The Guns of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower"

UPDATE 5/4/17

Fans of Stephen King's epic saga The Dark Tower have been patient when it comes to the movie version of their beloved tomes. The film The Dark Tower has been in development hell for years, finally getting the green light last year with Edris Elba as Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger knight of a world that has moved on, and Matthew McConaughey as his nemesis, The Man in Black.

The film, originally slated for a February 2017 release, has been pushed back all the way to August 4. Fans didn't even get a teaser trailer until two days ago, and the few-seconds-long clips were just to advertise the full-length trailer, which landed yesterday.

In case you haven't seen the trailer, here it is, followed by details about the guns and shooting sequences it reveals.

The Pistols

What we surmised about Roland's twin revolvers from some early on-set photos that were released appear to be correct: they look to be customized Remington 1858 revolvers that fire metallic cartridges (the original Remingtons were cap-and-ball pistols in .44 caliber) from unfluted cylinders that have been modified to swing out like a modern revolver so they don't have to be loaded via a loading gate. It's also clear from the trailer that the guns have brass or pale-gold colored trigger guards.

The Dark Tower
Roland (Idris Elba) firing his twin revolvers.photo from Youtube

We also get a good look at the pistols' legendary sandalwood grips, especially in the well-lit shot where Roland is teaching Jake (Tom Taylor) to shoot.

The pistols also feature a rose (it took King seven books to fully explain what the rose means in the series, so I won't even try here. Suffice it to say, it's representative of the Tower, which holds all worlds together) and a bit of ancient script on the barrels, which is the mark of Roland's family line of Eld. From the trailer, we know both of these marks glow blue when the pistols are fired, perhaps a visual representation of the fact that the barrels of Roland's pistols are supposedly formed from the blade of his world's version of Excalibur.

We also get a few good looks at not one, not two, but three high speed reloading techniques the gunslinger employs in the movie.

The Dark Tower
Roland teaching Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) to shoot, and to recite the gunslingers creed: "I do not aim with my hand; He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand; He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind. I do not kill with my gun; He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart."photo from Youtube

Reloads

From the stills, we knew Roland carried a belt of cartridges above his normal gunbelt that held groups of six shells, though we couldn't tell if they were held in speedloaders of some kind. From the teaser (and the animated gif at the top of this story) we can see that the shells appear to be held in some kind of moon clip that allows them all to be loaded into the cylinder at once.

Of course, through movie magic, Roland tosses up two moon clips before swinging his revolvers through the air, so as to catch them perfectly in the open chambers as they fall, before flipping the cylinder shut with his thumb as it moves up to cock the hammer, and fires. (Maybe Jerry Miculek will give that a try in an upcoming video.)

We also get a brief shot of Roland loading his open cylinder with some kind of lightning-fast thumb trick that rapidly draws and inserts six shells from loops on his gun belt into the spinning cylinders of his revolver as he moves it beneath them. Whether or not this is even physically possible (it seems he would have to pull each shell up by the rim with his thumb out of the cartridge loop and them drop it into an empty chamber), it looks really cool.

An additional note, the cartridges on Roland's belt look much more like .44 Magnum rounds than .45 Long Colt (see below). In the novels, Roland finds ammunition that matches his pistols in a circa 1970s New York City gun shop, and they turn out to be .45s. While the Model 1858 was originally chambered for a .44 caliber ball, when they were converted to cartridge revolvers, they were most often chambered in .32 rimfire, .38 centerfire, .38 rimfire, or ,46 rimfire.

Roland loads six shells from the cartridge loops on his belt with blinding speed.
Roland loads six shells from the cartridge loops on his belt with blinding speed.from youtube

And the third reloading method is something more akin to what fans of the book may have been expecting: the gunslinger holds his revolver in front of him with the cylinder spinning, and smoothly feeds six cartridges from his palm into the waiting open chambers before pushing the cylinder shut. It's quite impressive, visually remarkable—simply for the fact that it's something we haven't seen someone do with a revolver on-screen before—and there's no reason why you shouldn't get a set of Snap Caps and see if you can get one in, let alone six.

