Feverish on the heels of Warner Bros. selecting Ben Affleck (instead of David Yates) to direct their adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, Brian Grazer is quick to point out that he, director Ron Howard, and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman are still working to adapt King’s The Dark Tower. Not only that, but in order to lure new financing and/or studio help (after Universal finally balked at the epic and unorthodox scope the team initially had), the trio has apparently found a way to cut $40-50 million from the budget of the final product. Most likely they managed to calculate that with a rewritten shooting script, so learly, that money won’t come out of their paychecks, because hack-work doesn’t come cheap. The money probably also won’t come from dropping Javier Bardem as Roland Deschain, the book series’ main protagonist, as the ostensible film’s lead. No matter how many Bond villains he winds up playing between now and the film’s release.
What’s most significant about this news, however, isn’t the film’s possible budget, but it’s possible ending. It doesn’t spoil anything to inform you that The Dark Tower novels are not just Stephen King’s answer to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it’s also the name of the last book in that series. And according to producer Grazer’s most recent comments, The Dark Tower movie may just be that, a single film:
“We found a way to cut out $45 million out of the budget without changing the scope and actually giving it a good ending. In the $140 million draft, the ending wasn’t quite as satisfying. Now, we’ve got $45 million, $50 million out of the way and a really satisfying ending. It’s gonna get made.”
Now, it’s entirely possible that this “good ending” is a somewhat modified conclusion to the end of the first book in the series, The Gunslinger. That book is absolutely the only one of the series that could function as a standalone film, with only minor tweaks to the ending to allow for both finality and the lingering possibility of more story to tell. As a fan of the books, and King in general, I sincerely hope this is just Grazer’s way of saying, “We’re going to start with The Gunslinger and see where we can go from there, but if that’s where we stop, then at least this film will be cohesive, whole, and satisfying on its own.” Otherwise, we could be talking about a single film that tries to encapsulate the entirety of The Dark Tower saga.
I’ll grant that there’s a lot of filler in some of the books, and that de-unsatisfying the ending to King’s concluding chapter wouldn’t rub me the wrong way, but there is no way one movie can do this story justice. Yesterday, several of you worried about a solitary film of The Stand, and while maybe not the best way to really tell the best version of that story, I believe it could be done. But a sole Dark Tower film, which is approximately 6.5 times as long as The Stand, that isn’t The Gunslinger? Malarkey, sirs and madams, pure malarkey. It’s almost like Randall Flagg is fucking with us across fictional and non-fictional universes.
Speaking of whom, it would be quite the coup if both properties scored the same actor to portray the Man-in-Black-who-isn’t-Johnny-Cash in both (or all) these movies. Kind of like Michael Keaton in both Miramax’s Jackie Brown and Universal’s Out of Sight as federal agent Ray Nicolette. One actor wouldn’t save two possible train wrecks, but it’d be a nice touch from the Hand of God before the end of the world, wouldn’t it?
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force and tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He still actually needs to finish The Dark Tower series, but he knows how the last book ends, and he’s pretty certain that could definitely use a filmic rewrite ala The Giant Squid from Watchmen.