Dark Tower Toppled? Ron Howard’s Ambitious King Adaptation Hits Snag

by | Jul 20th, 2011 | 11:57AM | Filed under: News

For the second time this year Universal Studios has had to pull the plug on an ambitious (and geek-drool-worthy) fantasy project due to budgetary concerns. Back in March it was Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which sported a box-office-limiting R-rating and a $150-million budget (much of it to have been spent on giant CGI Elder God monsters and a non-CGI star, Tom Cruise).

Now the studio has also had to back out of producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s sprawling, multi-format adaptation of Stephen King’s Western-flavored fantasy series The Dark Tower. The mighty plan was for Angels & Demons writer Akiva Goldsman to adapt King’s eight-book fantasy/sci-fi/horror/Western on both the big and small screens: There were to be three feature films that started shooting early next year, plus two television seasons folded in around them.

At one time, J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot were going to tackle King’s Dark Tower series, which follows the last of a knightly clan of gunslingers, Roland Deschain, as he wanders a magical, somewhat Old-West, post-Apocalyptic other-world on a quest to find the powerful tower of the title.

In Howard’s version, Javier Bardem was going to star in the films and the second TV season as the franchise’s hero, the gunslinger . The first TV season would have focused on Roland’s youth and featured a younger actor playing Bardem’s character.

This isn’t a case of a studio being a mean, poop-pants spoilsport — according to a Deadline Hollywood inside source, everyone at Universal loved the project and really wanted to see it happen. But even after asking Howard and Grazer to scale back the budget earlier this year, Uni just couldn’t make the numbers work during these tight economic times.

The studio was willing to finance the first film, but not the TV series, or commit yet to the second and third films. At the end of the number crunching, Universal felt The Dark Tower books (like Lovecraft’s) weren’t well-known enough in the broad mainstream to justify the risk of three big-budget fantasy films and two expensive seasons of fantasy TV.

This doesn’t mean Howard and Grazer’s Dark Tower is completely razed to the ground. Howard is going to move on this fall to directing Rush, his Formula-1 racing movie, but there’s still a chance another studio could pick up the Dark Tower film/TV series.

Warner Brothers in particular is being mentioned, according to Deadline – the studio and its Time-Warner siblings have plenty of experience with big, ambitious fantasy undertakings: HBO’s Game of Thrones, New Line’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, and some little movie series with a boy wizard and his pals that’s just wrapping up, leaving a nice fantasy-sized opening in Warners’ franchise slate.

I have not read King’s Dark Tower books, but I’m always happy to see big, ambitious fantasy projects undertaken (and always happy to see Bardem in anything)–and sad to see them thwarted.

So I defer to you fans out there: How do you feel about what Howard and Grazer were planning, and about this current setback? Is it worth it for them to keep trying to get King’s series up on the big (and small) screen? Or in these post-Potter, economically strapped times, is it going to be nearly impossible for expensive new fantasy and sci-fi series based on lesser-known sources to get off the ground?

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More from the Dark Tower players at redbox:

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16 Responses to “Dark Tower Toppled? Ron Howard’s Ambitious King Adaptation Hits Snag”

  1. JRM
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I hope WB jumps on this! They’re more risk-takers than Universal. If the big screen business doesn’t work, I hope it finds its home on HBO.

  2. Justin Dalton
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Personally, I hope that the efforts to put The Dark Tower on the screen continue to fail. I just can’t envision some very significant parts of the story working in a movie or a TV show, though if it does eventually get adapted I think it would work best as a HBO series.

    It’s certainly possible that a wonderfully creative mind with great vision and imagination could make an adaption work, but it would so difficult to do that it is hard to see it working without some (likely unforgivable) changes to the story. I’d rather not see it at all than see a mediocre or significantly altered version of The Dark Tower.

    After saying all that, I would, of course, be there on opening night/season premiere watching anything anyone makes. Because if someone did successfully adapt it? Man, it would be incredible…

    And Locke? You really, really need to read the series! Really!

  3. Keht Jelicho
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I absolutely loved reading the first 4 books of the dark tower (still haven’t gotten back to the series’ newest books). I would love to see movies/television series about Roland. My one concern is would only three movies and two seasons of tv be enough to cover the books? Part of me likes the idea of out not being a book by book translation, but then again I could see a whole movie or even a mini series about each of the Three Doors, and that is just a small portion of the first books. I do like the idea of movies with tie-in television seasons, and I especially like the idea of Roland being brought to life on any size screen (though if they get his eyes wrong that could hurt his appeal, but I’m sure they’d know to take particular care on that aspect, since it does have the Western aspect and a part of that is the eyes of the gunslinger, think Clint Eastwood). I do understand the budgetary concerns though, as great as it is to go to a theatre and see a movie on a big screen, I do still find myself waiting until a movie is at redbox to see it. One day I may even stop going to theatres at all if I get a good enough home theatre. Movie studios may want to look into something like that at some point, a way to watch a new release from the home on a per house/per screen payment basis. Streamed live and straight through at certain times with a limit on the number of homes that can have it streamed at any showing. No pause breaks, or only a very short buffer that auto resumes after a minute or so, that way all streams can end at one time in preparation for the next showing. And yes I have gone off on a huge tangent I know, but then you didn’t have to continue reading it.

