The Dark Tower is a magnificent work, what Stephen King calls his “Über-story,” spanning seven novels and deftly genre-hopping between Western, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Ron Howard’s plan to adapt the series as three films buffered by two seasons of television has seemed, at various times, ambitious, intriguing, and an impossible press release of a non-project. With Tuesday’s news that Warner Bros. — the same studio cultivating adaptations of King’s other opuses, The Stand (a definite, with Ben Affleck at the helm) and It (only a maybe, but there is a script) — may finance Howard’s pricey gambit, there could be hope. But is this something anybody — even the series’ biggest fans — should hope for? Looking at the books, which detail a knightlike gunslinger journeying through time and space with a cadre of variously deadly pals en route to the universe-upholding Dark Tower, let’s weigh the few pros and the disturbing preponderance of cons.
WHY YOU SHOULD GET EXCITED
It’ll Start Out Swell
With TV and film’s affinity for new takes on Westerns (Justified, Deadwood, and Tarantino’s upcoming Django Unchained), series opener The Gunslinger could certainly kill as a stand-alone film. You’ll be all about troubled antihero Roland Deschain the minute he nonchalantly decimates an entire town (Pop. 58) with his doom-bringing sandalwood pistols.
A Superb Cast of Characters
Beyond the five mains — ancient gunslinger Roland, displaced Manhattan schoolboy Jake, wise-cracking everyman Eddie, legless multiple-personality suffering Susannah-Odetta-Detta-Mia, and Oy — the series is rife with memorable, well-defined, eccentric villains. The Dark Tower would be a top-shelf casting buffet.
… Lots of Whom Die Without Warning
Stephen King: helluva guy. Also a murder-happy sonofabitch who breaks no more of a sweat offing his main characters than he does by getting mad at a Shoedini ad. Audiences may be shocked and/or outraged, but series like Game of Thrones, Lost, and The Walking Dead (more the comic, less the show, although lately … ) have been celebrated for their willingness to openly ensure nearly every character is in grave danger always. Major actors would also be more likely to commit to this elaborate project knowing their roles were shorter commitments than the lengthy full run.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE WARY
Too Much Source Material
Harry Potter, you may have heard, was adapted into eight movies with some degree of success. The Dark Tower, at slightly fewer pages with measurably tinier typeset (grown-up font), is almost certainly longer, and it lacks the benefit of a clearly delineated, recurring premise (school, adolescence, magic-learnin’) to speed things along. The first Dark Tower book was published in 1982, and was begun when King was 19. The final entry was released in 2004, as King approached old-mandom. Thus an adaptation becomes not so much a matter of trimming the fat as struggling to bridge the vast gulfs between the books; each novel tends to inhabit its own world (stylistically as well as geographically) and feature a thorough stand-alone plot. Once you dip into complications like the fact that the seventh book contains roughly three movies worth of content itself, the prospect of doing the series any non-frustrating, non-confusing justice feels unrealistic.
There’s a Talking Train That Likes Yelling and Riddles
It’s called Blaine the Mono, and it speaks in caps-lock, like this: “WHAT YOU SAY IS TRUE, ROLAND OF GILEAD, BUT THE QUALITY OF YOUR RIDDLES IS NOT PROVEN. I WILL NOT REWARD YOU WITH YOUR LIVES FOR BAD RIDDLES.” We’re having a hard time picturing that in any kind of pseudo-serious film, for some reason. (That said, we will, however contrary it seems, endorse any adaptation that includes the four-foot talking lobsters that utter questions like “Dad-a-cham? Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum?” Comedy gold.)
Javier Bardem Is Unnecessary
One of the best aspects of seeing adaptations of series like The Hunger Games and Potter is the eye candy; what you’ve envisioned with your mind (ugh, reading!) now comes to life on the screen. If the film’s world is well-fashioned, it’s a treat, and if the leads match up to your expectations from the novels, it’s a joy. The problem is, Javier Bardem — excellent, Oscar-winning actor that he is — isn’t so much unlikely as Roland Deschain as he is just … superfluous. Roland, visually, is a thinly veiled Clint Eastwood, down to the ceaseless mentions of “light blue bombardier’s eyes.” The similarity in their dusty silent types is so complete, the seventh book’s cover artist gave up the charade and opted to just draw Roland as similarly to Clint as possible. The books get to a point where you don’t even need to actively picture Eastwood. He’s just there. This isn’t so much a fanboy deploring the potential casting — Bardem is great, and surely he’d win over legions of new Dark Tower fans — as a resigned note that any actor aside from Clint Eastwood in his prime might not be much more than a vessel through which to demonstrate the series’ world.
The Ending Is Tricky
Long days and pleasant nights to all who manage not to be spoiled about the way it all ends (looking at you, commenters — be cool!), but among those who have polished off the full saga, the final moment is beyond divisive. It’s fandom-shattering for some, revelatory to others. It’s also so embedded into the entirety of the tale, so bereft of even slightly alternate options, as to be revisionist-proof (unlike, say, Watchmen, which, ill-advised or no, received a new Hollywood-friendly ending fairly easily). Left intact, The Dark Tower’s resolution would inspire fan uproar that would make the Lost finale feel like universal acclaim. There’s also the risk of an enjoyable first film pushing new fans to read the books, learn how it ends, find themselves in the hater camp, and drop their support for the franchise altogether.
Continuity Problems With The Stand
How will Ben Affleck’s Stand adaptation and The Dark Tower reconcile the fact that Randall Flagg, AKA the Walkin’ Dude, alias the Man in Black, is the super-villain menacing both stories? The chances of an actor with the sinister heft required for this part signing onto both projects (The Stand may be a multi-film endeavor, as well) seem infinitesimal.
It’s Too Meta
There’s a development late in the game — we won’t say what, but this page will — that is both essential to the plot and highly likely to induce death by eye-rolling. We’re not talking “meta” as in TV showrunners throwing in sly little winks to their obsessive fanbases, we’re talking — ah, screw it. Too close to spoilerland. Just trust this: The device works in the books for a specific reason, and it will not be cool in the films.
It’s Pretty Subtle
This is not so much a tale of Mount Dooms and Hunger Games as a story of world-altering roses growing in junkyards and prolonged inner conflicts. Even the Dark Tower itself, as a structure, is intensely nebulous, esoterically defined through much of the books.
Stephen King Is Still Tweaking the Mythology
After ostensibly wrapping the series in 2004, King is pulling a Lion King 1½ next month by rolling out The Wind Through the Keyhole, a novel set between The Dark Tower’s fourth and fifth books. He’ll likely say he’s done with that universe, but who knows? No one wants awkward King-Howard arguments about what counts as canon.