Stephen King and co talk about film­ing the un­filmable in an ar­ti­cle that links di­rectly to the It fea­ture in a fu­ture is­sue.


Hol­ly­wood has been in the Stephen King busi­ness for just about as long as Stephen King has been in the Stephen King busi­ness. From the mo­ment the great Amer­i­can hor­ror novelist burst onto the scene in the mid-1970s, stu­dios and big-name di­rec­tors such as Kubrick, Carpenter, De Palma, Cro­nen­berg and Romero have been queu­ing up to adapt his work. Even his vastly am­bi­tious doorstop nov­els, such as

The Stand and It, have been made into minis­eries for the small screen, as Hol­ly­wood vo­ra­ciously op­tioned vir­tu­ally ev­ery word King wrote. If he’d writ­ten this para­graph, stu­dios would be cir­cling it even now.

But one ma­jor King work has re­mained con­spic­u­ously un­adapted.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gun­slinger fol­lowed.” Those words kick off 1982’s The Gun­slinger, the first novel in a se­ries that to­gether form The Dark Tower. It’s a work of stag­ger­ing breadth, depth and am­bi­tion, span­ning hun­dreds of years and mul­ti­ple worlds. It’s about ob­ses­sion, and guilt, and the act of cre­ation, and the un­blink­ing, un­sen­ti­men­tal eye of fate, or ka, of­ten de­picted as a wheel, con­stantly turn­ing on a cease­less jour­ney.

The tl;dr ver­sion? It prin­ci­pally con­cerns the ef­forts of the afore­men­tioned gun­slinger, Roland Deschain, and his heroic band of fol­low­ers, the ka-tet, to find and pro­tect the Dark Tower, the nexus of all ex­is­tence, from the forces of evil de­ter­mined to de­stroy it. Which­ever way you look at it, though, The Dark

Tower is King’s crown­ing glory. “It’s the one that took the most time and the most ef­fort and the most cre­ative en­ergy,” says the au­thor, speak­ing to Em­pire in a world-ex­clu­sive in­ter­view from his home in Ban­gor, Maine. “You don’t sit down one day and say, ‘Well, I think I’ll write a mag­num opus.’ But I said to my­self, ‘This could be re­ally long and re­ally ex­cit­ing and I wanna take a crack at it.’ Look what hap­pened.”

What hap­pened is that King had writ­ten some­thing so au­da­ciously am­bi­tious, so

be­wil­der­ingly bat­shit, so cre­atively com­plex that it seemed un­filmable. And King him­self seemed to be happy with that. “It never seemed likely to me that some­one would come along and want to make a film out of it,” he says. “There were things from time to time, when peo­ple would talk about the pos­si­bil­ity, but I never took it se­ri­ously.”

How­ever, in a post-lord Of The Rings world, it seemed that un­filmable was a thing of the past, like leav­ing your doors un­locked at night or vot­ing Lib Dem. And with the nov­els com­plete as of 2004 (bar a pre­quel, The Wind

Through The Key­hole, pub­lished in 2012), The Dark Tower was fair game. “Ev­ery stu­dio is look­ing for a tent­pole project where it’s pos­si­ble to not only do a movie, but to do a se­ries of movies,” adds King. “And the cre­ative peo­ple were able to say, ‘This is some­thing en­tirely new that melds the West­ern with fan­tasy — let’s go out there and see if we can make this hap­pen.’ And fi­nally some­one did.” The re­sult is this month’s The Dark

Tower, which sees Matthew Mc­conaughey flee across the desert, and Idris Elba fol­low. But be­fore we got to this point, the wheel had a few turns left in it…

J.J. ABRAMS was the first to at­tempt to scale the tower, when his Lost alums Damon Lin­de­lof and Carl­ton Cuse op­tioned the rights to the se­ries from King in 2007. After grap­pling with a pro­posed tril­ogy (“It does need room to breathe,” agrees King) for three years, the op­tion ex­pired and Abrams moved on. Awak­en­ing the Force? A cinch. Adapt­ing over 4,000 pages of King? Not so much.

En­ter Ron Howard and Akiva Golds­man, who came on board to direct, pro­duce and write in 2010, along with big-bud­get back­ing from Univer­sal and a plan so cun­ning it could win a bat­tle of rid­dles with a homi­ci­dal train (a sce­nario that takes place in the third Dark Tower book, The Waste Lands). Their ver­sion would com­prise three films with two tele­vi­sion se­ries sand­wiched in-be­tween, and Javier Bar­dem was on board as Roland. “I liked that idea,” says King. “Every­body did. Turned out he had a bad back, at that time any­way. That made it a lit­tle iffy with him.”

With Bar­dem back­ing out, Univer­sal soon joined him in 2011 and The Dark Tower fell back into limbo. It was never en­tirely dead, though. “I started to think maybe two years ago that it re­ally would hap­pen,” King says. “Modi [Wiczyk, CO-CEO of MRC] came along and got re­ally in­ter­ested in it. They started to spend se­ri­ous money.”

With Sony Pic­tures also on board, this new ver­sion of the story gained mo­men­tum quickly. How­ever, with Howard de­cid­ing only to re­main on board as a pro­ducer, it needed a di­rec­tor, and fast. “I’ve been one of Stephen King’s Con­stant Read­ers since I was a teenager in Den­mark,” says Niko­laj Ar­cel, whose big­gest gig prior to this was writ­ing the screen­play for the Swedish ver­sion of The Girl With The Dragon Tat­too. “I know how vast the story is. It’s in my blood.”

AT FIRST glance, The Dark Tower a straight-up adap­ta­tion of The Gun­slinger, in which Roland’s thirst for vengeance against man in black Wal­ter Padick (for stan­dard man-in­black stuff: mur­der, theft, that sort of thing) is com­pli­cated by the ap­pear­ance of Jake Cham­bers (Tom Tay­lor), a young telepath who has come to Mid-world from our own mod­ern­day New York. At one point, The Gun­slinger was the movie’s of­fi­cial sub­ti­tle. And it even starts with the line, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gun­slinger fol­lowed.”

But when Ar­cel, along with writ­ing part­ner An­ders Thomas Jensen, set to work on the ex­ist­ing Akiva Golds­man draft, he had to face an un­ex­pected ob­sta­cle. Namely, that The Gun­slinger is ac­tu­ally a bit of a slog. It’s a dense, and some­what trippy, novel, heav­ily in­spired by Robert Brown­ing’s epic poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came. It’s still got mo­ments of dark King magic, but oth­er­wise it’s the lit­er­ary equiv­a­lent of the first sea­son of Parks And Recre­ation, the one you have to wade through

Roland Deschain —the gun­slinger (Idris Elba) — slings one of his mighty guns. Be­low left: Roland and Wal­ter Padick — the man in black (Matthew Mc­conaughey) — face off. Bot­tom left: Roland’s ap­pren­tice Jake Cham­bers (Tom Tay­lor).

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