  4. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I wish I could read the series–I’m very curious about it. But to be honest, I just don’t see that happening any time soon. Fantasy wise, I’m working my way through Steven Erikson’s MASSIVE multi-volume Malazan Books of the Fallen these days, and even effort that is so spread out, it’ll take a decade for me to finish. And I have Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy of which I’m one book in and need to get back to. (And on the non-fantasy side, I’ve went AWOL from Foote’s brilliant Civil War history trilogy a few years ago and really need to get back to that, as well.) And I need to finish Anna Karenina, lol. And right now if I WERE to add a new fantasy series to my daunting “to read” list, it might be Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series… and I need to read Hunger Games as well. Dang, that’s a lot, eh?

    I used to be a HUGE King reader, but gave up the ghost (so to speak) about 20 years ago. (I did pick up Under the Dome last year and had fun with it as a nostalgia trip back to the King I grew up on.) But I’ll tell you what, I’ll pick up the first Dark Tower book and see what happens ;)

  5. Michael Gass
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Any serious sci-fi/fantasy reader has read The Dark Tower. To say there isn’t much interest is just pure fantasy. They thought the same way about the Lord of the Rings and look at the box office receipts from that trilogy.

    The problem is that Hollywood has destroyed, and continues to destroy, source material. Look at the X-Men, The Lord of the Rings, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Aeon Flux, and a host of other movies where hardcore fans hated the “liberties” taken by Hollywood.

    Could they do The Dark Tower and keep to the books? Can they accurately portray Roland on a big screen given the complex nature of the character?

    Maybe a better question is: should they even try given they couldn’t get the original X-Men team right, or the invisible man in League, or that elves were never at Helms Deep.

    Seriously. If they can’t get the most basic elements of a story correct, do we WANT Hollywood to screw up such an epic series like The Dark Tower?

  6. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Michael, there’s no doubt The Dark Tower is very popular among many sci-fi/fantasy readers, but no, it has nowhere near the long-term, deep-rooted popularity that Lord of the Rings had, even in 2000 before the LOTR films came out. Also, as everyone involved here says, the times are different — a studio was much more willing and could better afford to take a gamble on a LOTR or Harry Potter film series in 1999 than now, 12 years and several painful recessions (not to mention diminishing box-office tallies) later.

    As for portraying Roland’s complex nature on screen, I’d say Javier Bardem is pretty dang good choice for that–have you seen Biutiful?

    When it comes to taking “liberties,” not all choices are bad. We’ve talked about this here at redblog before, about how a film adaptation does not have to remain 100% faithful to a book or comic book. Some elements and storytelling aspects work better on page than on screen and vice versa. I’ve been a Tolkien reader for more almost 35 years and I’m not bothered in the least by there being elves at Helms Deep.

    Film makers make choices as to how to present source material on screen for a mainstream film audience — sometimes they do it for good, pure, artistic reasons; sometimes they do it to sell more action figures. As with everything in every medium, be it film or TV or fiction or comics, it depends on the talents of the creators. Just because some bad studios and bad filmmakers make bad choices in some cases doesn’t mean you give up hope that other filmmakers can do it right — even with changes.

  7. Michael Gass
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Locke, even with the “liberties” I was glad someone finally did a LOTR live-action movie with class (and a budget to capture the scope). The same would have to be done with Dark Tower.

    Javier Bardem? Eh… not my first choice. The casting of Roland is key to making the Dark Tower as a movie work. You are basically talking a Clint Eastwood (think of his western’s) style that has walked the wasteland chasing the man in black leaving him the worse for wear.

    And it really depends on what age they want to make Roland since in the books you are introduced to Roland he is already on his journey across the wastes and has been for years. “His lips stretched in the pitted, flaked remains of his face.” The smacks of a Mickey Rourke type. If they went younger, maybe a Viggo Mortensen.

  8. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 20, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Michael, I’ll keep campaigning for Bardem :) Granted, I haven’t read the books, but from what I’ve heard from you and others, he sounds perfect. The thing is, King may have been thinking of The Man with No Name when he wrote the character, and that works on the page because it helps the reader visualize the character through a known archetype or pop-culture icon. But if you do it that way on the screen, it comes off as an Eastwood spoof because the archetype actually started on the screen. That’s fine if you intend it to be a winking, spoofing nod (as in Rango) or a semi-goof (the Karl Urban character in the recent Priest leaps to mind), but if you want to tell your own story, a new story, with its own emotional complexity, if the character is TOO Eastwood, it comes off as camp.

