×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘The Dark Tower’ Stars, Director on How ‘Pared-Down’ Film Compares With Stephen King’s Novels

At just 19 years old, Stephen King began penning an eight-part “The Dark Tower” series of novels that would take 30 years to finish — and three directors, as many studio changes, and over a decade before it made it to the big screen.

Was it the “tricky” task of adapting 4,250 pages of material that had become so beloved to fans — the obstacle cited by “Lost’s” J.J. Abrams, who, in 2007, first took a stab at it? Was it the lofty (and costly) ambition of Ron Howard, next director in line, to adapt it concurrently as a television and film series? (Howard is still attached as producer.) According to Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who remained onboard after Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel took the helm in 2015, the problem was genre.

“This is part why ‘The Dark Tower’ novels are Stephen King’s magnum opus,” explained Goldsman at the film’s New York premiere at MoMA on Monday night. “They are liberal as they skitter across horror, science fiction, family drama, and that is much more acceptable outside of America, interestingly enough. But we like our genres in boxes.”

King’s story — about a mythical tower bridging many worlds, which “the Gunslinger” Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) strives to protect, and archenemy “the Man in Black,” Walter O’Dim (Matthew McConaughey) sets out to destroy — marries fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and Western elements. His main influence was Robert Browning’s 1855 poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” while King also references J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” character as inspirational.

Popular on Variety

But is America finally ready for this first film installment, and the television show that Goldsman and writer/exec producer Jeff Pinkner imply is forthcoming? “I think we’ve always had an appetite for things that bridge the genre, but we’re guarding our ability to accept it,” said Goldsman. “So ‘Stranger Things,’ for example, is a beautiful example of that sort of hybridized entertainment; Spielberg is sort of the king of it, ‘E.T.’ is that, ‘Close Encounters’ is that.”

The script was enough to intrigue McConaughey — who enjoyed throwing his conscience to the side and depicting “a lightning bolt of evil.” (“The devil’s in the ‘yeses,’ not the ‘nos,’” he cautioned the press line.) “The true fans are going to see, we left a lot of nuggets in there for them to see, that they’ll know about, that some people who didn’t read the books won’t know about, and at the same time, it lives on its own.”

Goldsman described the final, “pared-down” script — alarmingly pared-down to fans, who’ve questioned the 95-minute length — as quintessentially a father-son story: “a boy who is fatherless, and a man who has lost hope, who finds it in the eyes of a little boy.” It draws primarily from King’s first and third books (in which the Gunslinger makes futile and repeated efforts to reach the Tower), and serves both as a first installment and sequel to the series — which even director Arcel admits is confusing.

The director, who’s making his English-language feature debut, and who taught himself the language by reading King, said,” “It’s the heightened state of awareness for our hero, so that it’s his last journey through the adventure.” King also tweeted a photo of a long-lost horn, which the Gunslinger now carries, that was a hint to fans this might be Roland’s final journey to the Tower, disguised as his first.

But what does this eponymous “tower” represent in the first place? While King intended it be metaphorical, the answer depends on whom you ask.

“The Tower is that which we search for, which we can never find,” said Goldsman. “It’s the thing that is at the other end of your quest, happiness or redemption, forgiveness, a cold beer, whatever it is that spurs your heart and keeps pulling you forward.” A slightly more-optimistic Pinkner believes it to be “that thing which is unattainable, and yet, you go for anyway — it’s hope, it’s faith, it’s a reason for being.”

Arcel’s take was decidedly more spiritual. “If I were a believer, I would probably say [the Tower is a metaphor for] God, that sort of divine presence that protects the universe and protects us with light… ‘The Dark Tower’ is the perfect embodiment of that idea — that there’s something out there, whatever it is, that at least is trying to protect us. It’s not doing a very good job right now, but it’s trying.”

“The Dark Tower,” from Columbia Pictures and MRC, opens nationwide on August 4.

More Scene

  • Peter Caranicas

    Variety's Peter Caranicas Honored With the Inaugural HPA Legacy Award

    Peter Caranicas, Variety managing editor, features, was honored with the inaugural Hollywood Professional Assn. Legacy Award at the organization’s 14th annual gala at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Caranicas joined Variety as features managing editor in 2008, and currently serves as both deputy editor and managing editor, features. He has developed the editorial franchises Dealmakers [...]

  • Diane Lane Jane Fonda Piper Perabo

    Diane Lane, Piper Perabo Arrested at Jane Fonda's Weekly Climate Change Protest

    Jane Fonda’s weekly Fire Drill Fridays protest to urge government officials to seriously consider the impact of climate change saw a number of celebrities this week, with Diane Lane, Piper Perabo and model Amber Valletta among those arrested. This week, Fonda avoided arrest at the Capitol. “The Good Place” star Manny Jacinto also participated in [...]

  • Lily Tomlin Paley Honors

    Lily Tomlin Shares How She Wants 'Grace and Frankie' to End

    Lily Tomlin knows that all good things must come to an end. It was announced a few months ago that “Grace and Frankie” will bow out after Season 7 on Netflix, and on Thursday night, Tomlin shared how she would like the series to end, saying that she envisions herself and Jane Fonda “going out [...]

  • Laverne Cox Charlie's Angels

    How Laverne Cox Landed a Cameo in Elizabeth Banks' 'Charlie’s Angels'

    Laverne Cox officially earned her wings, scoring a role in Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels.” But she revealed her cameo almost didn’t happen. When the Emmy-nominee heard that Elizabeth Banks was directing the film, the longtime fan of the franchise (and of Banks herself) reached out about being part of the project. Cox had previously worked with [...]

  • Lena Waithe'The Inheritance' Broadway play opening,

    Lena Waithe, Anderson Cooper Attend Broadway Opening of 'The Inheritance'

    “The Inheritance” pulls viewers in many directions — toward pain and hope, trauma and healing. It’s what brought stars like Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Lena Waithe to Broadway on Sunday — a chance to heal, to remember and grieve. Also in attendance for the premiere at the Barrymore Theater [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content