The Dark Tower movie is actually happening. We know this for a fact because stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, and director Nikolaj Arcel were right here in our backyard just a short while ago shooting it. But for a long time though, production of this movie looked like a pipe dream. Stephen King’s masterful 7-book series is one of incredible scope and ambition, essentially forming a narrative connection between every book he’s ever written as the Gunslinger Roland Deschain attempts to save the Tower that stands as the keystone at the centre of all reality.
A story that epic needed an epic adaptation, producer Ron Howard and co producer Brian Grazer wanted to do just that. Their original plan years ago involved Howard directing a trilogy of feature films, with Javier Bardem as Roland, and then having a companion TV series that would take place in the gaps between these movies. Due to production and budget issues those plans changed though, and the TV series idea was scrapped. Or was it? Chatting to Deadline in an extensive interview about the project, Howard revealed that a Dark Tower TV series to accompany a movie trilogy may indeed still be in the pipeline.
“We’re developing the television part, now. We don’t know what platform it will be on at this point, but we’re developing the content in hopes for more movies that will cover the epic and the characters involved.”
So not exactly greenlit yet, but they’re definitely working on it, which is still pretty cool. Howard also revealed how he got involved in attempting this epic feature film adaptation. Simply put: JJ Abrams was too busy.
“[Screenwriter] Akiva Goldsman first pitched it to me while we were making A Beautiful Mind and the rights weren’t available. JJ Abrams was working on it at first and then Akiva told me JJ was involved in so many projects he let it go.”
And what was Abrams’ loss was Howard, Glazer and Goldsman’s gain. But first the trio faced the daunting task of how to translate King’s beloved source material to the screen, staying true to the original tale but still putting their own spin on it without upsetting the millions of fans. The answer was right there in the text itself.[BOOK SPOILER WARNING] As we previously reported, the end of the Dark Tower novels reveal that Roland has been on this quest numerous times. Each time he does things slightly differently getting him closer to the ultimate resolution, but then gets sent back to the start of his journey by the godlike Gan with no memory of what he had done. In the books though, he finally finds an item known as the Horn of Eld which is believed to be the final tool he needs to finally complete this quest once and for all.
And Howard confirmed that the movie is indeed showing us this “final” quest now that Roland has the Horn, allowing them to deviate from the source material while still keeping it officially canon.
“We started talking about what it could be. I read all the novels and we broke them down. [Akiva] presented this idea to Stephen King, and this is insider material you might not get, but it was about introducing the Horn of Eld into the very first story. He knew it would allow us to use elements of the novels in a new combination that would give us the latitude to be true to the essence of the novels, but also re-balance and refocus the narrative in a cinematic way. That was the jumping-off point that began this process.
When [Media Rights Capital] and Modi Wiczyk became involved, that discussion deepened and we focused more on the Jake Chambers-Roland relationship at the very center of the first movie as a way of launching the universe. We simplified the story line, made it less expensive as a result, but we still utilized a lot of those important structural adjustments that Akiva and I had devised going back years ago. One of the things we did was put together a team of Dark Tower researchers, devotees of the books. We wanted to restructure the novels to be most cinematic and Stephen King agreed completely and understood the journey we were on immediately and supported it. We used this group to inspire our thinking and stay in the universe of Dark Tower.”
Grazer added this new approach allowed for much more streamlined storytelling.
“We’ve definitely been working on it at least 10 years, but we found the perfect way to make it. It’s economical, and forced us to focus on the scenes that were the heartbeat of the story. It’s still a big landscape, but the scenes are more bull’s-eye than maybe it was back then.”
Having King himself on board with all of this should also go a long way to allay the fears of fans that Howard and co will not do this story justice. One additional fact that should also help is that Nikolaj Arcel, who eventually took over the directing reins from Howard on this project, is very much as big a fan of King’s books as any other.
“Just about the time Akiva, Modi, Brian and I we were going to give up, Tom Rothman at Sony came aboard and that was an important turning point and that led to Nik. He grew up on the books and always loved them. He really was a great choice to approach the story in the most humanistic and cool way, focusing a lot on the Jake-Roland relationship. He understood the importance of that and connected with both characters. He’s also a strong original filmmaker with great taste. He and his writing partner tackled a rewrite and Nic has done a terrific job staging it.”
Of course, fans being fans, there will always be something to get antsy about when a beloved book is being adapted. In this case it was the eventual decision to not go with Bardem as Roland as originally planned, but rather casting Idris Elba in the role as the Gunslinger. In the books, Roland is white and Idris Elba is black. While I myself have been very vocal about skin colour not needing to be a deciding factor when casting an existing character, it was only when the character’s skin colour never factored into who they were. In this case, Roland being white plays a huge role in him meeting a very important character in the story later on. It’s a crucial narrative beat in the story, and now that Roland is being played by a black man, I’m not sure how that will be addressed.
Howard isn’t sharing any details on how that future plot point is going to play out, but did justify why they went with Elba for the role.
“I’ve always felt that the essence of Roland was not necessarily the carbon copy of Clint Eastwood, even though that was what they used as the model on a lot of the book covers. The existential Western hero, played by Clint in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and Hang ‘Em High and those Sergio Leone Westerns, that was what inspired young Stephen King to begin with. But I never felt it was necessarily a look as much as an essence. So did Stephen. In this iteration, when we began thinking about candidates, Idris just felt like a really exciting and dynamic possibility. Idris brings this crucial combination of coiled danger, quiet charisma, undercurrents of complexity and nobility, and a kind of timeless cool. These are the elemental qualities of Roland, in my mind, and I think Idris carries it incredibly well.”
One casting that fans have been almost uniformly welcoming of though is that of Matthew McConaughey as the villainour Walter o’Dim, aka the Man In Black aka Randall Flagg, an evil and twisted warlock who appears not just in The Dark Tower, but also a number of other King books.
“Then there is McConaughey. I had always thought he would be a tremendous Walter. I worked with him once and long have been a fan since he emerged on the scene. So is Akiva, who wrote the script for A Time To Kill. He and I always believed Matthew would be a great trip and it was a dream come true when he said yes. He brings that combination of diabolical amorality mixed with an intelligence and his own logic that he adheres to, relentlessly. And a kind of wry wit that kept readers and will keep the movie audience off balance in a very entertaining way. You never know what to expect next from the Walter character. Matthew mixes that with an undercurrent of impending violence and danger, in a very watchable way.”
I’m sure as hell excited to see what McConaughey can do with the role. And I’m such a big fan of Elba’s that barring that one issue, I’m very intrigued to see his take on Roland as well. This project has been stuck in developmental hell for so long, that the fact it’s now made it this far is already a titanic achievement in of itself. It’s been a hell of a long journey, now they just to finish strong.
The Dark Tower is scheduled for release on February 17, 2017. It also stars Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick, Jackie Earle Haley, Fran Kranz and Abby Lee Kershaw.
Last Updated: September 5, 2016