Rejoice, Constant Readers. At long last, Stephen King’s epic saga, The Dark Tower, is making the leap to the big screen, directed by Opie Cunningham himself, Ron Howard. For those who don’t know, The Dark Tower is King’s magnum opus, the nexus of his entire body of work, with references to the Dark Tower sprinkled throughout the majority of his novels. The task of adapting this behemoth to the screen (seven books clocking in at over a million words, not to mention several ancillary stories that may become part of the films) is going to make The Lord of the Rings look like a one-act play.
Many fans have heaped scorn upon the choice of Howard to direct (I guess they were hoping for Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, or someone of that ilk). I, for one, will withhold judgment until I see the final product. Howard has made many solid films over the years, and for what it’s worth, he seems to have a deep passion for the project (he worked on it for a year before even presenting the idea to Stephen King)—and there is no way that King would let his baby go unless he was confident that Howard was going to do his books justice. This is not Maximum Overdrive or Christine—The Dark Tower is the center of King’s entire literary universe, and he would not hand over the rights lightly.
The doubters claim that Howard’s body of work leaves no indication that he is capable of taking on a project like this, but was Peter Jackson in a much different position before he began work on Lord of the Rings? And we all know how that turned out. I’m intrigued by the way Howard has chosen to approach the material: a movie trilogy sandwiched around two television series that bridge the three films. Such a concept is unprecedented in cinematic history; it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. It certainly gives the filmmakers latitude to flesh out more of the story than a strict film series would have provided. I wonder, though, how much of the source material will need to be censored in the television series. It would seem to be better suited for a premium channel, but then how many fans would follow it? On the other hand, there have been a few network television miniseries over the years that have done a credible job with King’s work, so perhaps this can work as well.
The most important element of the production is going be the selection of the actor to play series protagonist Roland Deschain, a gunslinger in much the same vein as Clint Eastwood’s character from Sergio Leone’s classic series of spaghetti westerns, with a little bit of Arthurian regalness mixed in. Howard has offered this critical part to Javier Bardem (I have to admit that I have trouble seeing him in this role, but he is an outstanding actor, so I will place my faith in Howard’s judgment). At this point Bardem has yet to accept and there’s no guarantee that he will, for he would be required to commit a huge chunk of the next decade of his life to a single character on both the big and small screen—how many A-list actors would be willing to do that? It could be that we end up with a relative unknown in the role, which might actually be preferable.
Regardless of the choices Howard makes as the project moves forward (and their inevitable dissection by the fan base), I look forward with great excitement to those first moments on the big screen when the Man in Black flees across the desert with the Gunslinger in hot pursuit. And to borrow a phrase from the High Speech of Roland’s hometown of Gilead, I say thankee-sai.