The Dark Tower – Why does it keep falling?
The Man in Black fled across the desert, but the production companies couldn’t keep up…….
By Nathan Peterson
As I sit here in my mahogany-laden study, watching the antelopes graze in the grounds of my Wiltshire mansion, nay Castle, pondering how to begin my much awaited article “7 Things I Want To See In The Dark Tower Adaptation”, my diamond encrusted iPhone rings. I look at the phone and it shows that the call is coming from a blocked number. As a freelance journalist for Adventure Amigos, and a part-time international spy (also for Adventure Amigos), a withheld number is usual fare for me, so I answer without a second glance.
Before I can utter a greeting, however, a hushed and guttural voice whispers “The Project has gone Nineteen”. Standing up to make a dramatic emphasis, even though no-one can actually see me, I shout “Who is this? What do you mean it is Nineteen?”
“It’s Ron”, he mutters, clearly disappointed I don’t recognise his voice. “Ron who? Ron Howard?” I nonchalantly ask. “Of course Ron Howard, how many other Ron’s do you know?” (he has a point) “I just wanted to let you know that The Dark Tower adaptation has been passed over by Warner Brothers. Apparently after I walked away, the big wigs got twitchy and decided it was a no-go. But I shouldn’t be telling you all this.”
Curious, I ask “Why? Because you could get into alot of trouble for discussing trade secrets with the public?”. “No” he said “because you have the internet and should have read the story posted by Garret Collins!”
Obviously none of the above actually happened (although it would have been cool if it did, admit it) but it is true I was on the verge of writing a piece about the things I would love to see in the upcoming and much-troubled adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling epic series, The Dark Tower. Sadly, before I had the chance, it seems that Warner Bros have had better ideas and so, without an ounce of remorse, I will try and look at reasons they may have come to this somewhat predictable decision.
Be warned, whilst I will try and deal with the source material respectfully, there may be spoilers, big and small, contained in this article. As such, if your journey to The Tower has yet to begin, you may wish to turn away now, otherwise keep reading at your peril!
For those not in the know, The Dark Tower series is set in another universe following a mysterious gunslinger named Roland Deschain, and documents his exploits as he journeys towards the mythical Dark Tower. A place of fear and legend, The Dark Tower is thought to be the centre of everything, and containing all possible universes.
As the main character, and one whose story is covered by seven books (plus side stories found in novellas, graphic novels and other media) it is important to cast just the right person to play him. The chosen actor would have to convincingly portray a man who is capable of cold hearted killing, betrayal, and sacrificing those he loves most dear to ensure his quest goes on, but also be able to show huge amounts of empathy, and a surprising warmth at times.
My personal choice, and a guy who was long attached to the project, was Javier Bardem. I think he would have been able to nail the darkness that lies within Roland, Son of Stephen, but also be able to capture the love he so obviously has and struggles with. Javier’s choice came with some criticism, largely due to his accent, however I think this would have worked in his favour as he struggles to converse with people not from his world.
Sadly, it seems Bardem decided the project was not for him, possibly due to the lack of any certainty surrounding it, leaving a big Roland-sized hole behind him. Warner Bros tried filling with Russell Crowe, who was reportedly willing to take the role. Not usually an actor I enjoy watching, but certainly someone with big enough shoulders to handle the responsibility. Given the latest news, presumably these talks have also stalled.
It is difficult to see who else might fit the role, which if written right, would be as complex a character as they come. Christian Bale? Following the end of the Dark Knight saga, he now has more time on his hands, but does he want to take yet another franchise? Jeremy Renner. The guy pops up in everything now, but surely he doesn’t have the right look and stature for Roland. Jeffrey Dean Morgan? Who knows?
As you can see the difficulty is that there just aren’t many people out there that fit the bill sufficiently, and if Bardem walked, and Crowe didn’t sign, then Warner Bros may have realised that this was a harder product to sell than they first thought.
Ask anyone about “Mercy”, “Shawshank Redemption”, hell even “Tommy Knockers”, and they will most likely know who wrote the original book. Stephen King. Ask those same people if they have even heard of the Dark Tower series, and most will greet you with a blank expression.
Unfortunately, whilst those who have read the books, and even the guy who wrote the books, feel that this is his seminal work, and given that alot of his other seemingly unrelated stories have references to the Tower, it is just not a well known property, and that will obviously make it much more difficult to sell to Joe Public.
