The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (2007)

31 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” is supposedly based on the second in a series of popular fantasy novels by Susan Cooper—apparently so popular that J.K. Rowling actually used them as partial inspiration for her “Harry Potter” book series (I believe so, anyway). And this film adaptation is also proof that if you want a dignified, on-the-numbers book-to-film adaptation, don’t give the project to Fox. From what I’ve seen in “A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Eragon,” adaptations that apparently have little to do with their source materials, Fox has little interest in expressing the interests of the followers of the original material, and just trying to give what they think the audiences will go for. This can’t be a coincidence.

But seriously, just say the project’s name, and a majority of the audience will come running because most are fond of the original. When you practically thrash the source material, and you show how you’ve done it in the film’s trailers and TV spots, you don’t get a very large audience. That would explain why “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” was a box-office bomb.

I’ve read the original novel, entitled “The Dark is Rising.” It’s a great read. It’s a fantasy tale playing with Arthurian legend and telling a compelling story of a boy who discovers his true identity through an ancient magical process. A great film could have been made from this novel—this isn’t it.

Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is a young American boy living in England with his huge family—he has many siblings, including an older brother who comes home from college and takes over Will’s bedroom, forcing him into the attic. Will is nothing special—he’s socially inadequate and very shy around girls. His fourteenth birthday arrives and he experiences certain changes—more than just puberty. He learns from a group of mysterious rich folks, who are actually a secret group of Old Ones who serve the power of the light, that he is actually the Seeker for the Old Ones. This means he has the power to travel through time and collect these mystical little trinkets called Signs that, when put together, can restore the power of the Light and vanquish the Dark before it rises again and covers the world completely in darkness.

Will’s main enemy in the army of darkness is the Rider (Christopher Eccleston). The Rider rides his horse throughout the outskirts of London, and sends many menacing subjects to stop Will from succeeding in his mission. In particular, he sends ravens, snakes, and a mysterious hooded figure, to be revealed later.

The way that the movie handles Will as being an Old One is very clumsy. See if you can follow this—the leader Merriman (Ian McShane) tells Will that he is the “seventh son of a seventh son.” Then why isn’t Will’s father (a “seventh son,” apparently) an Old One? What are the limits? Does the power just skip a generation or something? And wait a minute—Will claims he isn’t a seventh son because he only has five brothers. But wait a minute! He finds a hidden box in the attic where he lives, and his mother (Wendy Crewson) reveals that Will was a twin. Apparently, when Will and his brother were babies, someone came into the house (presumably the Rider) and stole the other twin away.

Are you serious? Will is just finding out now that he was a twin all his life? How does that slip by? But there you go—Will is a seventh son, and therefore, he is the Seeker. By the way, why is he the one chosen to be the Seeker? Were the other Old Ones just not special enough or something? I don’t get it.

Then there are the time-travel sequences themselves. Each sequence begins with the camera spinning around the actors until they’re suddenly in a certain location in the past. And then, Will winds up in places that should be interesting, but are unfortunately background spots for battles. Look at the scene in which Will and his older brother (Gregory Smith), who is a dropout in college and has just been controlled by the Dark. They travel through time together, and engage in one of the worst choreographed fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time. And never mind that we’re in a Viking village at this point—we have this to watch.

By the way, since we’re going with time travel and family involvement, there’s something that just bugs me. Will and his younger sister Gwen (Emma Lockhart) are suddenly back in time and in the middle of a slaughter. Will has to protect Gwen from the oncoming attackers while still trying to find the Sign. What happens after this grand adventure? They never talk about it again. They don’t even say one word to each other after that. Gwen never questions why her brother has these powers. She just sort of…forgets about it.

Other flaws include: A girl character that Will falls for, and whose intentions will be obvious to anyone with a brain cell; a forced subplot involving Will’s physicist father who had his own search of the Light and the Dark; and of course, the lack of explanation as to what will happen if the Dark wins—I guess the world will end. But then what?

There are a few things that “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” does do right by its own standards, and it’s fair to point them out. One is that the film actually deals with the issues of a fourteen-year-old teenager having to play savior to the world, despite the fact that he is no superhero. There’s even a nice scene in which Will actually talks to Merriman about this new great task he’s been given. (Merriman, however, is no help—most of this role is to constantly tell Will that he is the Seeker. OK, OK, we get it already.) Some of the action scenes are pretty good—though, strangely enough, they have nothing to do with the time travel. The first time Will is chased by the Rider in the woods is pretty intense (although the camerawork is all over the place—extreme closeups, upside-down cameras). And also, there’s a frightening scene in which Will is cornered by security guards in a mall, who are actually ravens in human form working for the Dark, and a gritty sense of tension in the scene where Will is being interrogated and being told to give them “the Sign.” And also, there’s a scene involving giant impaling icicles that threaten the lives of Will and his family in the final act, before the big battle between Will and the Rider, that’s well-put-together and quite thrilling.

Of the acting, nobody really stands out except for Christopher Eccleston, and that’s because he’s more funny than frightening, particularly when his supposedly-menacing character of the Rider is posing as the town doctor to fool Will’s parents as he visits Will’s home. His jolly accent used to fool them just cracks me up, and I love his line as he leaves—“Cheer up, Will. It’s not the end of the world…not quite yet.” And he smiles during that line too! I loved that!

Alexander Ludwig as Will is OK, while Ian McShane as Merriman is just doing the same thing over and over again that be summed up in four words—“You are the Seeker”—because that’s practically all he seems to say for advice.

I’ve already mentioned a lot in “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” and I may have left something out. The point, though, is that this film adaptation of the popular novel is not only a very loose adaptation, but also a muddled and confused mess of events.

NOTE: By the way, if they were trying to start a film franchise from these “Dark is Rising Sequence” books, then why start with the second story?

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