Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Upcoming Films: The Dark Tower, New Most Ambitious Project In Hollywood

Uh, wow.

Stephen King is famous for making a ludicrous amount of money on mediocre but thoroughly entertaining hack horror fiction, thereby causing H.P. Lovecraft to do a barrel roll in his grave every time King cites him as an influence. However, King's own magnum opus - according to him - is the Dark Tower saga. The Dark Tower is a seven-book series, with books ranging in length from too big to doorstoppingly enormous, and this being Stephen King it's likely that about sixty percent of it could have been edited out entirely. But here come Universal and NBC with the claim that they'll be adapting the series into a movie trilogy, with the gaps between the movies bridged by a TV series.

So what is this Dark Tower business? As always, spoilers may follow.

I will admit right off that I haven't read the entirety of the Dark Tower series; King's usual natural and engaging prose shifted into a gruesomely boring mode for the duration of the first book and probably the other ones as well, and I didn't feel like chewing through the next 3500 pages (not exaggerating that number, either) to get to a famously bad ending which had already been spoiled for me anyway. What I have read and distinctly enjoyed are the various Marvel limited series that serve as a prequel to the story proper, and I will say that if anyone decides to make a movie that has anything in common with those, I'll watch it in a second.

That aside: the flaws in the Dark Tower aren't in the concept. It's the tale of a man named Roland Deschain, a Gunslinger, a member of a kind of knightly order (now largely defunct) that once wielded guns to ensure peace, justice, and all the other kinds of things that defunct knightly orders are invariably claimed to have ensured. Now, the world has gone all to hell and Roland is wandering it on a Quest. Roland is after a man in black, a sorcerer who screwed up Roland's life hardcore and is now seeking to destroy the surprisingly not evil construct called the Dark Tower. This tower, you see, is the axis that connects all parallel universes in Stephen King's work, although if you're anything like me you now kind of want to see the man in black just take the damn thing down and hopefully all of King's money with it. Roland does not want this tower destroyed because his Quest is to go there and ask god or gods in residence the reason why his life is so unpleasant. However, Roland is also being manipulated by ka, this universe's equivalent to destiny, in order to assemble a ka-tet, a crew of people brought together by ka, that will enable him to reach the Tower. This is what he does. I am not going to spoil the ending, because it is legend in the realms of endings that make you wish you had never begun the story in the first place. If you want you can look it up on Wikipedia. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Now that didn't take 3700+ pages, did it? Apparently NBC and Universal agreed with me that the whole thing is too long, because they aren't planning to release this epic story as a trilogy, that go-to mode of partitioning that apparently nobody since Homer has been able to resist. No, their plan is for a trilogy...with the films connected by seasons of a TV show. It's something that I don't think has ever really been done before, certainly not successfully. Few TV shows ever manage to make a jump to big screen - 2005's Serenity was one of the only ones I can think of, all the more impressive because it was both better than the series it was based on and based on a series that had been canceled due to low ratings several years before. And while the reverse jump has known a few more success stories, most of them aren't post-apocalyptic Western high fantasy on an epic scale.

Who's behind this? That's where my interest wanes a little bit. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the pair who brought you the overrated A Beautiful Mind and the adaptations of those hilarious Jesus-banged-Mary-Magdalene books that had the Religious Right getting their collective knickers in a twist a few years ago, are taking on a story whose scale has only been rivaled in recent cinema by Peter Jackson's take on The Lord of the Rings and possibly one or two wuxia movies - Hero and Red Cliff spring to mind. Quite frankly, I can't see it, but apparently the people with all the money can.

I don't really have a great deal more to say about the project at such an early date - I seem to recall that Leo DiCaprio was once in talks to play Roland in an earlier attempt to adapt the series, but surely no well-known actor is going to be signing up for a project that will effectively paralyze his schedule for what I would guess is going to be four to five years. In the title of this article I referred to this attempt to adapt the Dark Tower series as the most ambitious project in Hollywood. Regardless of how good or bad the movies/shows are, there is going to be a tremendous amount of money involved here - if they intend to keep the production values high for the televised parts as well, I could estimate a budget of two to three billion dollars for the whole shebang. It's going to need to engage people as well as The Lord of the Rings did - better, as a matter of fact, given that TV series make no direct profit and that one particularly bad drop in ratings could lead NBC to kill the whole thing.

Best of luck to this project, though - my major objection to the series is its prose, and in the comic book this is successfully drowned out by the fantastic art of Jae Lee and Richard Isanove. If the art direction of Howard's Dark Tower is anything at all...

...well, the prospective series rode across the big screen, and the reviewer followed.

that joke was horrible kill me now

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