Another of Roland's speed loading techniques.
Another of Roland's speed loading techniques.from youtube

That's pretty much all the new info we could glean about the guns from the trailer, though we do get a peek at just how in-tune with his guns Roland is...and it's pretty close to the book. The trailer ends with Roland kneeling in the midst of the chaos of a battle, hearing Jake carried off by a bad guy. He listens, as a voiceover recites the gunslinger's creed ("I do not kill with my gun...") and, without looking, fires a bullet that goes through a window, a shirt hanging on the line, and grazes the needles of a bush before finding its home in the target's head ("...I kill with my heart"). Epic.

The Dark Tower hits theaters August 4.

The gunslinger's no-look shot.
The gunslinger's no-look shot.from youtube

ORIGINAL POST FROM 12/2/2016 BELOW:

There may be no pair of revolvers more exalted in fantasy literature than the big, ancient six guns carried by Roland Deschain in Stephen King’s sprawling seven-book series, The Dark Tower.

In February, the story and its protagonist will get their first appearance on screen, big or small, when The Dark Tower premiers with Idras Elba playing Roland, The Gunslinger, and Matthew McConaughey as his nemesis, Walter or The Man in Black. We'll also get our first look at an interpretation of Roland's guns that isn't an artist's rendition.

There’s no trailer yet for the movie, which is supposed to be the start of a trilogy with an additional series, possibly on Netflix, to help tell the mammoth tale of Roland, the last Gunslinger in a world that runs parallel to our own called Mid-World. It has elements of medieval times mixed with vestiges of the American Old West along with technologies foreign to our time and place. The whole story hinges on the idea that the universe consists of separate yet connected alternate realities, all held together by one mysterious nexus, The Dark Tower.

The Guns of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower"
In this shot, you can clearly see the gun is based on a Remington Model 1858 with a brass trigger guard and heavy barrels.photo from darktowernews.com

The problem is, things are starting to fall apart in Mid-World, because someone or something is trying to destroy the Tower itself. Roland is the last of a league of knight-like warriors trained from childhood to use six-guns instead of swords and his final charge is to reach the Dark Tower. His twin revolvers are particularly special among his brethren. Sometimes called the Sandalwood Guns by fans because of their solid sandalwood grips, which still retain their scent, Roland’s revolvers have been passed down through generations from Arthur Eld himself (the Mid-World version of King Arthur) to Steven Deschain, Roland’s father, and finally, to him.

The Guns in the Books

Legend has it the barrels of Roland’s guns were made from the melted-down, blue-grey steel of the magical sword Excalibur and have the symbol of Eld, a rose, engraved on the side. Another legend says they were a gift to Arthur Eld from the Dark Tower itself.

Regardless, what we know from the King books is that the revolvers are supposed to be large, much larger than the typical revolvers 1970s and 1980s when the first few books were written. We know from the second book, The Drawing of the Three and third, Wastelands that the guns are chambered in what King calls "Winchester .45 pistol ammunition." Roland discovers this the first time he visits our world (in 1970s New York City specifically) and find rounds in a gun shop that he knows by sight and feel are a perfect match for the cartridges from his world.

It's unclear if King is referring to a cartridge called "Winchester .45," which isn't a real pistol cartridge of course, or if he's saying Roland found boxes of .45 ammunition made by Winchester. (Winchester 45-70 was a common rifle round and the .45 Winchester Magnum is a rimless cartridge introduced in 1978 for semi-automatic pistols.)

It could be a mistake, as King sometimes makes little flubs like this, whether intentional or not, when it comes to firearms. For instance, Jake Chamber's 44 Ruger from later in the series doesn't exist and neither does the Weatherbey (spelled incorrectly) rifle from his novel Roadwork. From the way Roland's guns are described, his pistols are most likely chambered in .45 Long Colt.

