Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I wanted to give you guys a little background on the upcoming Dark Tower film. I was lucky enough to get a chance to read what Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner turned in back when Ron Howard was still trying to get Stephen King's epic bit of weirdness up on the screen and have been sitting on my opinion for nearly a year.
When Howard left and Nikolaj Arcel came on board I figured that was that for this draft, but since Arcel and King have now said that the Goldsman draft was the foundation of the film they will begin shooting in 7 weeks I figured it was time to dust off the cobwebs of my memory and talk a little about what you should expect from this adaptation of Stephen King's magnum opus.
A word of warning first, though. There are a lot of unknowns surrounding this project right now. I've heard from sources who have told me that Arcel did a pretty hefty rewrite, so it's quite possible that all the pro-Goldsman draft talk in the EW interview was politics (saving face for Goldsman who is still producer on the film) and much of what I read is outdated.
However, if it wasn't political shoulder squeezing and they're building on top of this draft then you'll have a good idea of what to expect from the film, which supposedly sees theaters in less than a year. Still crazy how fast that turnaround is.
I won't go overboard with the spoilers just in case this draft ends up being close to what we see next January, but that doesn't mean this whole article is going to be nothing but vague critiques, so proceed with caution.
In that EW interview, King said he insisted that the movie open with his famous first line “The Man In Black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” That would make for our first big change from this draft, which does not open in a desert but in a seemingly happy suburban neighborhood. The Man In Black walks the Norman Rockwell streets as kids play and adults sit on porches sipping drinks. This is Devar-Toi, which means nothing to non-readers, but fans will know it and get a handle on why they're starting here.
For non-readers I'll just say that there's a mysterious structure called The Dark Tower. The Man In Black is hellbent on destroying it and this town is an instrument to do that, although this wasn't introduced until much later in the series.
If the movie is indeed starting off with “The Man In Black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed” then we can assume this is out. How could the Man in Black be fleeing if he's hanging in peaceful Devar-Toi? It also means we're very likely to meet our main character, Roland, earlier than in this draft, which doesn't happen until almost 15 pages in.
This is all good news because the first act is the worst part of Goldsman and Pinkner's adaptation. They start it weird and then spend time with young Jake in modern day-ish (2011 in this draft) New York. Jake is having nightmares about what's going on in Devar-Toi and is seeing a psychiatrist because he feels torn between his own world and what the adults in his life believe is an imaginary world.
This psychiatrist chat is hands down the worst part of the script. They totally play to the cheap seats. Within 5 minutes of the movie they have Jake fully explain exactly what the Dark Tower is while talking to a stuffy psychiatrist in an office somewhere. In other words they reveal the mystery of the title in the most boring way possible. It'd be like at the end of the pilot of Lost Charlie says “Guys, where are we?” and someone sits him down and explains exactly what the island is and what that strange creature in the trees used to be.
But we don't have to worry about that shit anymore (hopefully). I just want it on record that it was a stupid decision that completely undercuts any ability to wow the audience with discovery as Roland's quest unfolds.
Another tidbit from the EW interview was the revelation that a good amount of the film takes place in our world, which threw many fans for a loop. In the books a lot of time is spent crossing between Mid-World and ours (known as Keystone Earth), but none of that happens in the first book, so what gives?
Jake is what gives. Goldsman and Pinkner decided to fold in Jake's journey to Roland's world from The Wastelands (complete with the fight with the Guardian in the old haunted house) with his entry into The Gunslinger.
They also brought in elements from The Drawing of the Three such as the lobstrocity attack and Roland getting sick, which has the third act being Roland and Jake in 2011 New York looking for medicine and evading the Crimson King's henchmen, who are animals in human masks known as Taheen or Low Men. The Manni are also introduced.
I'd say the breakdown is about 60/40 Mid-World to our world.
If you're a constant reader your head is probably spinning a little bit right now. Lots of changes, but take my word for it not to get too hung up on those changes. They make the very smart decision to start Roland off with Horn of Eld, which is something I've been saying the adaptation needs to do since JJ Abrams got the rights way back when.
This small change allows them to kinda do what Abrams and his team did when they rebooted Star Trek. You can change things now and as long as you get the characters right and make it recognizably the same universe you have a license to make any tweak you want.
So, what of The Gunslinger book does make it? The showdown in Tull takes up most of the first act and Roland's reluctant bonding with Jake is most of the second act, but is done is a much different way than the book.
Jake's not a confused child who doesn't know why he's there. He's the one on a mission, convinced he's meant to help Roland find the Dark Tower, which is something Roland has no interest in. He's only after revenge. He has given up protecting the tower in order to focus on killing the Man in Black.
This Roland is a shell of a man. He has his feelings on lock down, much like the Roland from the books, but he's also worn out, defeated. It's an interesting take that took me a little while to warm up to, but I like how they used his growing feelings for Jake to kind of set him back on the path.
