The Road to The Dark Tower

A guide to the convoluted journey The Dark Tower has taken to get to the big screen.
By  · Published on July 31st, 2017

A guide to the convoluted journey ‘The Dark Tower’ has taken to get to the big screen.

The Dark Tower has always been one of those series that seems ripe for a big screen adaptation. Hollywood loves novels by Stephen King, this year alone two of his novels (Dark Tower and It) are making it to the big screen with many more titles on the way. The biggest issue perhaps was just how many entries there have been in the series. There is a total of eight books in the series and King has considered the series his magnum opus. Think of it in similar terms as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and to an extent Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Lengthy series that have influenced plenty of others and maintains a large reader base through the years. Speaking specifically about Harry Potter, studios have been looking for that next big thing. There was a thought, at least at one time, The Dark Tower series could be that kind of success.

Bad Robot

Stephen King wrote the first novel in the The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, way back in 1982 and then technically wrapped up the series in 2004. Technically, because he then released another entry in the series and the new feature film is supposed to be a continuation of the novels. The first rumblings of a Dark Tower series came about in 2007 when it was rumored that J.J. Abrams would be directing a film based on the series. There was even a meeting between Abrams, King, and Damon Lindelof that featured a copy of The Gunslinger. Abrams would go on to direct Star Trek and then Star Wars, so there is little doubt he made the right choices along the way.

Universal Pictures

The film adaptation was bounced around quite a bit in the following years. The most notable event came from Universal Pictures. They had acquired the rights to The Dark Tower series in 2010 and had plans of making the series into three feature films and a television series. The idea was that the films would showcase important story beats within the series, while the television show would fill in the missing material between the movies. Think of it a little like how Agents of Shield worked tieing the Marvel movies together, but this TV show would need to have the same characters involved all the time. According to the official press release from Universal at the time,

Howard, Grazer and Goldsman are planning for the first film in the trilogy to be
immediately followed by a television series that will bridge the second film. After the
second film, the television series will pick up allowing viewers to explore the adventures of the protagonist as a young man as a bridge to the third film and beyond.

The most important development that came out of that press release was that Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer were going to get a film made no matter how many years it took them.

Who is the Gunslinger?

There was a time when Universal Pictures was extremely close to putting The Dark Tower into production. They had Javier Bardem signing on to play Roland Deschain and were confident enough that Ron Howard was casting other parts. Then, only a few months later, Universal decided to pack out the deal entirely citing the massive expense the series was going to be. EW talked to King at the time who said, “I’m sorry Universal passed, but not really surprised. As a rule, they’ve been about smaller and less risky pix; maybe they feel it would be better to stick with those fast and furious racing boys. I bear them no ill will and trust Ron Howard to get Roland and his friends before the camera somewhere else. He’s very committed to the project.”

Universal Pictures was out and Warner Bros was in. Now discussions were with Russell Crowe to star as Roland and Warner Bros was going to embark on one of its most ambitious projects. There were plans, according to Deadline, “Warner Bros had sparked to the idea of taking on this franchise, possibly with HBO handling the TV component that would bridge the first and second feature films, with another limited run TV series to follow.” Similar concept to the Universal deal, but with HBO involved it added another wrinkle to the proceedings. This also ended up being too much of a risk for Warner Bros as well.

What is this Dark Tower movie?

This time the film and TV series would be picked up by Sony and MRC with Idris Elba to play Roland. With a new studio, came a brand new script and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. The film was originally supposed to drop in January but was pushed back to its date of August 4th. Neither the release date nor the trailer that has been released, inspire much confidence in the film.

The Dark Tower movie is not really an adaptation of the first book in the series, The Gunslinger, but it is also not any other particular book. It is more like a sequel to the entire series. Akiva Goldsman and the other writers involved with the adaptation decided to use an element of the series to go back to the start. So, this will be an adaptation of The Gunslinger, in theory, with a lot of changes here and there. It gives them the freedom of making changes to the source material without angering fans that wanted a page-to-screen adaptation. The TV series will still happen if the film does well enough, but no word on that yet.

Fans have been clamoring for a Dark Tower series since the release of the first novel some thirty-five years ago. The film has gone through multiple revisions and leading actors, but will finally hit the big screen in a few days. Roland could conceivably have a long journey in front of him, but only if audiences turn up for The Dark Tower.

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.