Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower, is a wonderfully weird fusion of spaghetti western, Arthurian legend, dark fantasy, horror, and post-apocalypse sci-fi. This epic eight-book saga is atypical King, and was always going to be a formidable project to adapt to the screen.
The story follows the last of the gunslingers, Roland Deschain, on his quest to prevent the destruction of the Dark Tower – the nexus of all universes – by his sorcerer nemesis, the Man in Black.
J.J. Abrams was the first director to be attached to a Dark Tower film back in 2007, with writing partner Damon Lindelof set to begin work on a seven-film adaptation after their TV series Lost wrapped up. For three years the pair deliberated, and eventually departed the project.
In 2010, Universal announced plans for a trilogy of films in conjunction with a two-season TV series. Akiva Goldsman would write the script and an enthusiastic Ron Howard would direct. Viggo Mortensen and Javier Bardem were tipped to play Roland (both excellent choices), with the latter landing the role in 2011. A release date for the first film was ambitiously set for May 2013.
“In 2010, Universal announced plans for a trilogy of films in conjunction with a two-season TV series. Akiva Goldsman would write the script and an enthusiastic Ron Howard would direct”
Production was set to commence in September 2011, but was continually pushed back. As the budget increased across both film and TV projects, Universal eventually pulled the plug. Howard was still eager to make The Dark Tower with another studio, and Warner Bros. expressed an interest, but it was Sony Pictures who ultimately acquired the project in 2015.
Howard and Goldsman remained onboard as producers, with Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel announced as director. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey were cast as Roland and his nemesis, the Man in Black, respectively, and a new release date was set for January 2017, which would eventually move to August. This would be a single film, with a companion TV series scheduled for 2018.
Fans were understandably cautious and awaited the announcement that both had been cancelled – again. However this time, it was not to be. Almost 10 years after it was first optioned, filming commenced on The Dark Tower movie in April 2016.
The Dark Tower opened on August 4, 2017 as a condensed, 95 minute feature that was not a straight adaptation of book one, The Gunslinger, but rather a streamlined remix of the saga’s key events and tropes.
Despite opening in the number one position at the US box office, and with a worldwide gross of USD 111.7 million, further films in the series are uncertain at this point. However, the TV series – reported to be an adaptation of book four, Wizard and Glass, which chronicles Roland’s early years – could still go ahead, with Walking Dead executive producer Glen Mazzara as showrunner.
We’ll let Stephen King himself have the last word, with an applicable quote from the final book in the series: “The road and the tale have both been long, would you not say so? The trip has been long and the cost has been high… but no great thing was ever attained easily. A long tale, like a tall Tower, must be built a stone at a time.”