Jake is almost more of a central figure in this draft than Roland himself. He's not only Roland's moral compass, he's also the MacGuffin. They give Jake telepathic powers, which sounds silly, but it's not like he's throwing people around with his mind or anything. He sees things, is sensitive to thin spots between worlds, etc. They even call it “The Shine” a nod to King's Shining. He's powerful enough to be of interest to the Man in Black who wants to use him to destroy the Dark Tower.
While I have issues with much of the script, I have to give them credit for nailing the Roland/Jake relationship. In relatively short time you feel that Jake sees Roland as a father figure and that adoration touches something deep inside Roland's stony heart.
They also got another important aspect right: they peppered the world with King references. Before shared universes were popular it was The Dark Tower series that blew my mind. It was used as the lynchpin for all of King's stories. Characters from other books wandered in and out of this story, including the Man in Black who was also known as Randall Flagg in The Stand.
I noticed references to IT, The Stand, Pet Semetary, Hearts In Atlantis, The Mist, Carrie, Firestarter and The Talisman. None of them seemed forced, but added flavor to the world.
We can only hope that carries over to the movie Arcel makes. It's the one series where references are more than fan service, but actually important to the unfolding plot.
The last big question for fans of the book: Do we get the “There are other worlds than these” moment? Yes, but in a much different way than you'd expect. I'm still turning the moment over in my mind trying to figure out what it could mean for the end of this turn of the wheel of Ka. Fans know this is a crucial moment in Roland's journey and I think the way they did it in this draft could very possibly give us a different outcome than we saw in the novels.
Sorry for the vagueness on this aspect, but it's a big moment and I don't want to be the asshole to ruin it for somebody. Hopefully it was clear enough for readers of the book to ken what I was getting at.
So, looking at this almost 2 year old draft, what can I assume makes it through to the shooting script? I'm guessing the structure will be pretty close to what I read. The Jake and Roland stuff is strong and is the emotional heart of the story, so I bet that'll remain the focus. Nothing about Roland's backstory, like his training with Cort, was in this draft and I doubt we'll see any of that in the eventual film either.
King said that they're still holding the young Roland stuff for a possible TV series, which makes sense, so don't expect any of that to be more than mentioned in the movies.
The Taheen are the stormtroopers of the Crimson King (the big bad, the Man In Black's boss) and it sounds like they're going to be in even more of the shooting draft than the one we've been discussing for the last few thousand words considering they've announced Abbey Lee is playing a Taheen, named Tirana, who didn't appear in the story until the final book. Deadline promises she's “the star” of The Gunslinger, but I don't see how that could possibly be the case unless they're really going off reservation.
That's a possibility, but if I were a betting man I'd say they're filling the town of Tull with Taheen instead of ignorant people of the wastes from the book and that Tirana will be in the Allie role, someone who gets close to Roland before tragedy strikes. That way Roland can do what he does in that town and not be as much of a monster.
If that's not the case I have no idea how she'll play a major part of this story without taking away from Jake and Roland's crucial bonding time.
Whatever ends up happening with Abbey Lee's character, I can all but guarantee she's not the new Susannah, which I've seen floated by fans. In this draft Eddie and Susannah do not pop, but art hinted at via a tarot deck.
If my hunch is correct and they're keeping the basic structure of the Goldsman/Pinkner draft then they're saving Eddie and Detta/Odetta/Susannah for The Drawing of the Three, which is where they belong anyway.
I'm not sure if they're going to keep Jake the MacGuffin or reverse course a bit, but I'm sure the heart of the film is still going to be his relationship with Roland. With someone like Idris Elba filling the boots of Roland Deschain they're going to have to get someone really great for Jake. And since they're not shooting these films back to back I think they have to go young. You cast a 12 year old for the first movie he's going to be a full on teenager in the second. I still think they have to go for Jacob Tremblay. That's who I'd try to lock down if it was me. We want whomever it is to still be a kid by the time this series comes to a close.
God help me, I'm actually optimistic about this iteration of The Dark Tower. I mean, I'd be a little pissed if I knew this Goldsman/Pinkner draft was the shooting draft, but there's enough good in it that I don't hate it being used as the “foundation” of Nikolaj Arcel's version of The Gunslinger.
I'm mighty curious to see what direction Arcel and team are going in. I've heard some of the prep work has been righteous, but I don't know anything specific. McConaughey as the Man in Black and Elba as Roland is perfect casting so far. They have a shot at making something really special with this one as long as they don't fall into the same traps Goldsman and Pinkner did with playing to the cheap seats at the expense of the mystery of the story.
While I don't have all the answers I hope this piece shed some light on what the eventual Dark Tower movie will shape up as. It's a hell of a task, adapting this crazy story for the big screen, but as long as they keep it weird and make us care for our core Ka-tet they could have something very special on their hands.