Fans of Susan Cooper’s 1974 Newbery Honor Book will be hard-pressed to find similarities between The Dark Is Rising and the movie based on it, confusingly called The Seeker. The basic premise remains intact: When Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) reaches a certain age, here 14, the typical attendant changes are compounded by transformations of a more fantastic type—telepathy, fire-starting and stepping through time. Turns out young Will is the last in a line of Old Ones and, with help from others of his kind (Ian McShane, Frances Conroy), must gather six signs in order to restore the power of the Light and beat back the Darkness, lead by the Rider (Christopher Eccleston).
Significant alterations to the story by screenwriter John Hodge (best-known for his work with Danny Boyle), however—starting with the main character being an American transplant to England—demonstrate a desire to appeal to contemporary stateside audiences while acknowledging that any fantasy children’s story worth its salt must be set in England (see the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia series). At just 99 minutes, the setup is necessarily so simplified that McShane, who dazzled on HBO’s Deadwood with loquacious, profanity-laden dialogue, is reduced to inane repetition: “Find the sign!” he cries over and over. “Use your powers!” Which is unfortunate, as The Seeker starts out promisingly with a natural, boy-next-door lead in Ludwig and an active camera that establishes a swift pace.
The adaptation’s addition with the most potential is the introduction of Will’s father (a jeweler in the book) as a physicist who has spent a lifetime studying light and dark. After some research on the Internet—this juxtaposition of the ultramodern (iPods, malls) with the ancient is also compelling—Will approaches him with inquiries about light and dark fighting for the same space, whether darkness is a thing and, if so, could it hurt someone. “When I was little, you never told me not to be afraid of the dark,” he says. Unfortunately, that powerfully telling statement and the idea it represents are sidelined in favor of episodic set pieces with disorienting action, culminating in a face-off that defies logic in its resolution. —
New fantasy franchise undermined by shortcut filmmaking
Distributor: Fox Walden
Cast: Ian McShane, Christopher Eccelston, Frances Conroy, Gregory Smith, Jonathan Jackson, Alexander Ludwig and Amelia Warner
Director: David L. Cunningham
Screenwriter: John Hodge
Producer: Marc Platt
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Rating: PG for fantasy action and some scary images
Running time: 99 min.
Release date: October 5, 2007