Everyone gets their ginch wet for Hemingway or Palahniuk, but pound-for-literary-pound Stephen King is the greatest American novelist of all time, especially in a cinematic sense.
King, now 69 years old, has published 54 novels, over 200 short stories or novellas and a shitload of amazing films based on his work. The Shining, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of King's novel of the same name, is one of the top three horror films of all time. Carrie is iconic, The Running Man is about three years away from coming true, Stand By Me is an essential rite-of-passage experience, and doesn't The Shawshank Redemption rank pretty high on any list of greatest flicks ever?
Certainly, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dumas and Dostoyevsky have more cinematic adaptations but most of those are the same stories again and again (Hamlet has been made over 30 times since 1900). King, on the other hand, has had at least 45 separate stories adapted to the screen, and the latest one opens this week at the always-dependable Whistler Village 8.
The Dark Tower is a flick based on King's hugely expansive, time-travelling, gunslinger series of the same name. Idris Elba (The Wire, RocknRolla) stars as the pistol-toting hero and Matthew McConaughey (Dazed and Confused, Magic Mike) steps in as the evil wizard "Man in Black." They endlessly battle across time and this story is considered by many to be King's "magnum opus" (I disagree, The Stand is where it's at), but from a movie lover's standpoint, it's also a bit of a shot in the dark.
There's the nervous fact that many of King's best cinematic adaptations have come from short stories and The Dark Tower is a 95-minute flick based on an eight-book series. Presumably, the film is supposed to be the launch of a franchise, but even so, sci-fi lives and dies on how well you build your world — this adaptation takes place in both the present day New York City and Mid-World, King's American-West style parallel universe. Of course, the fate of humanity is on the line.
There were no pre-screenings (usually a bad sign, but it wouldn't be unusual for King, the master of suspense, to want studios to just spring this on people) and Hollywood trade mags are full of unnamed sources claiming the production is in shambles with not one but two separate studios interfering with the vision of Danish writer-director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
It sounds messy, but regardless, The Dark Tower is worth checking out on King's name alone. Remember when 1408 came out of nowhere and kinda ruled? Or when Bryan Singer proved he wasn't a one-hit wonder with Apt Pupil? (Except he went all superhero after that and never really re-captured the grit.)
Whether The Dark Tower becomes the next Lord of the Rings-sized cash cow doesn't really matter because the best news for King fans is that Pennywise the dancing clown will be back on screen terrorizing children in September of this year with the remake of It, which is planned to be the first instalment of a two-parter.
King's tales are often a battle between the normal and abnormal worlds. But he bases them on simple (but amazing) premises and crafts believable characters around them. The high-brow/academic crowd sometimes tries to categorize him as a "popular" novelist, implying his work lacks the depth and complexity of more accepted authors, but it's hard to deny the sheer volume of people drawn in by King's stories, and the flicks they produce. His book On Writing is a must-read for anyone interested in the craft, and how can you argue with this line of grim reality: "If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being an adult is about learning how to die."
All hail the King!