Universal Studios has decided against adapting Stephen King’s Dark Tower book series. The ambitious adaptation was slated to include three feature films and two seasons on TV. The talent involved was considerable. Ron Howard (Angels and Demons) was committed to direct at least the first theatrical film from a script by Akiva Goldsman (I am Legend). Howard’s longtime partner Brian Grazer (Cowboys & Aliens) was set to produce along with Goldsman and Mr. King himself. Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) was signed to star.
Reportedly, the project ran into problems due to NBC Universal’s new ownership, the budget-conscious Comcast. Obviously, this adaptation would translate into a massive expense (easily more than half-a-billion to complete) and Comcast, which assumed control of NBC Universal in January and is overhauling the organization, wasn’t willing to assume such high risk.
This isn’t Comcast’s first instance of extreme budget cutting, either. This past March they also pulled the plug on Guillermo del Toro's $150 million adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. That film was slated to star Tom Cruise. With Universal still moving forward with big-budget dredge like Battleship, it’s difficult to understand the logic.
We might never hear about Madness again, but it’s hard to imagine that Tower’s dead. With the talent involved and with King’s pervasive name recognition and proven track record, the odds of another studio picking the project up seem fairly high.
In addition, the Tower series—comprised of seven books—is King’s magnum opus, with elements of the story appearing in almost all the author’s other work, loosely tying it together, forming a massive fictional collage. Moreover, the books boast multitudes of fans the world over; other authors have produced volume after volume examining and analyzing them.
In other words, a Tower adaptation, expensive as it may be, represents every studio’s dream date: a potential Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter-esque franchise, churning out buckets of money for the foreseeable future. Factor in the TV series and multiple product tie-ins, and it seems crazy for Universal to make this move. It would be equally crazy for some other studio not to scoop it up.
The Dark Tower tells the story of Roland Deschain, an Arthurian-like figure on a quest to find the dark tower, a kind of linchpin holding all of reality together. Roland is his world’s last gunslinger, navigating a fantasy landscape reminiscent of old spaghetti westerns from the ‘60s. Something is very wrong at the dark tower and Roland undertakes a quest to fix it before the sickness destroys every universe.
With only his wits, his deadly six shooters, and a ragtag, flawed collection of comrades cobbled together from our own world to assist him, Roland’s journey towards the tower is, for me, King’s most immersive piece of storytelling. His imaginative powers are at their sharpest here, melding old west, high-fantasy, and sci-fi into a story that’s a classic example of enjoying a book for the journey, for the escapism.
So take heart King/Dark Tower fans; this is, in all likelihood, a mere bump in the road on the way to the multiplex tower. Don’t be surprised to hear news in the coming weeks that another studio has taken up the reins and plunged ahead on a path toward The Dark Tower.