Should this matter? Well sadly, the production companies don’t make movies for the fun of it, and are always looking to turn a profit. If we consider Lord of the Rings, a series of well known novels which went on to be one of the biggest movie franchises in history, introducing a wealth of new people to the fantasy genre, and even resulting in the prequel-of-sorts, “The Hobbit”, to be made into a film, released later this year, we can see why this might be important.
On the flip side, let’s take John Carter of Mars. A combination of poor marketing and a source material that isn’t generally known outside hardcore sci-fi fans, led to this family friendly film (rather unnecessarily re-branded as “John Carter” for the movie going public) being one of the biggest financial flops of all time. The film itself, whilst not being spectacular, was relatively enjoyable, however solely down to the financial side of things it earns its place in history as being a bad film.
Warner Bros, will obviously want any Dark Tower adaptation to follow Bilbo’s lead, and not John’s, but with a largely unknown source material, it will be very difficult.
As with most fantasy stories, The Dark Tower series has a pretty unique vision, one which would take alot of time, energy and most importantly money to accurately portray. We are talking about a universe that for the most part looks like it takes part in a spaghetti western movie set, but also includes robots, machinery and other futuristic objects. In the book, these may be few and far between, but how do you effectively create this imagery in a way that sucks the viewer in, whilst also trying to balance the books?
Without giving away too much, if the books were to be adapted as close to the source material as possible, you would also have to consider the potential royalty payments that would be necessary regarding the use of imagery and ideas from The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, The Seven Samurai, Star Wars (yes Star Wars!) and numerous other sources.
Also, as I have already discussed, the films will not necessarily have an initial appeal to the general movie-going public. One way to generate interest is to employ a cast of well known faces that grab the attention of anyone watching the trailers. This obviously comes with a cost, and one which Warner Bros may have found too heavy. I have no doubt that Russell Crowe and Javier Bardem would command bigger fees than, say, a Taylor Kitsch, but their impact on the marketing would probably mean it is a risk they would have to take.
As such, with no guaranteed appeal from the outset, and what seems to be an increasing level of costs, did the decision to pull the plug on The Dark Tower ultimately come down not being able to justify the cost? Very likely.
Muddled Stories and Concept
Whilst I for one appreciate the way that Stephen King weaves the story together, I can see how it may be difficult to adapt it into movie format, whilst ensuring viewers who haven’t read the books remain interested.
With seven books in the series, each with almost a completely different story angle, the overall tale of a cowboy on a quest sometimes gets lost amongst the other events that happen along the way. Consider that once Roland “draws the three” companions to his world from different era’s of New York, the story goes off on tangents. First to save Jake, then to a flashback of Roland’s past, then to protecting a calla (a sort of village), locating Susannah and various other exploits which ultimately end up with them stumbling upon the Tower almost a little too conveniently.
Let us also not forget The Rose, Calvin Tower, Salem’s Lot, Mordred Deschain and a plethora of other important references, even including King writing himself into the story, all of which dilute the narration of the overall quest, meaning that it is difficult to comprehend exactly which parts are necessary to the story. I fear that any adaptation would be stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do you keep it faithful to the original, and risk non-fanboys turning off due to the slightly outlandish concepts, or do you broaden the story, and piss off those very people that have given the books the cult status it already has?
The rumour of a Dark Tower adaptation has long been in the rumour mill, however whilst each new director seems to be the new saviour, it is still passed on, first by Universal, and now Warner Bros. Any concrete attempt would have to be ambitious to say the least, and any final product would probably have to make large sacrifices to ensure it appealed not just to fanboys but to the unsuspecting customer, which may be something that creates plenty of vitriol towards the company concerned.
When you see people like JJ Abrams, a self-confessed fan, buy the rights to The Dark Tower, but then walk away from the project simply because he doesn’t believe he would do it justice, I think it says volumes about how difficult any adaptation would be.
I personally believe that the story is original enough that it could have a place in the already saturated market, however with the shadows of The Lord of the Rings and John Carter looming over it (for contrasting reasons), I suspect production companies feel like they are at the foot of the Tower itself.
The day this series is successfully adapted, is the day that lobstrocities fly!
[Update: Keep your eyes on the skies people, the latest news is that Media Rights Capital are in serious talks to finance the funding of a possible adaptation]