Directed by: David L. Cunningham
Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Frances Conroy, Ian McShane
Rated: PG for fantasy action and some scary images.
Parental Notes: This film is safe for just about all kids, though those who are passionate fans of the books may want to skip it.
Susan Cooper’s novels have a quiet but passionate fan base. It’s to be hoped that “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising,” the new film loosely based on one of her most popular stories, will draw more fans to the novels. It shows few other redeeming qualities. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t all that good either; it is a waste of both a talented cast and a novel worthy of a better adaptation.
Young Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig, “The Sandlot 3”) has relocated with his family to England. Will has all the problems that a nearly-14-year-old would have: his five older brothers give him a hard time about everything, his parents don’t understand him, he has a crush on a girl way out of his league. His little sister idolizes him, but she is a lone friend in a large family of less-than-ideal folks.
Will also has an unusual problem: starting on his fourteenth birthday, he begins exhibiting unusual powers. Then family friend and well-to-do town leader Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy, “The Wicker Man”) and her butler Merriman (Ian McShane, “Hot Rod”) inform him that he is the Seeker, the last of a group of immortal warriors and a predestined hero who must find the six Signs and unite them in only five days so that he can battle the Rider (Christopher Eccleston, “Doctor Who”). If Will fails to find all the signs or to use them properly to defeat the Rider, the world as we know it will end and the forces of darkness will reign.
Most of the actors seem to be going through the motions rather than practicing the art and craft of acting. Ludwig does a passable job as a frustrated teen in over his head, but does not quite ring true as a foreordained hero. Conroy and McShane’s considerable talents are just visible through the workmanlike script. Eccleston is properly menacing as the Rider, even when the evil being is disguised as a harmless country doctor, but his heart doesn’t quite seem to be in it (this may be because, as he’s said in interviews, he regards most of the classic fantasy books as children’s stuff).
“The Seeker” has a some very basic goofs. A kitten is rescued midway through the film and makes several appearances leading up to the climactic confrontation, whereupon it disappears entirely. The audience is left to speculate whether it survived the destruction or not. Our hero, who is supposed to be a beacon of the forces of good, destroys thousands of dollars’ worth of property as a way to “express himself,” as Miss Greythorne puts it and never shows signs of guilt. This sort of thing is easy to fix, and the same lack of meticulousness permeates the film.
Any fantasy film worth its salt these days has decent special effects, and “The Seeker” comes through here. There are beautiful images of the Rider spreading darkness, of Will traveling through time, and so on. Unfortunately, director David L. Cunningham (“After…”, “The Path to 9/11”) is overly fond of snazzy camera work, which sometimes makes it difficult to stay engaged in the film enough to enjoy the effects.
Ultimately, “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” is a disappointment. A classic young adults’ novel has been turned into a mediocre film which bears little resemblance to the book whose title it partially bears.