Doctor Sleep's Mike Flanagan Shares His Vision For Stephen King's The Dark Tower, And Hollywood Needs To Make It Happen

Stephen King fans can be grateful that rarely a year goes by without an adaptation of his work being produced and released, but the world is still waiting for Hollywood to make a proper live-action version of the author’s magnum opus: the Dark Tower series. The film that was released in 2017 is an insult to King’s epic creation – using only bits and pieces from the books and changing essential details – and there is an intense hunger as a result to see the material get cinematic justice.

One person who could almost surely deliver that justice is writer/director Mike Flanagan, whose filmography includes Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep – and his recent description of his vision for the series will likely inspire fans to pray to the entertainment gods that he one day gets to make what he calls his “dream project.”

IGN has posted a clip from an interview with Flanagan talking about The Dark Tower, and his passion for the material bleeds off the screen. While he continues to work on other projects, like his excellent new Netflix series The Midnight Club, he describes Stephen King’s epic as having “its own gravity” that constantly draws him back to it. In his mind’s eye, he knows how his adaptation would begin and play out, and it’s all about bringing the original text to life. Said the filmmaker,

What it would look like? It would look like the books… It would be a black screen, and the words ‘The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed’ would come up on silence, and you’d hear the wind, and we’d gradually fade up to this Lawrence Of Arabia-esque landscape with a silhouette in the distance just making his way across the hardpan. And we would build it out from there in order to the end.

First envisioned when Stephen King was still in college, The Dark Tower series began with a series of five short stories published between 1978 and 1981, and in 1983 they were collected and published as a single book called The Gunslinger. The story chronicles the journey of a Clint Eastwood-esque hero named Roland Deschain as he makes his way toward The Dark Tower: a monolith that stands at the center of the universe.

The main series of books includes a total of seven novels – The Gunslinger, The Drawing Of The Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard And Glass, The Wolves Of The Calla, The Song Of Susannah, and The Dark Tower – and Roland’s is joined in his mission by a heroin addict named Eddie Dean, a wealthy civil rights activist with dissociative identity disorder named Odetta Holmes, an eleven-year-old boy named Jake Chambers, and a dog-like creature named Oy.

Between the scale of the source material and the complexity of the western/sci-fi/fantasy hybrid storytelling, it’s not terribly hard to understand why Hollywood has had such trouble making a faithful adaptation of The Dark Tower (in addition to the 2017 movie, Amazon Prime Video tried and failed to turn it into streaming series). That being said, Mike Flanagan says that he knows how to wrangle it all:

It would just be a question of taking the more fantastic elements that might be harder to connect to – especially where it gets pretty meta at mid-point – and grounding it, just pulling it in. But otherwise the characters are who they are, the arc is what it is, and I think the way not to do The Dark Tower is to try and turn it into something else – to try and make it Star Wars or make it Lord of the Rings. It’s what it is; what it is is perfect. It’s just as exciting as all of those things and just as immersive.

Just like all great Stephen King books and adaptations, the key to the whole enterprise is the characters. The remarkable and evolving bond between Roland, Eddie, Odetta, Jake, and Oy is the heart of what makes The Dark Tower so powerful, remarkable, and emotional, and Mike Flanagan knows that any successful live-action interpretation would have to translate that:

It’s a story about a tiny group of people, and all the odds in the whole world are against them, and they come together. As long as it’s that, it will be fine. There won’t be a dry eye in the house. Is it a series? Is it a franchise of feature films? I don’t know It’s all of those things; it’s none of them. It would be my Everest to do that, but nothing would make me happier, and god, I hope there’s a chance. I really do.

Given Mike Flanagan’s track record – the filmmaker having made two of the best Stephen King movies of all time based on two of the author’s hardest-to-adapt books – it’s impossible to believe that he would make anything less than a perfect live-action interpretation of The Dark Tower. He’s already had two King-related projects dissolve on him, including a Shining prequel series and an adaptation of Revival, so all Constant Readers should keep fingers desperately crossed hoping that he gets to climb his Everest one day.

For more about Stephen King, you can learn about the full history of film and television adaptations with my weekly Adapting Stephen King column, and keep track of all the projects that are in the works with our Upcoming Stephen King Movies and TV guide.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.