New shot at Stephen King

A screenshot from the official trailer of The Dark Tower, in which Idris Elba plays a "gunslinger" trying to save the universe.
A screenshot from the official trailer of The Dark Tower, in which Idris Elba plays a "gunslinger" trying to save the universe.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

The author's novels and short stories are increasingly being adapted again, including The Dark Tower, which is soon to be released as a film

NEW YORK• It would be tempting to say Hollywood is once again in the Stephen King business, but for the fact that it has never left it.

In the four decades since the release of Carrie (1976), there have been dozens of movie and television adaptations of his novels and short stories.

This year alone, people will see the evil clown-centric movie It, the bondage-gone-wrong Netflix film Gerald's Game, a Spike TV series based on the monster-insect novella The Mist and The Dark Tower.

What many loyal readers of King see as the magnum opus of his career has had a tortuous road to the big screen. The movie, due in Singapore on July 27 and in the United States on Aug 4 after several delays, stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey and is directed by Nikolaj Arcel, whose last film was the 18th-century Danish drama, A Royal Affair (2012).

Sony Pictures hopes that this is but the first entry in a franchise that can span both movies and TV. The story of how The Dark Tower was made covers many years.

The story of The Dark Tower is even more complex. Here are the basics.

What is The Dark Tower?

It is a sprawling series of seven novels written between 1982 and 2004. (An eighth interstitial novel was released in 2012.)

The first four books were published every four to six years. But after King was hit by a minivan in 1999 and almost died, he decided to finish the saga lest another accident finished the job. The final three books were published in 2003 and 2004.

Characters from the Dark Tower books have frequently appeared in other stories by King (one of the series villains is also the main antagonist of The Stand) and vice versa, effectively making the series the backbone of the author's oeuvre. King himself also makes an appearance in the novels, which still comes as a surprise even if you know about it beforehand.

What is it about?

It is an epic tale about Roland Deschain, a "gunslinger" (think a mediaeval knight, but with the outward trappings of an American cowboy) who lives in a place called Mid-World, which runs parallel to modern-day Earth.

In that world is a giant black tower that serves as the centre of all universes, including Earth. Mid-World has begun to fall apart and, in an effort to save it, Deschain must pursue both a bad guy who dresses entirely in black and the Tower itself.

In the film, Elba plays Deschain and McConaughey plays Walter O'Dim, also known as the Man in Black. They are able to cross back and forth between their world and Earth, where they encounter Jake Chambers (newcomer Tom Taylor), a boy who has been having visions of Mid-World.

So it is a western? A fantasy?

Both. It is also a sci-fi story and a horror story. There are evil wizards and crystal balls, people who come back to life and creatures with animal heads who wear human faces.

It is a lot. King incorporated as many genre elements as possible and the movie makes for a fun, though not easy to categorise, experience.

Should any of the books be read beforehand?

Feel free. You should be aware, though, that the film is not a straight adaptation. Rather, it seems to be some combination of the first novel (The Gunslinger) and the third (The Waste Lands), while also incorporating significant story points from the last book.

There are so many Stephen King movies. Why hasn't someone tried to make this one before?

Someone has. Several someones. It was initially set to be adapted by Lost collaborators Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams.

Then in 2010, Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman and Brian Grazer - the trio behind The Da Vinci Code (2006), among other films - decided to try their hands at a plan to make three movies with Universal, starring Javier Bardem as Roland, as well as several television seasons that would bridge the story between films.

That deal fell apart a year later.

But the team found a new studio (Sony) and a new star (Elba). And while the film's release date has been twice delayed (from February to July to August), footage screened last month at the CinemaCon convention proved that, at the least, Elba looks tremendous in a leather duster.


•The Dark Tower is due in Singapore on July 27.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'New shot at Stephen King'. Print Edition | Subscribe