Bringing The Dark Tower to the big screen has been an endeavour almost as epic as the story itself, taking over a decade to come to fruition and leaving directors like J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard in its wake. And if you’ve read any or all of the eight-and-a-bit novels that form Stephen King’s self-described magnum opus, you can probably understand why; it’s a time-hopping, reality-bending cocktail of horror, fantasy and sci-fi that defies easy categorisation.
But The Dark Tower that you’ll be watching at your local Vue from 18th August has come up with a unique solution to this challenge by choosing not to adapt the books at all. Well, sort of.
When Stephen King Tweeted this cryptic image, it was a signal to fans to expect the unexpected. Going into detail about the meaning of the text or the horn – better known as the Horn of Eld – would be giving far too much away, but the important thing is that it was his way of implying that the film should be considered a sequel.
Following King’s Tweet, director Nikolaj Ancel stated that:
The hardcore fans of The Dark Tower series will know that this is actually a sequel to the books in a way. It has a lot of the same elements, a lot of the same characters, but it is a different journey.
So, much in the same way that the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead shares many of the characters and locations of the comic book, but treats them quite differently to keep even hardcore fans guessing, so too will this interpretation of The Dark Tower.
This also explains why the film doesn’t just take its cues from the first book, 1982’s The Gunslinger, but also book three, 1991’s The Waste Lands, and the most recent book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, which takes place between the fourth and fifth instalments.
So which aspects will be consistent with the books? According to King, the film’s opening will depict The Gunslinger’s celebrated opening line:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
The Gunslinger in question is Roland Deschain, the last of his kind and a man bent on reaching The Dark Tower, a legendary structure that holds all universes together. As his title suggests, he is a master marksman, able to fire his trademark twin revolvers with incredible accuracy and reload them at superhuman speed. But, as the gunslinger credo goes, he does not kill with his gun, he kills with his heart.
The guy he’s pursuing is The Man in Black, AKA Walter o’Dim AKA Marten Broadcloak AKA Randall Flagg AKA a whole bunch of other aliases. He’s a near-immortal sorcerer who loves to move between realities, adopting different guises and creating chaos wherever he goes. He’s appeared in several of King’s other stories, most notably The Stand and Hearts in Atlantis, a sign that many of his novels are all part of one interconnected literary universe, with The Dark Tower at its heart.
The clues are there, even in the trailer, including a glimpse at the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, and a long-abandoned fairground ride that namechecks Pennywise from IT.
The only other confirmed character is Jake Chambers, a young boy from New York plagued with visions of Mid-World who ultimately ends up being transported there. As with the novels, he teams up with Roland in his efforts to prevent The Dark Tower’s destruction and with it, the end of our World.
This has been the source of some controversy for fans, as Jake is but one member of the Gunslinger’s ka-tet. Ka-tet is a word taken from The Dark Tower’s own language, known as ‘High Speech’ and refers to a circle of people bound together by fate.
There are two other significant members of this ka-tet, namely Eddie and Susannah Dean, who apparently won’t appear in this film, but according to the director:
They’re certainly out there… I would certainly be disappointed… if we didn’t bring them in. They’re such a huge part of the story.
It’s clear that The Dark Tower
is a tale too expansive and too ambitious to be told in a single film. With its refreshingly slim 95-minute running time, it promises to be an accessible-yet-spectacular tale that allows newcomers to focus on key elements of this strange, fascinating universe before subsequent films expand their Mid-World view.
If you want to witness the beginning of the Gunslinger’s incredible journey on the big screen, get your tickets for The Dark Tower here.