But since he did, let’s talk about it.
First, this entire piece is very, very spoilery. But unless you’re already at least vaguely aware of King’s Dark Tower series, you may not be able to fully decipher what I’m about to lay out. There are lots of times when I read something or learn something about a film that I decide instantly to never reveal, because I have erred in the other direction often enough to have lost friendships over it. There are filmmakers who I like and admire who simply will never speak to me again because I spilled the wrong beans at the wrong time, and I can’t blame them. That’s their work, and they have every right to be upset about whatever they want to. I never do it to hurt a film, but I have certainly done it enough times to know that doesn’t matter what my intentions were.
This time, it’s Stephen King dropping giant spoilers, and as such, I feel like now we can finally talk about the thing I find most interesting and exciting about Nikolaj Arcel’s upcoming film The Dark Tower, with a screenplay credited to Arcel, Akiva Goldsman, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Jeff Pinkner. There have been a lot of drafts of this thing, and a lot of different ideas about how to handle the adaptation. It’s an incredibly dense piece of work, over 4000 pages of books that are augmented by prequel comic books and short stories and all sorts of connections out to the rest of Stephen King’s work, tying together one of the largest shared universes of modern fiction. I still remember when the first time I heard of The Gunslinger was when it showed up in the list of “Other Work” in the front of one of King’s novels. It was a limited-run book that I had to track down, and it cost me an arm and a leg, and I loved it. I loved that it was part of a larger story, that it picked up in media res, and that it was a promise of something more.
As King would occasionally revisit the story and add new chapters to it, I started to worry that he would never be able to finish it. When he actually did finish it, part of the fun was the reveal that the story was, in some ways, never-ending. Roland Deschain, the gunslinger who will be played in the upcoming film by Idris Elba, has been on his quest for his entire life, and that life is much longer than we originally realize as we’re reading the story. There is a circular element built into the narrative, and one of the things that sold me on the story as a whole was the way it ended without truly ending. The material makes it clear that Roland has repeated the entire journey to the Dark Tower more than once and he’ll most likely continue to do it, over and over.
Or at least until he picks up the Horn of Eld and brings it with him.
Oh…wait a minute… let’s look at King’s Tweet from earlier:
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
Yep. Look, it would take forever to run through all the reasons that single image is exciting, but basically, the reason fans of the books should stop worrying about continuity and just take a step back and wait is because this is not an adaptation in a traditional sense. Instead, what King just promised is a sequel to the books that already exist. And having read at least two drafts of the script, I can confirm that this is a pretty radical approach to bringing these characters to life.
In many ways, this is uncharted territory. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone try something like this, and it’s a really interesting way of not only making something new, but using it to expand and comment on the thing that inspired it. I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I was about eleven years old, and I’ve read the vast majority of his work in order as it was being published. I think he was one of the first people to ever pull off something where you only gradually realized that everything was set in the same fictional world, and those things all added up to a bigger picture, and then once he introduced the larger framework of the Dark Tower, it felt like something really special was happening. Now we’re seeing a potential expansion in a new direction, and if we’re going to see the last time around, the journey where Roland is finally going to get it right, that is thrilling for fans.
I'm also curious to see what this world's version of fantasy looks like. I like that they're shooting in Cape Town, so it's not going to be exactly the same fantasy landscape that we've seen in everything else. I'm stating to worry that Game Of Thrones might be setting a bar for fantasy world-building that no movie is going to be able to match for a while, but this film is very different than most of what we call "fantasy," and there are opportunities to try some brand-new things visually. I had a conversation about this idea with Roth Cornet earlier today, and you can see that embedded above.
Maybe I’m wrong about the approach they're taking. I can tell you that the script makes more sense to me now that I see King do this. It suddenly snapped into focus as more than just “an adaptation where someone’s making some big strange choices” and became a narrative game that I find kind of thrilling. I read the draft a few times trying to make sense of how they were planning to adapt it, and it didn’t make sense to me. There were things that were drawn from all of the books in the series, and it felt like an almost arbitrary reorganization of material.
But what if it’s not? What if King’s telling us right now that we’re getting something brand new? What if we see all sorts of familiar scenes and settings from the books, but a whole different journey for Roland because he’s finally figured out what he has to do to make it through. Will he treat his companions differently this time? Will he even gather the same three people to help him? Or will we start to see some radical changes very soon?
My god… if they’re not careful, I’m going to get really excited about this one.
The Dark Tower starts walking the path in theaters everywhere January 13, 2017.