Every time news breaks about Ron Howard’s planned film and television adaption of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, it’s always concerning what studio rejected the sure-to-be expensive production and what studio is now considering making it. What we don’t hear much about is exactly how Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman plan to adapt the seven-part (actually now eight-part) series, other than a vague acknowledgement that the project would include both theatrical films and several seasons of a television show.
But which books would be adapted into movies? Which would make up the TV show? Which would be shortened or combined? Which would be adapted most fully? In these regards, no one knows exactly what Howard’s plan is. But I know what mine would be. First off, forget the add-on TV series. Actually, if they wanted to do the whole project as a TV series, a la HBO’s Game of Thrones, that would be fine. Perhaps ideal. But if The Dark Tower is destined for the big screen, then I’d prefer that’s where all of it ends up. And I believe it is possible to do the entire saga as a four-part film series. Here’s how (and if you haven’t read the books, spoilers galore) …
FILM ONE — THE DARK TOWER: THE GUNSLINGER. The first film should be nearly a straight adaptation of the first two books in the series, The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three, though taking the name of the first. I’d adapt the first book nearly in full, making only some slight trims. (For example, I’d likely drop the Oracle as most of that info can be conveyed via Roland’s palaver with the Man in Black.) Once you move on to the Drawing content, Roland’s trips into our world can be cut down to just the basics: Eddie is a druggie that Roland saves from some gangsters. Odetta suffers from split personalities and a tragic history. And then, on the other side of the third door, Roland forces Mort to throw himself in front of the subway, which “heals” Odetta turning her into Susannah and creates all manner of mayhem on the timeline, especially when it comes to Jake. I think (or am hoping anyway) that this can all fit into a three-hour movie.
This first film must also include one brief flashback to Roland’s childhood: His defeat of Cort, a sequence that will serve to introduce many of the characters from the “young Roland” era that we’ll be seeing more of later, including Roland’s mother. Also, concerning the Man in Black: The Martin/Walter/Flagg nonsense needs to be streamlined something fierce. It’ll be one actor playing one character. Roland calls him “Martin” in the flashback sequence but knows he’s crossing the desert using the name “Walter.” When he finally catches him on the other side of the mountain that claims Jake, the Man in Black reveals his true name to be “Flagg.” And Flagg doesn’t die or pretend to die after Roland awakes. He’s just gone. Also, no more talk of John Farson. That role will be assumed by Flagg as well.
FILM TWO — THE DARK TOWER: THE WASTE LANDS. It’s the best book in the series, so it gets a full adaptation. I’d open with Jake in New York going about his business but dealing with some strange hallucinations that are finding their way into his school essays. (“The gunslinger is the truth.”) That’ll be a proper mind-fuck for the audience. Past that, I want everything here: The beams. The time paradox affecting Roland and Jake. “Charlie the Choo-Choo.” The haunted house. Demon sex. Lud. Blaine the Mono.
We also need another flashback sequence, this one detailing the Battle of Jericho Hill, featuring Roland, Cuthbert and Alain riding into battle with the Horn of Eld in their possession. The fates of the three should be left purposefully vague. This flashback, coupled with the one in The Gunslinger, should feel like their own little film within a film, complete with their own narrative momentum.
The movie ends with Blaine screaming down the track toward everyone’s doom and: “CAST YOUR NETS, WANDERERS! TRY ME WITH YOUR QUESTIONS, AND LET THE CONTEST BEGIN.” Smash cut to black. The audience will lose their fucking minds.
FILM THREE — THE DARK TOWER: WIZARD & GLASS. Film three will be another straight adaptation of its respective book, which means it’ll be 80 percent prequel as opposed to sequel. And why not? Hollywood loves prequels, and this will serve as one that’s actually naturally integrated into the overall story. It’ll also feel like a proper continuation of, and ultimate conclusion to, the adventures of young Roland that we’ve been teasing in the first two movies. Once the tragic love story of Roland and Susan is told, we also witness the full outcome of the Battle of Jericho Hill, with Cuthbert and Alain being killed and the horn being left behind on the battlefield. If the studio backing The Dark Tower really wanted to get creative, it could hire a completely separate director and crew to shoot all the flashback stuff, including the huge majority of this movie, while your primary director is busy working on the story proper.
There will be some of that here, too. We’ll still have have the “present day” bookends, with Roland and company defeating Blaine, discovering the Emerald City and having a showdown with Flagg. We’ll have one more quick flashback near the end revealing that Roland was tricked into murdering his own mother (with Roland now discovering the part Flagg had to play in that). And we wrap up with the ka-tet, having escaped Flagg’s grasp, once more on the path of the beam.
