Deadline are repoting this morning on what appears to an unprecedented deal between Universal Pictures, NBC/Universal Television, director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and author Stephen King for a feature and television adaptation of King’s acclaimed series of novels, The Dark Tower.

Deadline reports that it has taken several months of negotiations, with both Universal and Warner Bros interested in the property, but now Universal have clinched it and will move ahead with their elaborate plans. Ron Howard will direct the initial feature film, as well as the first season of the television series that will follow quickly afterwards. Brian Grazer, Howard’s producing partner at Imagine Entertainment, will produce the project and Akiva Goldsmith will draw up the script.

If Deadline are correct in their report, then “ambitious” is the word for this project. The Dark Tower is a series of novels about Roland Deschain, the last-surviving member of an order of “knightly gunmen” and the only hope for the saving of civilization, which will crumble if he cannot find the eponymous Tower. Considered by many to have a scope and sweep on a par with Tolkien’s Middle Earth novels, Howard and Goldsman describe King’s world as being like “an alternate Americana, part post-apocalyptic, part Sergio Leone”. Howard intends to proceed as follows:-

The plan is to start with the feature film, and then create a bridge to the second feature with a season of TV episodes. That means the feature cast—and the big star who’ll play Deschain—also has to appear in the TV series before returning to the second film. After that sequel is done, the TV series picks up again, this time focusing on Deschain as a young gunslinger. Those storylines will be informed by a prequel comic book series that King was heavily involved in plotting. The third film would pick up the mature Deshain as he completes his journey. They will benefit from being able to use the same sets cast and crew for the movie and TV, which could help contain costs on what will be a financially ambitious undertaking.

Goldsman, having written less acclaimed films such as Batman & Robin and Lost In Space has since progressed onto better-quality fare, such as A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Howard, for his part, is an Oscar-winning director of such prestigious films as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon. Deadline have drawn parallels between the ambition of a project to be run on two platorms (big screen and small) and what Peter Jackson achieved in filming three features simultaneously with Lord of the Rings so that they could be released in more rapid succession. Howard explained to Deadline:-

“What Peter did was a feat, cinematic history. The approach we’re taking also stands on its own, but it’s driven by the material. I love both, and like what’s going on in TV. With this story, if you dedicated to one medium or another, there’s the horrible risk of cheating material. The scope and scale call for a big screen budget. But if you committed only to films, you’d deny the audience the intimacy and nuance of some of these characters and a lot of cool twists and turns that make for jaw-dropping, compelling television. We’ve put some real time and deep thought into this, and a lot of conversations and analysis from a business standpoint, to get people to believe in this and take this leap with us. I hope audiences respond to it in a way that compels us to keep going after the first year or two of work. It’s fresh territory for me, as a filmmaker.”

Rather than seemingly biting off more than they can chew, this looks like the plans of a production team that know exactly what they are doing and precisely how best to present the material. The Green Mile was condensed from 6 novellas into one film and felt like it might have benefited instead from being a mini-series. Likewise, one of the reasons often given for the fact that television is enjoying a new golden age is that across 20+ episodes for 3, 4 or more seasons, the audience has time to get to know the characters and the writers can build much more depth and nuance with the space to breath afforded by the small screen format. It stands to reason that 60 hours of The Wire will be able to create a more immersive, elaborate and engaging world than, say, 2 hours of Training Day or Narc.

It feels like a master stroke to plan the project from its outset as a piece for cinema and television, rather than trying to artificially squeeze it into a different format once it has gained popularity. Like I said above, “ambitious” is the word, but it looks promising that it will pay off in the end. Howard and Goldsman have confirmed that this will be their next project, once they have finished up on The Dilemma, so we will let you know as soon as we hear any more news on this fascinating project.

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Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.