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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Ron Howard’s Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’? No, seriously: What are these people thinking?

Have you read any of Stephen King’s series The Dark Tower? No? Imagine if Clint Eastwood and James Joyce collaborated on a trippy fantasy about the mystical quest of a gunslinger. It’s weird and fascinating and has inspired a cultish following (and I really need to read more of the series [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], which has stretched to seven books and ancillary material beyond that). You’d likely find a pretty good consensus among those who’ve read it that — whether they love it or hate it, and not everyone loves it — it’s probably unfilmable.

But that never stopped Hollywood.

The rights to The Dark Tower had been lingering with J.J. Abrams for a while: he’d envisioned it as a TV series, according to the Hollywood Reporter blog Heat Vision:

as a reunion with “Lost” exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. Because of the comprehensive nature of the project, the creators wanted to wait until “Lost” was over to give it their attention. When they realized they wouldn’t be able to do an adaptation justice, they gave the rights back to King.

A TV series similar to Lost at least makes it sound like someone understands The Dark Tower… or thought he did, at least. If Abrams thinks he can’t do justice to this story, that’s telling.

So who has picked up the rights?

Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman are teaming up to tackle the fantasy Western.

The three are in discussions on a scenario that would see an adaptation begin as a movie, to be written by Goldsman and directed by Howard, that would lead to a TV series produced by Imagine’s small-screen division.

Yikes! Ron Howard seems to make really great movies only when they’re documentary in nature — Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13 — which is exactly what The Dark Tower is not and never could be. He took a movie about a schizophrenic mathematical genius, A Beautiful Mind, the subject matter of which certainly had the potential to be mindblowing, and he turned it into a pile of sap. Oh, and we have Akiva Goldsman to thank for that fiasco, as well: he’s written, in addition to Mind, some of the most simplistic movies culled from much more powerful source material of recent years. If someone were to invent a machine that would take complicated stories and water them down into mainstream pap, it would look a lot like Howard and Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.

Ron Howard’s Stephen King’s The Dark Tower? No, seriously: What are these people thinking?

Are they, in fact, actually telling themselves: “We understand why some people love The Dark Tower, but we think if we change everything about it that makes it cool and interesting, we can sell it to mainstream audiences by telling them it’s ‘based on the cult favorite by America’s favorite horror writer,’ even though our version of it will have removed anything that might upset, offend, or confound?”

The mind boggles.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Having read the entire series (and several of the books more than once) I can honestly say that I never really wanted to see the Dark Tower series made into a movie. Crikey, it’s seven Stephen-King-sized books; each book could be made into its own miniseries. And you’re right, they will probably take out everything that makes it cool and interesting because they’d want to dumb it down for the audience.

    The question is, would I go see a movie based on The Dark Tower series. Of course. You see, I’m a glutton for punishment. =0)

  • Cori Ann

    But…there’s just SO MUCH there. I can’t imagine this working even in a long-running television series. Just…no. No. My husband and I may indulge in fantasy casting from time to time–but I think (much like with, say, The Wheel of Time) we would both rather see it stay in print rather than on a screen of any kind.

  • I haven’t read the Dark Tower books; are they considered unfilmable the same way Lord of the Rings used to be considered unfilmable? Because until Peter Jackson did it, I think the conventional wisdom was that it was impossible. (And of course some LOTR fans still maintain that the films don’t do the books justice.)

    I’m not saying Ron Howard would or wouldn’t botch it up, just wondering if it’s premature to write off the prospect of anyone successfully adapting these books at all.

  • Bluejay, the decks are not in anyone’s favor for making a movie out of the DarkTower Series.

    The Lord of the Rings is 1008 pages in length (ave 336 pages ea). The movie trilogy length is 9.3 hours (standard). That averages to .0092261 hours per page.

    The Dark Tower Series is 3876 pages in length (ave 553.7 pages each). Using the same hour per page ratio as the Lord of the Rings, the Dark Tower movie would need to be 35.76 hours long. This might be a bad correlation, but suffice to say, there is a lot more material in the Dark Tower Series.

    Furthermore, even though the Lord of the Rings is a fantasy, it’s world is fairly fixed and immutable. Not so the Dark Tower. There are parallel universes, and paradoxes – the story is not straightforward. I can’t see, with our movie industry the way it is, any filmmaker who would be able to do the story justice without dumbing it down.

    Now what could be made into a movie is the first story, the Gunslinger. I think it would make more sense to just concentrate on it, make a kick-ass movie, and then go onto the next book if it all works out.

    Rest assured, whatever form it would take, I would be the first in line for the first movie.

  • Now what could be made into a movie is the first story, the Gunslinger. I think it would make more sense to just concentrate on it, make a kick-ass movie, and then go onto the next book if it all works out.

    In the bit that MaryAnn quoted above, it does say that what’s being discussed is “a scenario that would see an adaptation begin as a movie […] that would lead to a TV series.” Although I’m sure that would still be a daunting task.

  • Hasimir Fenring

    I really need to read more of the series

    Nono, no, you don’t. Read the first three and then stop. The rest, particularly six and seven, betray everything that came before them. King writes before you get to the end that you shouldn’t read it because it sucks (actually, I think he writes something like ‘you won’t be satisfied with it’), and God help me, he was right.

  • Dave

    I LOVE the Dark Tower series having read each one multiple times and there is no way movies would work. It’s too dense. You’d be looking at a mini-series a book and you’d have to film them back to back to keep the characters from aging since the timeline is a major factor in the books. There’s also the whole concept of the books themselves being part of the story and so is Stephen King would you cast someone as him or have him play a much younger self.

    When the people behind Lost look at something and realize it’s too complicated to do right that’s a hint.

