know end. So every time someone bitches and moans that Lucas is ruining their childhood with another Bantha digitally added to Tatooine, I just recall that line – “It’s his story – let him tell it.”
That being said – after the mammoth success that The Lord of the Rings enjoyed, I remarked that if anyone in Hollywood wanted a piece of the next big pie, they should jump onto The Dark Tower property as this thing will launch a billion ships.
And while JJ Abrams, Carleton Cuse and Damon Lindelof took a crack at it during their Lost heyday, they never could crack the enigma. This was a shame as the original news that they were involved had me ecstatic. I wasn’t alone. King sold them the rights for $19.00; having been a huge fan of Lost. He thrilled at the thought of this talented trio giving his baby the same careful treatment they brought to my last television obsession. They certainly knew their way around genre-bending spectacle.
But Abrams’ production company ‘Bad Robot’ backed away after a couple years of trying to make this work as a film – or series of films. It just seemed too large to cram it all in and do the story justice.
Damon Lindelof was quoted as saying: “The idea of taking on something that massive again after having done six seasons of Lost is intimidating and slightly frightening, to say the least.”
That seemed like the end of all that hopeful wishing that somebody would get this property right.
And then in mid-September 2010, NBC and Universal Pictures announced that Ron Howard and his production company ‘Imagine’ had secured the rights to the series and have etched an ambitious and unprecedented plan to bring the series to life.
Their strategy involves a feature film (set for release on May 17, 2013) followed by a six-episode television season that will air on NBC or one of its cable affiliates that Fall and Winter, followed by a second film the following year, which will then lead into a second season of the television series that will culminate in a final film in May of 2015. The 3 films and two seasons of the television show will tell the tale – and while some elements are bound to be excised in the adaptation – a videogame trilogy will also release one title per year that will work to fill in some of the blanks.
It’s a mammoth multimedia approach that is so crazy it just may work. And even if it’s a complete catastrophe, I think it will be a beautiful mess.
But I have hope.
First off, King has signed off on the scheme and is absolutely thrilled. In fact, it was this pitch that prompted him to regain those rights and sell them to Howard and company. And despite the fact that the television series will air on standard television – these days, there’s a lot that flies on TV – and when you get out to basic cable – there is a hell of a lot you can get away with (as AMC’s The Walking Dead proves each time they expose entrails).
Earlier this week, whispers began gathering strength that Javier Bardem and Christian Bale topped the short list of actors under consideration to play Roland. Late word yesterday has the role officially offered to Bardem – who just happened to secure an Oscar nomination for his work in Biutiful during the same week.
Bardem has that haunted look that would serve this role.
And one of the exciting prospects to this whole endeavor is that whoever signs aboard is committed for the long haul. That they’ll star in the films and TV series and videogames that draw together and bound this brave new world is exciting, to say the least.
So, where once I spied a crumbling edifice, I now thrill as The Dark Tower rises.