The film adaptation of The Dark Tower, based on the popular series of books from Stephen King, has been in development for literally 10 years. At one point J.J. Abrams, who was going to bring Lost showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse along for the ride, was involved. Ron Howard was tapped to direct at one point (he’s still a producer). One by one they all dropped out, each offering their own excuses of why this particular story just wasn’t quite right for them to adapt.
Finally the job came down to Nikolaj Arcel, a Danish filmmaker best known for 2012’s A Royal Affair and for writing the screenplay for the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the one with Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, not the one with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig).
I met Arcel at his Midtown Manhattan hotel. When you meet him, he’s incredibly affable and it’s difficult to not immediately like him. He knows he’s taken on a project that means so much to so many people, but also is aware of why this particular property is so hard to realize as a feature film.
The Dark Tower film is a sequel to the book series, which Arcel explains will be evident to anyone who has finished the series, but won’t hinder the understanding for people who haven’t read the series. It’s a short movie – at 95 minutes it’s almost shockingly short for a film that we’ve been told over and over might be too dense to film. Arcel explains why it’s so short and tells us how all this ties into the proposed television series and future films.
So this is a sequel to the books?
That’s an interesting thing to do.
It’s odd and it’s really… Here’s what matters: For the true fans of the novels, it makes sense and they know. They’ll recognize certain elements and they’ll understand what it means when it’s the last go-around, the last time around. For the non-fans, it doesn’t really matter. Because for the non-readers, it’s a film. It’s a story, right?
Doesn’t it matter a little? The Gunslinger, it’s a little more obvious now why he’s so frustrated, but I didn’t know at first…
Yeah, of course.
It’s one of those things I kind of wish I knew.
I mean, I think the trick in the novels is that he doesn’t know. It’s subconscious. So it’s like a Buddhist thing – and if you don’t learn to walk on the right path, you will never reach the heightened, you know, whatever. So that’s the idea behind the novels, at least.
Why is this story so difficult to make into a movie? I went back and I read old interviews with Damon Lindelof and everyone sounds so frustrated…
Well, the first answer to that is “seven, eight novels, 4,000 pages.” And an extremely complex mythology – extremely complex sort of way of telling the story of almost changing the genre for every book. And so it’s not one thing, it’s 50 things. So many characters, so many ideas, so many plots, so many things you’ve got to remember from book one to be able to follow book five. And so, that’s part of it. And also part of it is that I think it’s also just like can we gamble – you know, do we take the gamble on this thing, this unknown thing which is obviously not unknown because it has millions of fans, including myself.