I remember the news like it was just three days ago… Stephen King’s epic series, The Dark Tower, was finally heading to the big screen. As a fan of King and the adventures of the Gunslinger, Roland, I was thrilled and excited at the prospect. Then the names attached to the adaptation passed through my eyes and into my brain… and my anus began to weep. Akiva Goldsman will write the screenplays. Ron Howard will direct.
Their involvement is sadly out of my control, but it doesn’t mean I can’t dream. So here I am, dreaming of the writers and directors who I think are far better suited for the material. Dreaming of the names I wish were attached to bring King’s vision and storytelling prowess to the big screen. These are the writers who can create solid characters, dialogue, and epic stories. These are the directors with a strong visual style and an ability to create worlds.
So here are some of the people that should be writing and directing The Dark Tower along with the films on their resume that make them worthy of the job:
Nick Cave, The Proposition
He may have the least amount of screenwriting experience of anyone on this list, but Cave nailed the tone of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger with his recent western, The Proposition. The first book in King’s series is the most straightforward and dark with its barren landscape, stark dialogue, and moral ambiguities. Watching The Proposition it’s easy to see how Roland would have fit into Cave’s brutally lawless Australian outback where right and wrong are little more than words.
Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist
Darabont has already shown his skill at adapting King’s work (well, two out of three times anyway). He’s adept at creating strong characters, both central and supporting, and is just as comfortable placing them in the real world as he is surrounding them by monsters and the unknown. The change he made to the ending of The Mist was controversial (and in my opinion a ballsy improvement), but it shows he’s capable of making the right choice when deciding between following the Man in Black or saving poor Jake from falling off a cliff…
Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
I don’t think I want Jackson directing any of this series, but the scripts he co-wrote with Fran Walsh and Philipp Boyens to adapt JRR Tolkien’s legendary trilogy are fairly masterful works. They showed a keen eye for bringing a multitude of characters to life, gave equal weight to both small and epic moments, and did a fine job condensing the material when necessary. If the plan is to turn the seven Dark Tower books into three movies that last ability may be the most important.
John Logan, Gladiator, The Last Samurai
Logan’s name doesn’t get a lot of airtime but the man is definitely comfortable working on grand canvases. He’s proven himself to be quite capable keeping large scale stories together and focused, and is just as good with action set-pieces as he is with dramatic interplay. Much of Gladiator‘s success is attributed to Ridley Scott, but Logan’s script gave a heart to Maximus and a fluidity to the sprawling story, and I think he could do the same with the Gunslinger. Roland has his own heavy past and Logan would succeed at giving him an emotional history to pair with his single-minded present.
David Mamet, The Untouchables, Hannibal
Just bear with me here. Obviously no one wants to see Roland walking around the wasteland dropping F-bombs on every child, whore, and talking train he meets, but Mamet knows more than just profanity. His adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal very wisely excised the parts of the novel that just didn’t seem right or necessary, and The Untouchables is a rousing work with perfectly placed action and character beats throughout its large story. And yes, with or without the foul language and special verbal cadence he’s known for, Mamet writes fantastic dialogue. Roland himself doesn’t necessarily do a lot of talking, but when he does speak the words need to matter.
William Monahan, Kingdom of Heaven
Curiously, I have three writers on this list for films they made with Ridley Scott, but Scott is absent from my director choices. May have to rethink that… Monahan is probably best known for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (which is also an excellent film), but it’s my recent first-time viewing of Kingdom of Heaven that sold me on him for the task of adapting The Dark Tower. The Crusades were in their way a grand quest for a seemingly elusive goal, and Monahan’s script shepherds Balian of Ibelin throughout an epic (and dusty) adventure while allowing the man to maintain and accomplish his own personal journey.
Alternates: Alex Garland, 28 Days Later, Sunshine; Lawrence Kasdan, Raiders of the Lost Ark; Richard LaGravenese, The Fisher King; Michael Mann, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat; Eric Red, The Hitcher, Near Dark
John Carpenter, Escape From New York, In the Mouth of Madness
It’s been over twenty years since Carpenter directed a great movie and over ten since he made a good one, but with a solid script and decent budget behind him he could direct the hell out of The Gunslinger. The man loves westerns and has even written a couple, but he’s never really directed one. Of course, Assault on Precinct 13 is as pure an homage to John Ford as you can get. And Carpenter’s mastery of framing with the wide camera lens is a perfect match for the vistas and imagery so far only glimpsed via Michael Whelan’s beautiful artwork for the book. Plus the synthesizer score would be awesome.
Alfonso Cuaron, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men
Cuaron makes beautiful and highly engaging films, but more to the point they always have a magical sense about them. That’s literal in the case of the Harry Potter film (and A Little Princess) but more of an overall feeling throughout Children of Men. The world he creates is ours, but at the same time it’s not. It’s recognizable, but it’s also slightly fantastical. The world of The Dark Tower would benefit from that kind of vision. Plus Roland, like Theo (in Children of Men), is an antihero who’s as fascinating as he is untrustworthy.
Clint Eastwood, High Plains Drifter, The Gauntlet
This may seem like an out of left-field choice, and Eastwood has admittedly little to no experience when it comes to things mythical or supernatural… but the man knows how to capture the lone crusader on a mysterious quest. His “man with no name” persona is actually the visual inspiration for Roland, and Eastwood would bring that personality and sensibility to the screen in whomever plays the role. He also knows how to make the old west look both inviting and frightening, and in the case of High Plains Drifter, how to invoke a hint of the supernatural. The Gauntlet may not be a western but it does feature an unstoppable man on a life or death mission against incredible odds.
Richard Kelly, Donnie Darko
I know Kelly hasn’t exactly fulfilled the promise of his debut, but his biggest enemy in that regard is his own writing. As a director he’s extremely creative and visual, but as a writer he’s a verbose idiot. We solve that issue by sticking him with a script from one of the above writers and contractually obligating him to use it without alteration. He has a strong and unique vision that would bring an off-kilter, other-worldly sheen to the adaptation. If he can make Frank the Bunny seem creepy and nightmarish just imagine what he can do with Blaine the Mono.
Ji-woon Kim, A Tale Of Two Sisters, The Good the Bad the Weird
Consider this my wild card director choice. He’s a brilliant film-maker with at least four fantastic films to his credit, but he hasn’t worked in English yet. But that small detail aside, he’s shown extreme talent across multiple genres with the two films listed here being the most applicable to The Dark Tower. He fills A Tale Of Two Sisters with atmosphere and mystery, and his Korean western is a sprawling epic of energy, wit, and fun that dares the audience to take it all in on a single viewing. He can do dark, he can do adventure, and his films are beautiful… his interpretation of King’s world would be extraordinary.
Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park, Munich
Well I did say this is a dream list… and Spielberg actually already has a King connection in that he’s held the rights to The Talisman for over two decades. But more important, and haters be damned, the man has made some incredible movies. Jurassic Park is a flawless adventure featuring characters sharing the screen with fantastic creatures, and Munich shows that he can fearlessly lead his characters into the dark just as easily as he often sends them into the light. He’s often criticized (fairly) for making films more saccharine than they need to be, but he’s also not one to shy away from the tragically real. And let’s face it, the man would bring a hell of a budget to the project.
Alternates: Antonia Bird, Ravenous; John Hillcoat, The Proposition; Ridley Scott, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven; Robert Zemeckis, Cast Away; Ed Zwick, Glory, The Last Samurai; Wolfgang Petersen, The Neverending Story
Who do you think should write and/or direct The Dark Tower?