There is a fine line between chasing dreams and chasing windmills. Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Akiva Goldsman, the filmmakers behind the doomed adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower, have been stridently straddling that border ever since they announced their sprawling multi-platform plans for the septet spanning a trilogy of films, two TV series, and a location shoot on the moon. Ok, scratch that last part. But the rest was on the agenda and putatively moving toward a green light until yesterday, when Universal officially pulled the plug on the project.
The Dark Tower has been teetering on the brink of oblivion for much longer than Howard and his creative confreres were willing to admit. Ever since Universal pushed the production’s start date from this summer to early spring, 2012, Howard grew increasingly vague about the status of his leading man, Javier Bardem. In April, the star was “locked in” as the franchise’s mysterious gunslinger, Roland Deschain. A month later, Howard hedged on Bardem’s commitment, claiming that he’d “shown a great deal of interest.” The impending doom signs were plastered all over the Tower’s scaffolding and its demise seemed all but certain.
What’s most fascinating about this story is not why or how the project went south but the unalloyed grandiosity from which it sprung. Howard, Goldsman, and Grazer sought to make an uncompromisingly faithful version of King’s most complex work at a time when Hollywood is investing in movies based on boardgames (“Battleship“) and craven high concept gimmicks like “What to Expect when You’re Expecting,” whose sole raison d’etre is to capitalize on the bestselling pregnancy how-to. We’re just waiting for Hollywood to find a way to tease a narrative thread out of all those bestselling diet books. Just imagine what Scorsese could do if turned loose on an epic version of “The 17 Day Diet.”
The Dark Tower, on the other hand, has always been a movie waiting to happen. Ever since Stephen King fired off the first book in the series — The Gunslinger — in 1982, it was clear Roland Deschain was an epic hero begging to be embodied by a great actor. Like any epic storyteller, King’s made sure to throw plenty of obstacles in his hero’s way — like taking seven books and twenty years to wrap up the story — to prevent Roland Deschain from seizing the cinematic legacy he so deserves.
That’s why we have nothing but respect for Howard’s ambitious plans for the saga. None of Howard’s previous films has revealed the faintest hint of the visual and emotional ruthlessness necessary to capture the series’ bleak impressionistic vision of humanity. But Howard’s passion for the project was unassailable, so much so that he seemed to forget he was dealing with the studio that had just passed on Guillermo del Toro’s much smaller-scale adaptation of HP Lovecraft‘s At the Mountains of Madness.
Still, all hope is not lost. We’ve always believed that The Dark Tower needs space to unfold gradually and perhaps the most viable option is for it to roll out over many episodes as a high-end HBO series in the vein of “Game of Thrones” or “Deadwood.” For some this idea may sound like capitulation or the downsizing of a man’s farfetched dream. Instead, this might be a way to negotiate a compromise that allows Howard to maintain some of the quixotic spirit of his quest to direct an authoritative version of The Dark Tower without waiting another twenty years to make it happen. Submit your own blueprints for rebuilding The Dark Tower here.