After years of development hell, Stephen King’s most ambitious and beloved fantasy horror series will see its first-ever film adaptation brought to the big screen in The Dark Tower. Although the reviews were just released on August 2 (you can read ours here!), there’s still one guy whose opinion we're clamoring to know: Stephen King. What does he think? Speaking to the press at an event in his hometown of Bangor, Maine, King was happy to share his opinion of the film, and even share a few trade secrets from behind the scenes.
While the idea for a Dark Tower movie has been floating around Hollywood for decades, King told us that he wasn’t desperate to get it made; that’s not really his style. “I never really thought about it that much,” he said. “There were times when people would express an interest in it and then it would go away again, and then interest seemed to come back around the time that Peter Jackson had success with the Lord of the Rings movies, and I thought, maybe! But it never seemed like a movie movie idea to me. It was complex and it was long.”
However, this new adaptation has his seal of approval, even if it might not excite what he called the “hardcore fans” of his work. “They’ve done a wonderful job here telling a story that’s coherent and that pulls a lot of the element of the novel in The Dark Tower. Purists may not like it. I can’t tell about that for sure, because it doesn’t start where the book starts. But at the same time, they’ll fall right into it because they’ll know exactly what’s going on.”
“You have to keep in mind that of all the books that I’ve written, the fans of the Dark Tower books are the most zealous, the most fervent fans of all,” he added later. “But they make a small subgroup of the people who read books like The Shining and Misery, that sort of thing. [The books] are an acquired taste. They’re fantasy.”
When asked about the film’s decision to cast a black actor, Idris Elba, as Roland, King explained why the performance was the most significant aspect of the character. “What I said in a tweet after all that discussion started was, I didn’t care what color he was as long as he could command a screen, draw fast and shoot straight. So it doesn’t make any difference to me, because I don’t even really see people when I’m writing. If I’m writing about a character, I’m behind their eyes, unless they walk by a mirror or something I don’t even really see what they look like.”
What made people see a white character, he supposed, was the illustrations that have accompanied each version of the book, starting with Michael Whelan’s iconic drawings for The Gunslinger and ending more recently with the ongoing graphic novel adaptation.
“In a lot of the pictures, not only is he white but he’s wearing a hat,” King subtly makes a point. “I talked to the producers of the movie about that, and they said that Western movies where the main character wears a hat don’t do well. And I said, ‘Really? Well, Denzel wore a hat all the way through The Magnificent Seven and that did pretty good at the box office,’ but but they don’t pay any attention to that.
So what’s next for the franchise, if it continues? He told us he’d love to see more of the doors into our world, and Roland on the beach fighting the lobstrosities that appear in The Drawing Of The Three. In fact, he’s pretty certain that the characters in that book who did not appear in The Dark Tower would be much more prominent in a sequel. And he wants whatever movie comes next to be R-rated—although he’s not against the current film’s PG-13 rating. “I’m totally signed off on that. I think it’s the right thing to do, I want as many people to attend as possible for all kinds of reasons,” he admitted.
The only thing he did actively push to include in the movie was the iconic line that opens the very first book in the series: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
“I was after them from the beginning to get that line in there,” he said. “Not for me, but for the people who have quoted it and stuff. It’s strange to me that the line has become so important to people, because when I wrote it, it was just a line. It was a way into the story.”
Hopefully, The Dark Tower will be a way into the story for new readers as well. But in the end, King doesn’t seem to mind one way or another what audiences end up thinking of the movie. He’s already onto the next idea for a new book—and we can’t wait to read that, too.
Images: Sony, Victoria McNally