The trailer for The Dark Tower dropped early this morning, giving us our first glimpse of the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s epic series. But this film isn’t your typical adaptation, where the movie is largely based on the novel. This movie is actually a kind of sequel to the entire series, and there are bigger plans beyond just a film franchise for the story.
So, what’s the deal with this project? And what can we expect when the movie hits in August?
So what is The Dark Tower series?
To understand the film, you need to know a little bit about the books that the film is associated with. Stephen King is easily one of the best-known genre writers in the world. While King is known as a horror writer, having written classics like Carrie and The Shining, he’s more than that: he experiments with epic fantasy, horror, and science fiction. The Dark Tower, as a series, is a bit of a mash-up of all those genres, and it’s a series he considers his magnum opus.
He later explained in the foreword to the first novel of the series, The Gunslinger, that “The Dark Tower books, like most long fantasy tales written by men and women of my generation… were born out of Tolkien’s [Middle-earth].” He goes on to say that he read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in the 1960s, and that he wanted to write his own sort of epic, fantastical quest novel. But he didn’t want to just copy Tolkien. After seeing The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, he realized that he wanted something that encompassed more. “I realized that what I wanted to write was a novel that contained Tolkien’s sense of quest and magic, but set against Leone’s almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop.”
Between October 1978 and November 1981, King published five short stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and collected them into a single novel, The Gunslinger, in 1982. From there, King followed up with a series of novels: The Drawing of Three (1987), The Wastelands (1991), Wizard and Glass (1997), Wolves of Calla (2003), Song of Susannah (2004), and The Dark Tower (2004). He explained at the time that the seven books were part of “one long über-novel,” and that the series had come to an end with that last book. The books have become incredibly popular, and most were best-sellers.
However, King announced in 2009, that he had an idea for another Dark Tower novel, and he polled his readers on his website to see which book they’d like to see first: a new Dark Tower novel, or a sequel to The Shining. It was close, but readers picked The Wind through the Keyhole. (Dr. Sleep, The Shining’s follow-up, would come a year later.) He wrote The Wind Through the Keyhole, which is set about halfway through the series, but it’s a bit more standalone than the other installments.
There have also been a handful of comic adaptations, as well as a video game called Discordia, which players can play through King’s website.
That’s a lot of books. What are they about?
The short answer is that it’s an epic story about Roland Deschain, who’s on a quest to find the Dark Tower, a building that’s said to link all the worlds in existence together. He’s the last living member of an order of knights known as Gunslingers, living in an alternate world (part of King’s larger multiverse) known as Mid-World.
Mid-World is magical, in a state of post-apocalyptic ruin (King describes it as “moved on”), and it looks like the American West. Magic has largely vanished, but there are remnants left behind, as well as some pieces of advanced technology. Roland is chasing after The Man in Black, which is part of his quest to discover the Dark Tower. Along the way, Roland discovers a boy named Jake Chambers, who died in a world like our own. The character is essentially Roland’s spiritual son, and after meeting him in Mid-World, he accompanies him on his quest. The rest of the series is about that quest.
I feel like I’ve been hearing about the film and television adaptations of this series for a while.
This film has experienced a bit of a convoluted production. Way back in 2007, J.J. Abrams, Carlton Cuse, and Damon Lindelof (the people behind Lost), first optioned the series with an eye for adapting all seven novels. Nothing came of that project, and in 2010, the rights expired.
However, Universal Pictures optioned the series later in 2010, with Ron Howard (Apollo 13) slated to direct. They had a particularly ambitious plan for this series: a film and television franchise. A film would come out every two years, with a television show bridging the story between each major film. That project was worked on for a couple of years, but it, too, was canceled because of rising costs. Warner Bros. was interested, but also passed, and the project ended up with Sony Pictures, with writers Akiva Goldsman (I Am Legend) and Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) penning the screenplay and Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) directing. Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, The Wire) signed on to play Roland, and Matthew McConaughey (True Detective) would play The Man in Black. It was originally slated for a January 2017 release, but it’s been bumped back to August 4th, 2017.
So this is an adaptation of The Gunslinger?
Not exactly. People are describing The Dark Tower as a sequel or continuation of the entire novel series.
So last year, King tweeted a picture: the Horn of Eld, which is a relic of the world that was passed down to Roland.
The Dark Tower is close, now. The Crimson King awaits. Soon Roland will raise the Horn of Eld. And blow. pic.twitter.com/rqGSKM3dWL
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 19, 2016
Fans went nuts, because what King tweeted is a reference to the final book of the series, The Dark Tower. That’s where [spoilers] Roland finally reaches the Dark Tower and faces off against a villain known as the Crimson King. It’s there that he discovers that he’s gone on this quest before, many times, and is sent back to the beginning of his journey by a being known as Gan each time. In prior quests, Roland had left the Horn of Eld with a dying compatriot after a battle. In this latest version of the quest, he kept it with him, which changes things for the next cycle of the story.
The implication here is that the film is set after The Dark Tower (the novel): Roland has been sent back to the beginning of his quest, and the events of The Gunslinger will play out in a slightly different way. As we saw in the trailer, he meets Jake Chambers, and is going after The Man in Black. So, the film could essentially be an adaptation of The Gunslinger, but a continuation of the story at the same time. It also looks like it’ll be set partially in our own world.
Maybe, but it’ll allow Nikolaj Arcel to not only adapt the novel, but play with the conventions of this particular story. It gives them cover to change things in the adaptation without upsetting fans of the books, and it allows them to introduce newcomers to the series through a slightly different take on The Gunslinger.
I heard that there’s also a TV show in the works? What’s that about?
So, we’re not only getting the film, but a TV series. Word broke about that last September, and the show is going to be designed to flesh out this pretty epic story that they’re telling. Apparently, it’ll include Idris Elba (who’s playing Roland in the movie), and it’ll explore his backstory a bit. It’ll be based a bit on The Gunslinger, and it’ll have parts of the fourth book, Wizard and Glass. So, in some ways, it looks like it’ll be an actual adaptation of the novels, whereas the film is a continuation of that.
So, why should I be excited to see this?
Well, King wrote an ambitious and sprawling series — The Gunslinger is one of King’s best books, and it’s really interesting to read it and see him playing with all these different genres and influences. Devoted fans of the books are a little more iffy on how the series ended, but for the most part, it’s an amazing world with an epic story to go along with it.
While the subject matter is cool, the series has the potential to do some interesting things with film. As we’ve seen, the story is playing with not just being a straight-up adaptation of the series, but being an additive part to it. Additionally, we’ve seen places like Disney do some interesting things with their Marvel franchise: cross-over television shows and films. We’ve seen these sorts of cinematic universes with comics and science fiction, but this has the potential to become another bit thing like those properties.
Cool! When do we get to see all that?
Last we heard, the show is due to enter production this year, with a 10–13 episode season slated to hit in 2018. The film is set to hit theaters this summer, so it’ll likely tie in with that as a prequel. Depending on how well The Dark Tower does at the box office, it’ll probably be part of a strategy similar to what Marvel is doing with its films and various television shows. We’ll find out in August.
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