After years of patiently sitting through endless rumours, hopes and disappointments, the possibility that The Dark Tower series will finally be adapted for the big screen appears closer to being realised than we ever dreamed.
With Ron Howard seemingly poised to take up the mantle, now is perhaps the best time to have a think about the things we’d like to see in a film adaptation of this epic series…
Inevitably, we talk about some bits of plot of The Dark Tower in this piece. If you want to be entirely spoiler-free, you might want to give this one a miss. Specifically, we talk about the ending in the last entry in this list…
The right man for the job
Bardem definitely looks the part, but there’s no denying that he’ll have a difficult job playing the Gunslinger convincingly. Roland has quite the character arc over seven books, beginning as the cold, relentless killer we see in The Gunslinger, and morphing into the good friend/wise leader as he becomes closer to his ka-tet.
When Bardem actually straps on Roland’s guns, he’ll need to show an enormous range: a killer, a father, a teacher, a knight and, in some places, a child.
Roland Deschain has become one of the most complex characters in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and I don’t envy Bardem the task of making him flesh.
Condensing seven novels, approximately 4000 pages or more, into a two-and-a-half hour film would be an impossible task, obviously. One film would either be too long, at least five hours, or, more likely, stripped too bare to keep the fans happy. Seven films may be a bit much, but three is a good solid number. After all, everyone loves a trilogy.
Three films might be enough to successfully adapt the series without changing it completely. This could be done by merging book one, two and the beginning of book three, merging three and five, and six and seven and interspersing Roland’s story of Susan Delgado across the whole series. (Yes, I did actually sit down and think it through.)
It’s encouraging, then, that the preliminary information we have so far seems to include both multiple films and a TV series, as it seems those involved are willing to give the stories the room and expanse they need and deserve. Whether this early plan holds true, and whether or not the TV series keeps to the standards of the films, as well as which books and stories are handled by which screens, big or small, is unknown at this time. But we may see a trilogy of films and a well produced television series, if we’re lucky.
Preserve the tone of the book
With any book to film adaptation it’s inevitable that some details are going to be left out or altered. It’s also inevitable that we’ll all have a good old moan about the things that have been changed, and smugly point out mistakes that were made.
With adaptations of novels, the best that we can hope for is that liberties taken with the plot are taken wisely. There are plenty of examples of film adaptations that change plot details for the purpose of time or budget and, in doing so, remove what was great about original text. (At least three of the Harry Potter films can be cited for this).
With The Dark Tower, especially, this would be a seriously damaging thing to do, as there’s a lot that could come across as ridiculous, if it’s not treated properly.
If, however, the epic scope of the books can be maintained in the post-apocalyptic landscape, the themes of redemption and sacrifice, the closeness of the ka-tet and the bizarre meta-fictional nature of the last two books, we may just be okay.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?
No sex. Please. We’re British
Sex and genitalia have an almost unwholesomely large presence in the novels of Stephen King. Without wishing to sound prudish, the frequency with which these parts make an appearance (please don’t laugh. I’m trying to be delicate) does jar the reading to some extent.
Moving beyond personal preference, if the filmmakers were to meticulously include every reference to sex and genitalia from the books, the film would most likely to be bumped up to an 18 rating, which would exclude a large number of younger fans from seeing the film and significantly limit the next generation of Dark Tower fans.
Another thing worth considering is that removing the combined volume of these references would most likely to shorten the series considerably, and allow room for the inclusion of other, more important, details.
It’s a win-win situation.
This was a tough call to make, and one that may spark controversy, but the truth is the character of Mordred adds very little to the series. Susannah’s pregnancy may be the driving force behind much of the movements of the characters in the sixth and seventh books, but Mordred’s life is just an aside that seemingly goes nowhere.
Beginning as an exciting new villain, tantalisingly dangling a prophecy in front of us, and killing Randall Flagg with haunting ease, we were expecting something a bit more dramatic from this character than contracting food poisoning and falling into a fire.
The adaptation could do without this road to nowhere, and its omission would free up space for other more exciting plotlines.
Fewer nods to the fans
All fans enjoy a cheeky reference, a sly nod to other stories that allows us that feeling of knowledgeable superiority. The Dark Tower series is full of these references, and King doesn’t just stop at his own stories, but references T.S. Eliot, Robert Browning, and Richard Adams, to name just a few.
In the books, this was a useful way of illustrating the nature of the Dark Tower as an axis on which all worlds spin, and therefore, how all worlds are connected. In the films, it will most likely just complicate matters.
Finding a way to explain to the viewers that that guy was the bad guy in The Stand, or that Dandelo was actually the monster in It, is more likely just going to detract from the narrative and make the film less accessible to those who are new to the world of Roland Deschain.
For the sake of brevity and clarity, it’s probably best to keep such things to a minimum.
Blaine the Mono
A psychotic monorail train that likes riddles. Really? Surely, the films could do without that? Well, actually, no.
In the books, Blaine is the symbol of all that was wrong with the technology of the ‘old people’, and he is returned to whenever the characters come face to face with other technological threats.
The problem with Blaine, though, is that on screen he may prove difficult to make truly scary, and the temptation would be to leave him out altogether. This would be a real shame. The Blaine plot shows the first real shift in the ka-tet’s dynamic, and it’s when Roland begins to take Eddie seriously.
There’s no doubt, however, that creating a riddle loving train for the big screen that’s as scary as it is in the books will be a tall order.
In this case, Blaine is quite literally a pain.
Stephen King as himself
Stephen King is well known for making cameos in film adaptations of his books, most famously in The Stand and Pet Sematary (shown here). The Dark Tower, however, would call for more than a simple cameo, as Stephen King becomes a fairly substantial character in the sixth and seventh books.
It may be something that’s difficult to achieve, as King’s most significant appearance is as a relatively young man. But, at the very least, his presence would add a sense of solidarity and support to a film that will be up for tough scrutiny from the books’ biggest fans.
Oy, leave him alone!
Oy is a billy-bumbler, a creature that appears to be part dog, racoon and ferret, and manages to become just as much a part of Roland’s ka-tet as Eddie, Susannah or Jake.
Oy, however, runs the risk of being the comic relief of the film, which will only occur at the expense of the character.
The best example of this in recent years was probably the portrayal of Gimli, the Dwarf, in The Lord Of The Rings. A lot was sacrificed in Gimli’s character in the name of comic relief (“Nobody tosses a dwarf!”), to the extent that it became difficult at times to take him seriously.
In the books, Oy undoubtedly provides some great comic moments, but he also shows some remarkably tender ones too. It would be a true shame to sacrifice one for the sake of the other.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
In truth, this is actually two wishes cunningly disguised as one. Firstly, that the ending stays the same.
In some ways, the ending may seem a bit dated or a bit too tragic for the audience. But the only way to change it would be to omit it, and this just wouldn’t do.
All of the fans are going to want to see Roland climb to the top of the Tower, and those viewers unfamiliar with the series are going to feel cheated if they don’t see the Tower’s interior for themselves. Although, they could always just go and read the books.
On a more literal level, I would like to see the actual line, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed” find its way into the film somehow. It would be something that would be difficult to do well, but it is undoubtedly a great line, and its use creates the sense of the completed circle that adds the final flourish to the series.