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Stephen King's The Dark Tower + Ron Howard + TV And Movies = ?

Recent news regarding the details of the adaptation of Stephen King's seven-part "Sci-Fi Western" (as many trade magazines have outrageously called it) The Dark Tower have left many casual observers skeptical. The announced production team of Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Akiva Goldsman is, admittedly, a major step down in potential quality from the team that formerly had the rights to the source material, JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof.

Now, the plan is for Howard-Grazer-Goldsman to turn the seven book series into three feature films and two seasons of television on NBC, with the two seasons squeezing in after the first and second feature films, with Howard set to direct the first movie and first season of TV and Goldsman set to write all of it. This plan is, undoubtedly, extremely ambitious. It remains to be seen whether a television series on NBC will be as effective in storytelling as something on a network with fewer restrictions (i.e. cable), and it definitely remains to be seen if Goldsman can do anything well.

But, because I am an eternal optimist, and because I really, really hope this adaptation is good, I can think of at least four reasons why this will work out:

1) TV and movies give it the budget and the structure to work.
This outcome is a lot more interesting than if they had decided to simply make this into a bunch of movies, Harry Potter and Twilight style. I think the preferred method of adapting the Dark Tower series for most Stephen King fans has always been through TV. And reportedly, the first TV series will benefit greatly from having the ability to use the same cast, and the same sets, built for the first film. So, the look of the TV series will reportedly be very, very good. And, I'm particularly partial to TV in general, so that makes me happy.

2) Ron Howard is actually, kinda, sorta, a good director.
Alright, snobs, name a movie directed by Ron Howard that is truly terrible. (The Da Vinci Code doesn't count because that's based on a bad book.) Is Apollo 13 bad? Nope, it's pretty alright. What about Ransom? Maybe 20 minutes too long but undoubtedly effective. EdTV? Maybe the worse Truman Show but I didn't want to poke my eyeballs out. Frost/Nixon and Willow? Now I know some of you snobs genuinely like both of those movies. What I'm saying is, Ron Howard may have a reputation among snobs as a hack of a director, but looking at his work from as unbiased of an eye as possible, he's perfectly competent. And, based on how the characters are by far the most interesting part of the Dark Tower series, he could actually be (gasp!) kind of a good fit for the series.

3) Akiva Goldsman has done more interesting stuff as of late, especially on television. Don't get me wrong -- I am skeptical of Goldsman's ability to turn good source material into good TV/movie work. Obviously, I Am Legend isn't the greatest movie ever. Batman and Robin is pretty terrible. And yes, this is the man mostly responsible for turning The Da Vinci Code into 2 1/2 hours of talking about magical secrets about the Mona Lisa rather than, say, showing Tom Hanks and his dumb haircut kick some albino monk butt. (Seriously, Tom Hanks haircut is so dumb in those movies.) But Goldsman has also been a writer on Fox's mostly-beloved-by-geeks Sci-Fi series Fringe; his credits on that show include having written and directed the season two two-part finale "Over There", which I hear was quite good. Stephen King also was required to give the production team his stamp of approval, so the fact that he apparently liked Goldsman's part of the pitch has to be seen as encouraging.

Yes, I know that Stephen King's stamp of approval doesn't always mean much, yeah I know he hated Kubrick's version of The Shining, blah blah frickin' blah, nerds. Let me have my happiness, even if it's rooted in something that might not exist!

4) The Dark Tower is fantastic source material.
Gah. I'm getting chills just thinking about some of the awesome scenes that will be committed to film and/or television video. Blaine the Mono. Eddie Dean being mindcontrolled by Roland. Adorable pets. Crazy stuff happening in general. Lots and lots of crossovers to other Stephen King works. It's gonna be interesting, to say the least. The fact that the series is, by definition, not following a book-by-book adaptation is extremely interesting, as well -- in effect, re-writing the series that took King 20+ years to finish and, perhaps, removing some of the continuity errors in the series in the process.

All in all, King nerds like me are going to be excited by any adaptation of The Dark Tower. Everybody likes a good story of redemption, so whether it's Roland the Gunslinger's redemption, or Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman's redemption, I'll be there ready to redeem.

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  1. Blogger chris | 3:08 PM |  

    If you're going to be the optimist, I'll be the pessimist.

    One of the worst and most overrated movies of all time: A Beautiful Mind. This is why I don't trust Howard. Dude just isn't interesting; has no vision. All his stuff is glossy and generic.

    Frost/Nixon was like this but underneath was an actor-driven play, so while it was a good movie, it was kept from greatness because Howard had nothing to add to it.

    Haven't seen Willow in years but I imagine you don't want The Dark Tower to be "as good as Willow", you know? It's an 80s fantasy movie w/ Val Kilmer. You want The Dark Tower "as good as Lost" or "as good as Gus Van Sant's death trilogy", right?

    All this skepticism though is coming from someone who hasn't read the series. I totally get that being a fan of it kinda makes you hope for the best and no matter what, it'll be cool to see it on the screen. Plus I'd rather it be a grand experiment that fails rather than another aborted film trilogy or low-budget network pilot, you know? From what I've read about it, it's the kind of story that demands a ridiculous undertaking, even if it's by people that have tons of money but no unique qualities. These exact reasons are why I'm not 100% rolling my eyes about Baz Luhrmann taking on The Great Gatsby, for example. Whether it's a success or a failure, it will be spectacular.

  2. Blogger qualler | 4:18 PM |  

    Chris, I don't think your pessimism is unfounded. However, I think you're looking at the issue from a narrow perspective.

    I'd hardly call A Beautiful Mind one of the worst movies of all time. Overrated, yes, but it's hard for an Academy Award-winning film not to be overrated. (By definition, Oscars are overrated anyway.) And as a layperson, it is hard for us to look at a film like Frost/Nixon and conclude that the director added nothing to it -- we're not privy to the production decisions made by him. And I know you're a fan, at least on some level, of Ransom, as stated in your mini-review of the film in your Quest post of 1996. Like you said, maybe this project will help him reconsider the awesomeness of Ransom.

    Not that I'm an expert by any means on how these types of projects come together, but I assume that somebody with the stature/money of Ron Howard plays a big part in getting something like this done; my assumption is that Howard's role as director of the first movie and first season of the TV show is something similar -- to get the ball rolling.

    I've also had a chance to watch a little bit of those eps of "Fringe" written and directed by Goldsman. The idea of a parallel universe is such a big part of the Dark Tower series, which is what "Over There" parts one and two deal heavily with. It's almost as if they were made as a template for what a Dark Tower adaptation could be like if they were made by him.

    It's obviously way too early to tell if any of this will turn out pleasing to the masses. The Dark Tower is by no means a masterpiece -- the books definitely have their rocky patches, and in a lot of ways, TV shows like Lost have tackled some of the fun stuff that the Dark Tower could have -- but, like you said, it'll be cool to see it on the screen. And the criticisms of the adaptation before it has even moved beyond development that naturally pop up on the internet are unfounded, irritating, and just plain boring. Which is why I choose to look at the possible positives.

    Now, once they release a production photo of Zac Efron as Eddie Dean, then I'll make it safe for myself to get skeptical.

  3. Blogger qualler | 4:20 PM |  

    I should add, the parts of "Over There" I watched were campy fun, much like the Dark Tower series. Color me cautiously optimistic.

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