    When

  • Ben

    I agree with Hasimir, the books are good, but I saw how it was going to end coming from miles away… and so hoped that I was wrong. Please not let it end with that cliche I thought… pllleaassee…

    But no, it did.

  • jackal

    Theres no way they try to include the whole saga

    they will make roland into a wise cracking action hero amd wont even try to follow the story line.

    Still will probably be worth seeing.

  • John Mulcahy

    The very idea of The Dark Tower becoming a movie both excites me and makes me want to cry at the same time. I have read all seven books (and most of Mr. Kings other works as well for that matter) many times over. For me at least, revisiting Roland and his band of Gunslingers is like visiting old friends. This story is so well written, that for the fans at least, the characters begin to feel real. You actually become concerned for thier well being. And ultimately, when death or danger befall them, your world feels as though it’s in danger itself.

    I just pray that Ron Howard realizes what he’s getting into. For years people said The Stand couldn’t be filmed. Too large!! Too broad in scope! Too many things would have to be cut. But it was done. And quite well I may add (I read that one for the first time at age 11 cover to cover in 18 hours). I didn’t agree completely with all the cuts, but it was well done none the less.

    Now, I know I’m comparing one book adaptation to the possibilty of one comprising seven books. But in theory, it could be done. Seven movies perhaps? A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th managed to keep people buying tickets, why not The Tower? If Mr. Howard attempts this however, it’s a huge risk! It will either be received by the fans as the Holy Grail of film, or he’ll be unable to take his kids to the park without being bombarded with every crule remark people can think of.

    This story isn’t just a fantastic journey cherished by millions everywhere. It’s Mr. King’s lifes work! He’s managed to litterally (no pun intended) connect just about everything he has every published together with this one binding, cohesive, and unforgettable adventure.

    Please Mr. Howard, if you read this, take one bit of advice. Film this as though you mother or father wrote it. Do it justice, or don’t do it at all. That being said, I’ll get off my soap box now. “Hile Gunslinger and Thankee Sai”.

  • I read the Gunslinger series, and thought the first four were pretty good. I think the series started going downhill when they got on that talking train, but I don’t remember in which book that was.

    I think judging hours = page count is a bad idea. King spends a lot of time with characters thinking about other characters, and sometimes about themselves, which obviously doesn’t translate to film. And the last book was definitely twice as long as it had to be, even as a novel, and anti-climatic to boot. Thus, I feel that both King’s best and worst writing would be culled from the movies.

    So I do think the series could be made into a trilogy of movies, if you could imagine a cross between “Lord of the Rings,” “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” and some mind boggling thing like “Twin Peaks” was supposed to be (I never saw it).

    My greater reservation is about the characters. Without access to their inner thoughts, their reliving their own memories, it would be hard to protray them as sympathetic people, especially the hero. I shall refrain from explaining just how unsympathetic the main character could be, since that would consitute spoilers.

  • stingraylady

    I have to agree that the first four are far superior to the ones that follow. I also want to add that to view this in terms of a western is grossly misleading. Only the first one is even remotely a western. Instead, it’s a straight up road movie, a quest, literally and figuratively. I also agree that it’s too dense for movies, though kicking off with a movie and moving to a series could work, in the right hands. The problem is whose hands? I love the Lord of the Rings movies, but didn’t rush out to see the first one right away because I’d never heard of Peter Jackson and couldn’t imagine that he’d be able to do it justice. I was wrong. That gives me some hope. Then you have the problem of King adaptations in general; IMO, the shorter the work (shawshank redemption, Stand by me) the better the adaptation. That certainly doesn’t bode well for this project.

  • ceti

    I finally got to reading the entire series over the Christmas break, and boy, I’ve never hated a book more than the final book. The meta narrative that arises isn’t so much clever as an indulgent mess that gets worse as progressively worse anti-climactic scenes with deus ex machina’s get thrown at the reader.

    I guess at least King made us care about the characters from the beginning, but to see how their stories unravel though is like a repeated kick to the gut.

  • I read the Gunslinger series, and thought the first four were pretty good. I think the series started going downhill when they got on that talking train, but I don’t remember in which book that was.

    I actually liked the bit on the talking train–as silly as it might have seemed in retrospect. I just didn’t care too much for what followed.

  • stryker1121

    Couldn’t be done unless parts of the narrative were condensed or excised entirely. I would not have a problem w/ that, and frankly the series could’ve use a deft editing hand. Worked for Dexter’s transition from page to screen.

  • Add “The Apt Pupil” to that list of superior King movies, if you trust me, haha. King’s non-supernatural horror always surprises people with its quality, even me. I think those shorter works are scarier because it is just “regular people” doing the evil.

  • Add “The Apt Pupil” to that list of superior King movies, if you trust me, haha.

    Er, no. I will admit that it worked better than many King adaptations but like Cronenberg’s adaptation of The Dead Zone–which also got a lot of critical acclaim–it didn’t really work for me.

    And no, it’s not because I expect every Stephen King movie to be as memorable–in a good way–as DePalma’s Carrie–though it would be nice if that was true. Or because I want every Stephen King movie to have a melodramatic ending. (I’m probably one of the few people on Earth who would have liked to have seen Stanley Kubrick stick to his original downbeat ending for The Shining.)

    It’s just that the movie seemed incredibly anticlimactic compared to the original story.

    I’ll give it credit for good performances though.

    YMMV, of course.

  • they will make roland into a wise cracking action hero amd wont even try to follow the story line.

    Even worse, they could take the portion in book two in which the Gunslinger is compared with a famous movie character and have him played by the same actor who played that role. Bad idea. Very bad idea.

    I’d sooner see Bruce Campbell in the role and Bruce Campbell–as awesome as he is–isn’t really the type of person I want to see playing Roland.

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