Childe Roland To The Big Screen: Andy Burns On The Forthcoming Dark Tower Film Franchise

Since I was about 18 or 19 years old I’ve been able list off pretty quickly what my favorite books are. There’s three of them, the ones that I often refer to as “the old stand-bye’s”. They are, in no particular order Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, Stephen King’s The Stand and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Of them, I’ve read the Ellis probably five or six times, Gatsby roughly three times, while I only ever scaled The Stand once, when I was thirteen years old. It’s stuck with me for 20 years though, much as all my favourites have. However, earlier this year, while commuting on subway and bus to my then day job, I read a series that threw my entire reading world out of whack, simply by how deeply I became engrossed in it. I’m referring to yet another Stephen King opus.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

That would be the opening sentence to The Dark Tower. Seven often brilliant books that tell that tale of Roland Deschain, last in the line of Eld, a noble gunslinger in a world that has “moved on”. His remaining quest – to discover the tower that stands at the middle of everything. Along the way he gathers fellow travelers (a fellowship, if you prefer) who assist him on his journey. Some of them are fictional characters, some more than that; and if you’re one of the many who become so immersed in Roland’s world, you become just as much a member of The Gunslinger’s ka-tet. The series is King’s magnum opus, lasting several thousand pages, worlds and times while crossing over into many of his other literary works. In a career of so many high points, The Dark Tower nearly trumps everything, based solely on the authors ambition. Is it King’s best work? Not entirely – I believe that accolade still rests with the expanded edition of The Stand. But I do believe that The Dark Tower is his most heartfelt, his most resonate. I’m not a Lord Of The Rings geek, I’ve never read any of the books, but I imagine fans devotion to that particular series is what I feel when I think about The Dark Tower and how profoundly moving I found it. It’s no exaggeration to say it was one of the greatest reading experiences of my life.

Which is why the thought that Akiva Goldsman and Ron Howard are the Hollywood heavyweights who have received the rights to adapt the series fills me with disbelief and disappointment. Along with NBC/Universal, producer Brian Grazer and with Stephen King’s sign-off and likely participation, Goldsman and Howard will bring The Dark Tower to life via three feature films and a television series that will run in-between those releases. In some ways, that’s a brilliant idea. It allows for this scope of the story to be respected and reflected, which is all any of us who love the series could hope for. But it’s the question of whether these creators really have the vision, patience or ability to bring this world to the various screens that gives me serious pause.

You see, while both Goldsman and Howard may have Oscars for their celebrated film A Beautiful Mind, they’ve also been responsible for the lackluster Dan Brown films The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, neither of which gathered much critical acclaim (and in the laters case, disappointing box office returns). Furthermore, Goldsman is the man who wrote the absolutely horrible 1997 film Batman and Robin. You know, the one with Arnold Schwarzenneger as Mr. Freeze and the nipples. One of the worst films of all time and one that killed the Batman franchise for nearly a decade.

You can see why I’d be a little worried.

A lot has been made about the ambitious scope that NBC/Universal and Howard/Goldsman/Grazer are aiming for The Dark Tower, with lots of comparisons to how Peter Jackson approached shooting The Lord Of The Rings. But let’s be frank – regardless of how technically capable he may be, Ron Howard is no Peter Jackson. Not to mention the fact that while popular, King’s series is less than thirty years old and never crossed over to the masses the way that LOTR or even the Harry Potter series had. The commercial success of a Dark Tower film franchise is far from guaranteed. As for a television series that links the three films, while I love the idea, if the show is running on NBC and doesn’t deliver the expected ratings, I can’t see the network being particularly patient before pulling the plug. Just ask Conan.

I hope I’m wrong about all of this. I hope my little worries and fears are all for naught. The fact that Stephen King signed off on this does give me some relief, since he’s been fiercely of the rights to the property. I hope Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman knock The Dark Tower out of the park and introduce Roland, Jake, Susannah, Eddie and Oy to a whole new audience who will love them as much as I do. I hope that they find the perfect actor to play The Gunslinger (Thomas Jane, anyone) and that he completes the journey placed in front of him. Because I love this series something fierce and all I want is for it to succeed.

If ka wills it, so it will be.

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