Not Worth Seeking. At All.
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising / Phillip Stephens
Film Reviews | October 7, 2007 | Comments ()
Things have been pretty damn good for children’s literature since this Potter fellow started selling billions of books; children’s fantasy, in particular, has undergone a second renaissance since the floodgates reopened. And with the success of The Lord of the Rings disproving both the public’s and critics’ assumptions that fantasy epics cannot, by definition, be mainstream or particularly good (let’s just ignore Dan and Dustin right now), the potential to remake the classics has never been higher — this year alone will see His Dark Materials, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and this week’s The Dark Is Rising.
Susan Cooper’s sequence is, admittedly, next to impossible to adapt faithfully — it’s slow, obtuse, profound, and an Anglophile’s wet dream; each of Cooper’s five books delves into a different guise of British mythology and folklore (from English, Cornish, and Welsh angles). Ultimately, the series deserves treatment by a long BBC miniseries. What it doesn’t deserve is the complete bastardization of The Seeker, a stupid, hollow adventure romp that shares only the name of Cooper’s books and was made by a cast and crew who didn’t give two shits about their source material.
Where to begin? First, screenwriter John Hodge’s decision to make core protagonist Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig, actually a Canadian) and his family American expatriates in a modern setting is a pointless, arbitrary, and patently commercial change. Hodge claims that changing the character’s nationality was meant to bolster aspects of his alienation, which is horseshit, frankly, since it never occurred to anyone to make him a nationality other than American in this regard. But besides this, there isn’t really any inherent Englishness to the story anyway; Hodge also dumped the elements of folklore, and what we’re left with isn’t much.
Will is the youngest son of the Stanton family, who’ve recently relocated from the States because Pater (John Hickey) got a job as a physics professor in a merry English hamlet (shot in Romania, ha). Will’s going through the rigmarole of adolescent angst: Nobody pays attention to him (which, if you ask me, is mostly because he’s boring), nobody remembers his birthday, and no girl will give him the time of day. Then a local group of codgers led by Merriman Lyon (that formidable cocksucker Ian McShane) tell Will he’s actually a member of a group of immortals destined to defend the forces of Dark from ushering in the apocalypse, so Will had better get his ass in gear and seek out some signs that will prevent the evil Rider (Christopher Eccleston) from going all Book of Revelation. With Cooper’s mythological elements, both involving local folklore and Arthurian legend, excised from the plot, the story’s nothing but a bland Good vs. Evil setup revolving around a few boring set pieces.
And the writing is the least of The Seeker’s problems. Ludwig turns in a performance of emotional range comparable to Jake Lloyd’s cancerous turn as Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, but no actor really has anything to work with that can really achieve an approximation of depth when Hodge’s story is so lifeless and David Cunningham’s direction and editing are so bad that it’s hard to imagine even the most expectation-less kid getting worked up about it. Fans of Cooper’s books are going to be livid, but even casual moviegoers will balk at having spent their money on this dreck.
Parent: Honey, did you like the movie?
Kid: No, it sucked a turgid cock.
Parent: Oh, well, I heard that it was based on some cool books. Why don’t we go to the public library and see if we can find them?
Kid: That would be the tits.
And that’s the best possible exchange we can hope for — that The Seeker’s lack of imagination won’t crush anyone else’s, because it can be found elsewhere….
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.