The man in black fled across the desert, and the filmmakers followed.
And in this case, they've pursued that elusive figure for some 15 years. That's how long director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have been chasing the idea of adapting Stephen King's eight-novel The Dark Tower epic to the screen. Incredibly enough, their determination is finally paying off: A movie called The Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba as gunslinger Roland Deschain and Matthew McConaughey as his nemesis, Walter (the Man in Black), will arrive in theaters next February and hopefully pave the way for more.
Along the way, Howard stepped away from directing the project, but he, Grazer and Goldsman are still producers, with Nikolaj Arcel now in the director's chair. It's also recently come to light that The Dark Tower takes fairly extensive liberties with the material, essentially being a sequel of sorts to King's original storyline. In an interview with Deadline, Howard spoke about the movie's long journey to actual production:
"Akiva Goldsman first pitched it to me while we were making A Beautiful Mind and the rights weren’t available. JJ Abrams was working on it at first and then Akiva told me JJ was involved in so many projects he let it go. We started talking about what it could be. I read all the novels and we broke them down. He presented this idea to Stephen King, and this is insider material you might not get, but it was about introducing the Horn of Eld into the very first story. He knew it would allow us to use elements of the novels in a new combination that would give us the latitude to be true to the essence of the novels, but also re-balance and refocus the narrative in a cinematic way."
Howard continued that as they worked on the script, they simplified the storyline and focused on the relationship between Roland and the young boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor). They also did something quite unusual for Hollywood:
"One of the things we did was put together a team of Dark Tower researchers, devotees of the books. We wanted to restructure the novels to be most cinematic and Stephen King agreed completely and understood the journey we were on immediately and supported it. We used this group to inspire our thinking and stay in the universe of Dark Tower."
Howard admitted that he, Grazer, Goldsman and their other producing partners were about to give up on the project at several points, but then Sony head Tom Rothman expressed interest in backing it and also introduced them to Arcel:
"(Arcel) grew up on the books and always loved them. He really was a great choice to approach the story in the most humanistic and cool way, focusing a lot on the Jake-Roland relationship. He understood the importance of that and connected with both characters. He’s also a strong original filmmaker with great taste. He and his writing partner tackled a rewrite and Nic has done a terrific job staging it."
Grazer added that the team, with Arcel on board, has now found the "perfect way" to make the film that "forced us to focus on the scenes that were the heartbeat of the story." Howard, meanwhile, discussed how the casting evolved:
"Back then, we came close to making it with Javier Bardem at one point. I’ve always felt that the essence of Roland was not necessarily the carbon copy of Clint Eastwood, even though that was what they used as the model on a lot of the book covers. The existential Western hero, played by Clint in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and Hang ‘em High and those Sergio Leone Westerns, that was what inspired young Stephen King to begin with. But I never felt it was necessarily a look as much as an essence. So did Stephen.
"In this iteration, when we began thinking about candidates, Idris just felt like a really exciting and dynamic possibility. Idris brings this crucial combination of coiled danger, quiet charisma, undercurrents of complexity and nobility, and a kind of timeless cool. These are the elemental qualities of Roland, in my mind, and I think Idris carries it incredibly well. Then there is McConaughey. I had always thought he would be a tremendous Walter...He brings that combination of diabolical amorality mixed with an intelligence and his own logic that he adheres to, relentlessly. And a kind of wry wit that kept readers and will keep the movie audience off balance in a very entertaining way."
Finally, Howard addressed whether the team was still pursuing the TV component of The Dark Tower, which originally called for at least twp limited run series to act as bridges between multiple feature films:
"We’re developing the television part, now. We don’t know what platform it will be on at this point, but we’re developing the content in hopes for more movies that will cover the epic and the characters involved."
That's a whole lot of information to process, but I will say this: Howard, Grazer and their team have been remarkably open about the process of bringing The Dark Tower to the screen, and everything they've said indicates that they have a deep respect for the source material, even as they acknowledge that it has taken a lot of effort and changes to adapt it into a film. We still won't know whether they succeeded for another six months or so, but what are your feelings about everything Ron Howard has said about this project?