I am not afraid to admit that I am excited.
I find that I get seriously hyped up for fewer and fewer films as I get older, and some of that is a reaction to the way the business works these days, and some of that is a desire to be surprised. Whatever the case, I remember when I was younger, and the mere mention of a film in development was enough to get me seriously hyperactive for days, talking about it, thinking about it, imagining what it might be.
I find so much of what studios consider “development” these days to be cynical, and that saddens me. It makes me wish I could unlearn what I know about the process sometimes, because it’s hard to tune things out. And it’s hard not to become transitively cynical when they announce that they’re going to film something you love, particularly when you’re not sure that the thing can be filmed in the first place.
I don’t often fly this particular freak flag, but if you could call me a fanboy for anything, you could call me a fanboy for the work of Stephen King. These days, I’d say it’s settled into a general appreciation for the man’s continued skills and for the massive shadow he has cast over the industry as a whole, and I don’t find myself compelled to rush out and buy each new book the second it comes out. There was a time, though, when I absolutely felt that way, and I’d say that era came to a close when King finally wrapped up his sprawling, messy, remarkable Dark Tower series.
For years, I believed there was no way for him to wrap up the series in print, and when it became clear that he was going to pull it off, it reignited my passion for King and the massive interconnected fictional landscape he has created.
When JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof were briefly flirting with the property, I was intrigued. That sounded like a good match of talent and source material, but in which format? Film? Television? I had a hard time imagining how they might get their hands around such an unwieldy and dense piece of writing, and in the end, it seems like Lindelof and Abrams felt the same way. They let their claim on things lapse.
Enter Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman.
And from the moment they’ve been announced as the new filmmakers steering the material, it’s been a controversial choice. Before you even consider what Howard brings to the table as a director, there’s the Goldsman factor to consider. Yes, the man’s an Oscar winner, and I’m sure “A Beautiful Mind” has fans and defenders. I am not among their ranks. I’ve read a whole lot of Goldsman’s work on the page over the years, so please bear in mind I’m not just judging him based on finished films. I think Goldsman is actually pretty strong in the structure department. He’s not a bad technical writer. I just don’t think he’s got any poetry in him. His creations may get up off the table and walk, but I don’t feel like they ever dance.
Howard is a guy I like a lot, a director who has made a lot of solid movies. I am not passionate about Howard’s work, but that’s never been the kind of guy he is or the kinds of films he makes. Early on, I was a fan of the comedies he made like “Splash” and “Night Shift,” and I thought he demonstrated a knack for loose, winning performances and genre-hopping. Over time, I’ve enjoyed many of his films, and not enjoyed just as many. It often just comes down to the material he starts with, since he’s able to put together top-notch collaborators.
The reason I’m ready to hand myself over to pure anticipation and stop micro-managing my expectations is because it sounds to me like Ron Howard is a man in love. He gave a pretty extensive sneak peek at his plans for the saga to The Los Angeles Times today, and he doesn’t just say the right things about paying service to the source material… there’s an attitude that comes through clearly in the piece. Howard is being seduced, gradually losing himself in this sprawling fantasy world of the Territories and Roland and the Man in Black. It sounds like he’s starting to really feel the world he’s trying to create on film.
I’m intrigued by the way they’re planning to adapt the full story, and I think it’s a bold piece of cross-media storytelling that they’re attempting. There will be a big-budget theatrical film to kick things off and set up the story. Then they’re going to move to television to tell a chunk of the story, and once they’ve finished a finite arc, they’ll make a second big-budget film. One more run of television episodes will move all the final chess pieces into place, and they’ll wrap it up with one final epic movie. That’s audacious, and it’s a strong choice to break up the seven books into five distinct pieces of entertainment. There’s a lot of room to adapt, and I’m curious to see how much the films and television shows dip into the meta-textual reality that is a big part of the later chapters of the story.
Ron Howard is already thinking about who has to play his Gunslinger, and he acknowledges that the fans seem particularly passionate about Viggo Mortensen. I think there are a number of guys out there who might be right for it, and it’s all about who wants to make that commitment. It helps that there’s a big chunk of the story that is a flashback to the younger years of Roland and his friends, so the lead actor won’t have to carry every single minute of the series. It’ll be a while before they actually start casting, but it’s good to know that names like Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman, and Jon Hamm are in the mix.
I could play picky fanboy over every single little tidbit we learn about these, but that’s no fun. I’m going to just cross my fingers and put my faith in this team and hope that Howard and Goldsman bring in some passionate, smart people to help them flesh out all of this storytelling, and that they enjoy their time in that other world, their time on the road.
The Dark Tower is out there somewhere, and I’m ready to believe that one day, maybe even one day soon, we’ll actually get there.