FILM FOUR — THE DARK TOWER: ROSE & TOWER. And now it’s time to get out the scissors. The sad truth is The Dark Tower series begins to unravel narratively starting with book five, but at least the film series offers a second chance to fix all of King’s mistakes. To do that, we’re going to combine the final three books — Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower — into one film (ignoring The Wind Through the Keyhole entirely). I’ve concocted a brand new title because the first two won’t work all that well for a series ender and The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower would just be stupid. Plus, I like that Rose & Tower echoes Wizard & Glass. (Another solid option would be The Scarlet Field, which is from the title of the last section of the last book.) Most of our final movie will detail the tail end of Roland and company’s journey to the tower, but we’ll make a side trip to New York for Roland to save the rose growing in that vacant lot. All the meta crap gets dropped, which means no Stephen King as a character. Father Callahan still shows up, but no one’s going to recognize him as a character from the book Salem’s Lot.
So basically what we’re left with is this: From Wolves, we have most of the Calla Bryn Sturgis stuff, with Roland solving the mystery of who’s taking the village’s children. (The wolves can still be robots, but certainly not Doom-bots. No goddamn snitches or lightsabers either.) Susannah starts to manifest the Mia personality, and everyone finds out she’s pregnant. Father Callahan, just a regular Mid-World clergyman in this version of the tale, promises the ka-tet a way to return to New York City provided they save the town’s children. When they do, Callahan reveals Black Thirteen (name-dropped by Rhea of the Coos in the last movie), which the group uses to travel back to our world.
From Susannah, we’ll still have the group being split between two time periods, though the action will be cut down to the essentials. Roland and Eddie have a 1977 shootout with the mobsters from Drawing of the Three and secure the vacant lot where the rose lives. (Remember, no King and no detours to Maine.) Meanwhile, after stashing Black Thirteen at the World Trade Center in 1999, Jake and Callahan launch a rescue mission to save Susannah and end up doing battle with a bunch of Low-Men.
Just like in book seven, both missions are more or less successes, though Mordred is born into the world and Callahan dies in New York. Everyone else returns to Mid-World, where they are reunited and make their final push toward the tower, which will be much shorter from this point than it is in the book. Massive cuts here, as I jettison Devar-Toi, Patrick Danville and the Dandelo stuff.
Flagg meets with Mordred, but unlike in the book, Flagg — who to this point as been built up as the series’ big bad and ultimate protagonist — is not immediately killed. Instead the two make a pact to destroy Roland and head toward the tower together. The ka-tet journey through one final montage of late-game Mid-World locales — we briefly see Castle Discordia and scenic shots of the beam — before making camp just outside the fields of Can’-Ka No Rey where they are ambushed by Flagg and Mordred. Eddie and Jake are murdered in a magic-vs.-six guns battle for the ages. Just as it appears Flagg will be victorious, Mordred assumes his spider form and kills him, breaking their deal. He then turns to finish off Roland, but Oy comes to the rescue, sacrificing himself in the process. As you’ll notice, most of this is straight from the book. It’s just combined into one huge climax here instead of being strung out among a number of wheres and whens.
Only Susannah and Roland remain, but when the pair find another mysterious door in the rose-filled fields, Susannah chooses to leave Roland and search for a reborn Eddie and Jake back in New York. Now all that remains is Roland and the tower. We’re eliminating the Crimson King, as the character ends up being a massive disappointment in the final book anyway. Instead, Roland’s final obstacle will be the tower itself, which is godlike and mentally tortures Roland as he approaches the front door. It reminds him of all that his quest has cost him, listing the names of his dead friends in an attempt to break his mind. But Roland perseveres and opens the tower’s door. The screen violently turns to white.
From here, we follow the book. From blinding white, we fade to New York City and see Susannah finding alt-universe Jake and Eddie in New York. They’re reconciled and happy, and the film slowly fades to black as if ending. But then we smash-cut to Roland climbing the steps. All the rooms are filled with images from the four-movie journey we’ve gone on. The tower fills his mind with screams, urging him to turn back. But Roland reaches the top. The final door. He opens it. He goes through …
And we’re back to the very first scene of the very first movie, with Roland chasing the Man in Black across the desert. But this time there’s one key difference. The camera pans down to reveal of the Horn of Eld hanging at Roland’s side, a tease that Roland may just yet complete his quest and atone for his sins.