Stephen King wrote the first Dark Tower novel (The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger) in 1982, and Hollywood has been flailing to adapt it as a feature film ever since. King published 11 books prior to Gunslinger — 3 of those works already made into films (Carrie, The Shining, Creepshow) — and 14 more adaptations in the pipeline by the end of the decade. The ’80s were a good time to be Stephen King!
King has since penned 6 more Dark Tower novels, which has resulted in an epic, dense, and sprawling sci-fi, horror, fantasy, Western that has only proven more challenging to adapt. Many have tried, including J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Damon Lindelof (World War Z), and current producer Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind). After several decades of starts and stops, this Friday we’ll finally see director Nikolaj Arcel’s vision of Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey).
The big question is whether or not this particular telling of The Dark Tower has the power to honor King’s original vision, satisfy fans, and make enough money to justify a sequel (or an entire franchise). That’s a pretty tall order and underscores the challenges of adapting a major work of fiction for the screen, particularly one with a devout following and the weight of a major studio on its back.
According to Variety, the road to making The Dark Tower has been fraught with potholes, roadkill, and all manner of sideroads — an appealing premise for a future King novel, amirite? Apparently, the overall creative process was a battleground of conflicting visions, struggles for control, and other hurdles that are fairly typical of any high-profile, big-budget picture.
However, early cuts of the film were rejected by Sony and several blind screenings — sans completed effects — went poorly, as audiences couldn’t sort out the mythology or grasp the nature of the core conflict. Consequently, Sony brought in additional expertise to wrangle a more successful cut; both Sony and Arcel dispute this reporting. According to Arcel:
“On a film with two studios and powerful producers, obviously there is much passionate creative debate on how to work certain ideas or beats. But I felt supported throughout, and they all looked to me for answers. If someone had jumped into my editing room and taken over — I would have left instantly.”
Such problems and in-fighting are hardly unique to this film, but The Dark Tower is an odd bird that defies a literal translation. Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman explains:
“It’s a fantasy film and so yes, it’s complicated; it’s intricate and ambitious, but that’s a good thing because with the complexity of the stuff on television now, theater audiences want ambition.”
Is Rothman correct? Honestly, his remarks seems a little bit restrained to me. If this was a truly great film, wouldn’t you expect the big guns at Sony to be screaming about it from the rooftops?
For that matter, do movie audiences in late August really want a complexity in their summer blockbusters? Looking back over the last 10 years, several films enjoyed huge box office success in August: Suicide Squad, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Rush Hour 2, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — but I wouldn’t call any of those films particularly complex. There are a few recent examples of ambitious, and financially successful, August releases (The Help, Straight Outta Compton, The Butler). Fortunately, The Dark Tower had a relatively small $60 million budget, so unless the film is an epic failure it should more than exceed this figure, domestic and international combined.
Sony has certainly employed a firehose to market The Dark Tower, so the opening weekend should be solid. But will the film meet its fan’s deep expectations? Just going by our LRM reader comments of late, there’s reason for concern. Perhaps ominously, there’s no Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic score out there yet — late or last minute reviews are often an indicator of a studio’s concerns about quality.
Are you excited, confident, nervous, or scared to see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower finally realized on-screen? Let us know in the comments down below!
The Dark Tower hits theaters on August 4, 2017.
Don’t forget to share this post on your Facebook wall and with your Twitter followers! Just hit the buttons on the top of this page.