- David L. Cunningham
- Ian McShane, Alexander Ludwig, Frances Conroy, Gregory Smith, Christopher Eccleston
- 94 min.
- Release Date
If you’ve seen any of The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movies, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, or Eragon, you might be bored with The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. It’s one of those fantasy movies that can’t think of anything more original than The Light and The Dark as allegories for good and evil. Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is turning fourteen; he’s an American living with his family in England, where all great fantasy takes place. As the seventh son of a seventh son, turning fourteen means the townsfolk give him strange, knowing glances. He is The One, as young teen boys often are in fantasy movies. More specifically, he is an Old One, meaning he can travel through time, light fires at will, and move objects with his mind.
Other Old Ones, namely Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy), help explain the universe to Will. They warn him of The Rider (Christopher Eccleston), The Dark’s posterboy who rides about on gloomy trails like a ringwraith straight out of Middle Earth. Somehow all of this relates to Will’s father, John (John Benjamin Hickey), a college physics professor who goes pale when his son asks him the significance of “The Light and The Dark” (which also happens to be the title of John’s graduate thesis). Surely there’s some explanation in theoretical physics, but not even the film has enough patience to explain said theories.
Will is bound by fate to find The Signs, elemental symbols of fire, iron, wood, water, and so fourth. When put together, no, they do not bring about Captain Planet, they combine with a final Sign hidden in someone’s soul (I’ll give you one guess as to whose). With The Signs all collected by Will, The Dark will be powerless and The Rider defeated. But Will’s powers aren’t used to find them; despite being able to move things with his mind, he only uses his power to clumsily dance a knife on a dinner table. I’m not even sure why he has his supernatural powers, since he can’t hurt The Rider without The Signs. Primarily, they’re tools to underline emotional flare-ups.
Ludwig’s performance is nothing short of bland. His previous experience on direct-to-video animal movies like Air Bud: World Pup and MXP: Most Xtreme Primate inspire little confidence. He does nothing other child actors like Freddy Highmore (August Rush) or Alex Etel (The Water Horse) couldn’t do in their sleep. And what a disappointment this must be for star of HBO’s Deadwood, Ian McShane, who I keep hoping will hit the big screen with some grandiose performance worthy of his reputation, established on that show. An improvement could have been one of McShane’s rants as Deadwood’s Swearengen, perhaps calling The Rider “cocksucker” and dropping the f-bomb every other word. Instead, he’s speaking horribly cliché lines like “I knew you could do it” that sound laughably beneath an actor of his caliber. I suspect he agreed to the part for the hefty payday.
The adaptation is sloppy, surprisingly handled by screenwriter John Hodge, who wrote Shallow Grave and Trainspotting with director Danny Boyle. All of Hodge’s edge was swallowed into nothingness here. Relying on transparent characters and intolerably hokey dialogue, Hodge could have modernized Susan Cooper’s novel without meandering toward that which The Seeker tries so desperately to be: a bigger, better movie than 20th Century Fox was willing to make. Instead, Hodge wrote a movie that was a quick 90 minutes, barely enough time to explain who, what, when, where, why, and how of Cooper’s fantasy mythology.
The big question I should answer is whether or not Susan Cooper’s series is a rip-off or not. While watching I saw similarities to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, even derivative filmic notes to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I imagine Rowling fans will be upset that The Seeker seems to follow the same magic child-becomes-world’s-savior formula. As Cooper’s books were written primarily in the 1970s and Rowling’s in the 1990s and 2000s, surely no one can blame Cooper for this terrible movie’s familiarity to Harry Potter. However, that’s not to say the filmmakers didn’t intend to bank on moviegoers’ recent appreciation for sword and sorcery epics centered on destined-for-greatness children.
Cooper’s adaptation does follow Rowling’s own series of expert book-to-film fantasy, but only filmically speaking. Since Harry Potter’s initial cinematic success, studios have been clamoring to find their own franchise picture. 20th Century Fox has tried and failed a number of times thus far, each attempt bombing at theaters and receiving generally poor reviews; those failures include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Eragon, and now this. Many of Cooper’s book’s elements are underlined, bringing them intentionally closer to Harry Potter or narratives like it. And since there are five books in Cooper’s series, certainly Fox would have liked a sure-thing fantasy franchise as Warner Bros. has with Potter. Doubtful that will happen given the tired, run-of-the-mill standard The Seeker occupies.
I would like to suggest a halt on all big-budget fantasy movies, dripping with special effects and thespian actors, about some young boy who saves the world with his recently discovered powers. What if, for a change, a thirty-something homeless person is endowed with elemental abilities with which to save the world from lobster creatures from beneath the sea? Or perhaps a girl might receive learn all the secrets of the universe, instead of these Gap model-looking boys? Any change from the prototypical material flooding theaters in the last decade would be a welcomed adjustment…