With that one perfect opening line, Stephen King started the international obsession known as The Dark Tower. King not only launched two legendary characters into the literary stratosphere, but he also ushered readers into a massive fantasy world that would become as fully-realized and complete as anything modern literature has produced since Tolkien sketched the borders of Middle Earth. The twelve words that started the phenomenon first ran in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October of 1978. It would take three years for the other four parts of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger to appear in the same magazine. In actuality, it took twelve years total to finish the novel that first came to King while he was a college student back in 1970. There was never anything "speedy" about The Dark Tower. The Gunslinger was published in a limited run in 1982, but only really took off when Plume released a trade paperback version in 1988 with gorgeous illustrations by Michael Whelan. The back of that edition said it all, expressing not just the complete story within, but the promise of what would come - "Complete in itself, The Gunslinger is the first novel in an epic series, The Dark Tower, that promises to be Stephen King's crowning achievement."
Using Robert Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came", The Lord of the Rings, and the Sergio Leone made Clint Eastwood movies as his foundation, King would go on to write six more novels in The Dark Tower series, undeniably his most impressive achievement. We can argue until we're red about whether all seven books fulfilled their promise or whether they stand up next to King's best non-Tower works, but the very existence of these novels is a remarkable accomplishment. The second book, The Drawing of the Three, was first published in 1987, followed by 1991's The Waste Lands and 1997's Wizard and Glass. Then the world of The Dark Tower went silent for a long time. Many of us thought that it would never be revisited, much less completed. But, largely inspired by the car accident that nearly killed him, King shocked us all and rushed through the final three books in just two years. He released Wolves of the Calla in 2003 and both Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower in 2004. Suddenly, Roland's journey was finally at its end. (To be fair, this is a world that will clearly never end, as it's already found new life in graphic novel form. But King's seven-book series was over.)
Even before it was over, the talk of adapting the franchise into a movie or mini-series had started, but it would take another three years to really go somewhere. And it was King's love for a hit TV show that finally made it happen. In February of 2007, IGN broke the news that Lost's J.J. Abrams and King had worked out a deal to get the gunslinger after the man in black on screen, big or small. King was a huge fan of Lost, and co-creator Damon Lindelof reportedly loved The Dark Tower so much that he brought a rare first edition of The Gunslinger to an interview that EW did with himself, Abrams, and King. It made perfect sense. Humorously enough, so little was known about Abrams' Cloverfield at the time, that the website even theorized that it might be a codename for The Dark Tower.
Shortly thereafter, King appeared at Comic-Con and confirmed the news to Cinematical. King even confirmed that Frank Darabont had come to him with an idea on The Dark Tower, but that he thought Darabont had too much on his plate to get it done (and the Lost team doesn't?!?!) Lindelof is still working on Lost, J.J.'s busy making Star Trek, and it's unclear when (or even "if") The Dark Tower is coming to TV or your local movie theatre, or what it will eventually look like when it does. But that's not going to stop fans from speculating. Abrams will be finishing up Star Trek soon. Lindelof is almost a lock to get the first screenwriting credit. And, heck, even if they're not focusing on The Dark Tower directly, they're probably bouncing around ideas while Evangeline Lilly gets her make-up done or the new Enterprise crew gets a few more CGI touch-ups.
The potential inherent in The Dark Tower movies is as high as anything currently in production in Hollywood. These movies could be as important as Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. But they need to be done right. How? Let us offer some advice.
1. Respect for the Scope
First and foremost, do at least seven BIG-SCREEN Dark Tower movies. We don't want a mini-series. These are words that we might be forced to eat. If anyone could prove us wrong, it's the people who made a weekly obsession about a smoke monster. However, The Dark Tower will NOT work as effectively on TV as it would in theaters. At their best, the books exemplify the finest use of pacing in King's entire career. It's a speed that can simply not be deflated by Mac & PC's latest ad. HBO or Showtime, you say? Maybe. What HBO has produced from their mini-series department - Angels in America and Band of Brothers, in particular - illustrate the kind of scope needed. At the very least, HBO would certainly be a better home than the broadcast nets, but these things took most of us half of our lives to read. Why not give them the time and the grandeur they deserve in the multiplex? The franchise should follow the directorial pattern of the Harry Potter movies (without the involvement of Chris Columbus, of course) and hand off the helming reins from film to film. Like that billion-dollar Potter baby, the final books could even be split into more than one movie. So be it. Let this thing breathe, and ignore the temptation to shove it into six, commercial-filled hours on ABC. Please. (Oh, and if Mick Garris comes within 100 feet of the Dark Tower franchise, you have our permission to shoot first, ask questions later.)
2. Pedigree Behind the Camera
Please, we're begging, if this goes to the big screen and finds life as a series of movies with several directors, they need to be perfect hires. The Dark Tower is going to be a tough sell to the mainstream masses and, if the first film doesn't make money, there won't be more. So, as much as we value quality over marketing, The Gunslinger needs to be a hit in every way. Although not necessarily for the lead role, there needs to be A-list talent attached to the project to bring in A-list directors behind the camera, which will have a good shot at translating to quality and lead to audiences. Mick Garris' The Drawing of the Three is not a hit. Brett Ratner's The Waste Lands would lead to riots. There are certain franchises where the name behind the camera isn't as important (The Mummy, Fantastic Four, Rush Hour), but the Dark Tower franchise needs a pedigreed director behind every film to bring in moviegoers who might be turned off by the genre nature of the material. Let's assume that J.J. Abrams directs the first one from a script by Lindelof. It's highly unlikely that he'll want to direct the rest and commit so many years of his life to one project. In fact, he'd need to start talking to the people that he'd plan to hand the baton to now. And, he'd need to shoot for the stars. Why not talk to Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro, and Alfonso Cuaron? Even thinking outside the box isn't a bad idea. Christopher Nolan's Wizard and Glass comes to mind. Why not give Joss Whedon the last film? The entire franchise is so inspired by the Western, maybe J.J. should even call the people who made the best Western in recent years, The Coen Brothers. King took so many risks with The Dark Tower. Take some with the director, but make sure it's one who knows how to handle them.