Stephen King’s seven-book epic fantasy series The Dark Tower is slowly turning into one of Hollywood’s White Whales. There have been more than a few attempts at mounting the story as a series of films, TV shows, but none have gotten very far (and that includes the one that actually released a theatrical movie). But it seems a new attempt, fronted by horror-auteur and former-Netflix ace Mike Flanagan, might have the best shot so far at actually working, mostly because Flanagan has been preparing for this moment for years.
Like many previous attempts to get a Dark Tower series off the ground, this one, would include a mix of TV and movies. As Flanagan says his version would be five seasons of TV, with two feature films to conclude the story.
Flanagan’s passion for the series is one thing, but what might be even more impressive is the specificity of his resume and how well it sets him up for the project. Flanagan started his career in film, directing movies like Oculus, Hush, and Ouija: Origins of Evil, before moving to television for a while, making shows like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. Flanagan is also a massive Stephen King fan, and has already adapted some of his work into films. With a career this varied, it’s like Flanagan was always making his way to The Dark Tower.
Whether or not he designed his career that way on purpose, we know for a fact adapting The Dark Tower has always been Flanagan’s aim. In the interview with Deadline where Flanagan announces the project, he calls it his “Holy Grail”. And in a previous interview with IGN, he discussed how he would adapt the series, including trying to “ground” some of the more difficult and meta elements of the novels.
It’s not shocking to hear Flanagan would aim to ground The Dark Tower rather than leaning into its weirder elements; After all, grounded tends to be his preferred mode, whether he’s dealing with vampires, ghosts, or sibling rivalries. And while that may be a little disappointing to Dark Tower fans, who tend to enjoy even the weirdest parts of the series — which we won’t spoil here — it’s also probably a necessary evil of getting such a ridiculous and expensive project off the ground. And to Flanagan’s credit, he has plenty of work that suggests he could make a fantastic Dark Tower series.
Perhaps his best work to date is the director’s cut of King’s Shining sequel novel, Doctor Sleep. While the book is an uneven and odd entry in King’s expansive fiction, never quite figuring out its own universe and stubbornly refusing to take even the slightest influence from Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980s movie adaptation, Flanagan’s adaptation is a work of supreme alchemy.
He combines both the character and feeling of Kubrick’s masterpiece while pulling elements of the story that were more critical to King, like exploring Jack’s alcoholism as a direct parallel to the Overlook’s persuasive and deadly power. Flanagan pulls the alcoholism theme through Jack’s family tree down to Danny (played marvelously by Ewan McGregor, in his best performance ever) and drags the psychic adult back to Kubrick’s vision of the Overlook Hotel.
While making Kubrick and King’s stories work together isn’t exactly the same as adapting an epic fantasy series, this process of combining King’s work and finding ways for his various characters and universes to fold in on each other and match is one of the things that makes the Dark Tower great. On top of that, Flanagan’s penchant for complex character interactions and excellent dialog should be perfect for writing the Ka-Tet’s more intimate moments, as the small band of adventurers travel across the worlds.
Of course, none of this is to say Flanagan’s Dark Tower project will definitely be great, or even that it will happen at all. But if anyone has a chance to pull through with this complicated amalgamation of movies and TV series, and actually make it good, it’s probably Mike Flanagan.