    I’m just all up on the Bardem bandwagon these days — you look at his varied and stoic performances in No Country for Old Men and Biutiful, not to mention his more “charming” work in films like Vicky Christina Barcelona and Eat Pray Love, and it seems to me that he has the perfect rugged, tough look, plus the deep, expressive, soulful eyes. He can obviously do silent menace, and also pain and regret. And he’s a brilliantly talented actor, to boot.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Viggo, but I always hate to see roles cast with certain actors because “they’ve done this sort of thing before” (though it did work out well with Sean Bean and Game of Thrones… for a short while). Rather than going with obvious casting (remember, before Jackson started shooting LOTR, every fan boy in the WORLD was absolutely SURE Sean Connery HAD to play Gandalf… ugh, can you imagine how much worse that would have turned out?), I do like it when producers and directors go with against-type actors in whom they see something special for the role. Christian Bale was NO ONE’s idea of “Batman,” nor was Australian song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman an obvious Wolverine. Or Downey Jr Tony Stark. Or Viggo as Aragorn for that matter. :)

  9. Cat Gilliland
    Posted on July 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    What makes you think the Dark Tower series is not all that well known.I have been reading Stephen King since he was publishing his stories in magazines. One of the things I find interesting about the Dark Tower series, is that it has a broader age appeal then some of his other stories. And as Western themes go, has as many female fans, as males. I would love to see it done and done well; but I can’t quite decide if TV or Movie would be the best vehicle to display this story. It’s a pity and definitely says something about our society as a whole; when dollars matter more than art. The silver screen help create the instantaneous visual as a work of art. Show us your art work!

  10. Ryan
    Posted on July 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I just can not see Bardem working Roland is described as a tall man with bomber blue eyes. Now hollywood is hollywood and they can do anything to change someone but i just cant see this. Now as far as a movie I honestly think this is the kind of seris that can have things dropped added and changed and still hit the main story line in the book. However there are also allot of things in the story that need to stay I.E. the tick tock man, blaine, Shadows of Eddies brother etc. etc.
    All in All I think Warners can pull this off but there going to have to be careful with it.

  11. Pat
    Posted on July 25, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I don’t know if I like the idea of Ron Howard doing the Dark Tower, the idea of doing film and TV is interesting, but I wish that the J.J. Abrams version would have worked out, the Dark Tower is more his style of work. The ideal way to make the Tower work on the screen would be to have a three season show on HBO done by J.J., Where most of the second season is the Wizard and the Glass. Then also have the TV series book ended by two large production movies done by Peter Jackson.

  12. Michael Gass
    Posted on July 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    “Granted, I haven’t read the books, but from what I’ve heard from you and others, he sounds perfect.”

    If you haven’t read the books, how do you know he sounds perfect????

    If I may suggest… read the books. You can then evaluate whether or not he sounds perfect for the roll.

  13. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 29, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Okay Michael, but for right now instead of me running out and reading a several-thousand page King series over the weekend, how about you re-read one eight-word phrase of mine: “from what I’ve heard from you and others.” With that qualifier I was making it pretty clear that I was basing my opinion on what I’ve heard from fans. I’m not pretending to be the end-all know-all on this subject– far from it. But I know Bardem’s work and his talent, and I know Howard and others saw something perfect in him for the role, and other than that, ALL I was saying was that nothing you or any other fans have said about the character makes it sound, to me, like Bardem would be a bad choice. :)

  14. Brooke
    Posted on August 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    “Dark Tower” is, in my opinion, the single best piece of fiction written in over a century – and I read . . . A LOT . . . of EVERYTHING. It is the ultimate quest epic: it is Beowulf (the story NOT the awful movie adaptations), meets Le Morte d’Arthur, meets Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, meets Canterbury Tales, meets LOTR, all wrapped up in a western package! These are not books, they are an experience! I have read the saga in its entirety 9 times. I am a true, dedicated King fan, but specifically a DT fan! I would CRY if this were made into a movie / TV series or anything else. It is far too internal to be cemented into a screen adaptation. I have been thrilled each time a DT movie project has fallen through!

    That being said, IF it is made into a movie (please no!) Bardem is absolutely the wrong actor for Roland. I love him and I think he is a brilliant actor, but not as Roland. Honestly I think that all of the lead roles should be played by unknowns – that way the audience isn’t bringing any preconceived images to the story.

    Locke – if you do decide to start the saga, give it until Drawing of the Three. Although the Gunslinger is a great story and it introduces you to Roland and Jake, you don’t really get irrevocably sucked into the tale until you meet Eddie Dean. If you can put it down after that then you probably wouldn’t care for the remaining 5 1/2 books. =)

    OH – and if you are not an AVID SK reader, I suggest getting the Complete Concordance while reading DT or you will miss out on many of the cross-overs. All of his books are DT books if you know where to look! =)

  15. Josh
    Posted on August 12, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I have read all but the last DT book so far, and they are some of the best books I’ve ever read, and as good as Harry Potter was, the DT has an epic scope that HP can’t compare with. I was so excited when they said they were planning on a movie for it. I would be happy for everyone to experience Roland’s quest, and not everyone can because many people just don’t like reading, and it’s a real bummer that so many don’t know the story. Hopefully The Stand does well, because if it doesn’t, no studio is going to adapt another SK book any time soon…

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