The Guns of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower"
An illustration of Roland and his revolvers from one of Stephen King's novels.photo from darktowernews.com

King’s descriptions of the guns across the books also vary a little. They are clearly supposed to be “cowboy” revolvers, but he more than once refers to “rolling out the cylinder” when reloading them, pointing to a swing-out cylinder, which would be anachronistic for revolvers from the mid to late 1800s. But these guns are from another world, so it’s all up for grabs.

One thing is for certain, Roland's guns are extremely accurate, well cared for, and their quality of materials and construction are miles beyond that of any firearms he or his compatriots come across in Mid-World. They are from another time, even in his world.

The Movie Guns

From a bunch of set photos from darktowernews.com, we can see that the movie's armorers have elected to use the Remington 1858 New Army Revolver as a platform for the Guns of Eld, probably because they aren't as instantly recognizable to audiences as the Colt Single Action Army, but are from the same time period and certainly convey that big gun, heavy-barrel look.

The Guns of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower"
In this production still, you can see the swing-out cylinder on the revolver is open and a spent casing is falling from it.photo from darktowernews.com

However, the guns from the set photos have some unique characteristics that are definitely not from the Remington 1858. The distinctive wing beneath the barrel was originally part of the loading mechanism, as the pistol was built as a black-powder revolver. Later, many were converted to fire cartridges by boring out the cylinder, adding a loading gate, and removing the reloading mechanism and replacing it with a rod to eject spent shells. However, the wing remained and Remington kept the now-vestigial wing on it’s later 1875 pistol, which was meant to be a direct competitor to the Colt SAA, but never came close, despite its quality.

The movie guns look to be 1858 pistols with the original wing under the barrel. There is no ejection rod, because these guns feature swing-out cylinders, just the way King often described them in his books. Looks like somebody is paying close attention, which bodes well for die-hard fans.

In the photo above, we actually see Roland on the ground with the cylinder of one gun open, and this along with another image also gives us a clue as to how he uses them.

The Guns of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower"
Here's the best closeup we have of Roland's revolvers. You can see how the ejecting rod/loading mechanism has been replaced by a swing-out cylinder assembly. The barrels are fairly short compared to the underneath wing and they have very low-profile front sights. The barrels are octagonal and the cylinders are un-fluted, just like the original Remington 1858. If you look closely, you can see what could be a rose on the side of the receiver.photo from darktowernews.com

The book say Roland reloads his revolvers with blinding speed, but never really specifies how beyond saying “his fingers did the reloading trick they knew so well, pulling shells from his belt…” In a shot of Roland ascending some stairs, we see that his belt is lined with speedloaders with six rounds each.

If the guns didn’t have swing-out cylinders, he wouldn’t be able to use speedloaders, as a fixed cylinder must be loaded and unloaded one round at a time via a loading gate. (Perhaps he picks up the speedloaders at the NYC gun shop?)

The Guns of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower"
In this shot, we see Roland wearing an additional belt above his gun belt holding what could be additional cylinders for his pistols, but are more likely some kind of speedloaders holding six shells each. You can see on the right that he also has individual cartridges stored in loops on his gunbelt. In the books, Roland wore criss-crossing gunbelts, one for each revolver. It appears he wears a single double-holster rig with an interesting steam-punky buckle in the movie.photo from darktowernews.com

One hopes the small details we can glean from stills of Roland’s guns show that the filmmakers are doing their best to keep the integrity of the original story intact. After all, it’s unlike most other fantasy series. Fans that stuck with the story over its 4,250 pages started reading about Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower in 1982, or whenever they started reading books, and didn’t get an ending until 2004. That’s some serious loyalty that only lifetime Star Wars fans can relate to.

Here’s hoping they get it right—including the guns.

The Guns of Stephen King's "The Dark Tower"
Production still of Roland exiting a gun shop. In the books, Roland goes into a New York City gun shop and finds cartridges that match the ones from his world that fit his guns. They turn out to be .45 Winchester, most likely meant to represent .45 Long Colt.photo from darktowernews.com