It’s 2019 and the Stephen King renaissance rolls on, with It: Chapter 2, Doctor Sleep, and HBO’s The Outsider on the horizon and adaptations of The Stand, The Long Walk, The Eyes Of The Dragon, ‘Salem’s Lot, and Lisey’s Story in development. There’s also Amazon’s The Dark Tower series, which, despite the streamer staying more or less mum on it, is, per these casting notices and set photos, definitely happening.
Their silence makes sense, though, as Sony’s 2017 take on King’s epic fantasy Western was more or less reviled by King fans and casual moviegoers. We deemed it “pointless” and “generic” in our pan, and even King himself criticized it in the months following its release. “Sometimes when people have made up their mind, the creative team that’s actually going to go and shoot the movie, it’s a little bit like hitting your fist against hard rubber, you know?” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “It doesn’t really hurt, but you don’t get anywhere. It just sort of bounces back. And I thought to myself, ‘Well, people are going to be really puzzled by this,’ and they were.”
He also criticized the film’s PG-13 rating for hobbling the material’s innate violence and trauma. Now, in a new interview with the Happy, Sad, Confused podcast, Ron Howard, who produced the film after years spent trying to get it off the ground, has expressed similar sentiments, saying “it should’ve been horror.”
“I think that it landed in a place—both in our minds and the studio’s—that it could be PG-13 and sort of a boy’s adventure,” Howard says, speaking to how the film centered itself on Tom Taylor’s pre-teen Jake rather than Idris Elba’s Roland, the literal protagonist of the book series. “I really think we made a mistake not—I mean I’m not sure we could’ve made this movie, but I think if we could’ve made a darker, more hard-boiled look and make it The Gunslinger’s character study more than Jake. I think in retrospect that would’ve been more exciting. We always felt like we were kind of holding back something, and I think at the end of the day it was that.”
Later, he acknowledges that the Jake-focused direction was informed by “what you think that the marketplace is calling for instead of the essence of what Stephen King was giving us,” which is basically what every King fan feared upon hearing that an adaptation was in development. Howard and his collaborators, including director Nikolaj Arcel and Hollywood hack Akiva Goldsman, sought to retrofit King’s violent and labyrinthian series into a family-friendly YA package, which, for anyone who’s read the books, is a tricky proposition, even in a post-Hunger Games world. There’s a reason Matthew McConaughey looks so confused throughout the whole thing.
Thankfully, he’s not returning for the Amazon series. Instead, fresh-faced actor Jasper Pääkkönen will embody the Man In Black, while Sam Strike will cock six-shooters as a younger Roland in a series rumored to hew close to King’s wonderful Dark Tower prequel, Wizard And Glass. Howard addresses the series in his interview, too, acknowledging that television is probably the best vehicle for King’s epic. We agree, and remain optimistic.