Many film critics and fans talk about the director. We like to say that something is “the new Martin Scorsese movie” or “Quentin Tarantino’s next picture.” In the case of The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, it’s the production company – not the director – that matters. This is the latest venture from Walden Media, a company owned by billionaire Philip Anschultz. Their mission is to adapt acclaimed children’s books for the big screen. Previous projects include The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terebithia, Holes and the criminally under-rated Hoot. Like those movies, The Seeker intends to be family-friendly entertainment with a message. It’s based on a Newbery Award-winning book by Susan Cooper. All in all, I think you’d agree that it has quite an impressive pedigree.
So how on earth did The Seeker get to be such an irredeemable mess?
Young Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is part of a large expatriate family living in England. His older sibs pick on him, and he can never seem to muster up the courage to approach the female classmate he constantly makes goo-goo eyes at. But then Will finds out that he’s the “Seeker” – an immortal being with magical powers who must stop a shadowy evil figure known as “The Rider” who wants to spread malice across the land. Of course, if you substitute the names “Harry Potter” and “Voldemort” for “Will Stanton” and “The Rider,” you’ve got yourself a rather familiar J.K. Rowling story. In fairness, this movie’s source material came first. That doesn’t stop The Seeker from feeling incredibly stale, though.
What, you may ask, does a seeker do? If you follow fantasy movies, you doubtlessly know that magical items are required by law to be split into pieces and hidden in the far corners of time and space. Under the tutelage of Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane), Will needs to travel through time to collect all the pieces. Once this is done, he will be able to defeat the Rider and bring…
…Huh? What? Oh sorry, I dozed off there for a moment. Probably just a side effect of having seen this exact same thing done about 999,999 other times.
Where to begin in describing the badness that is this movie? I don’t know what’s worse. Is it the completely generic plot that manages to be confusing and simplistic at the same time? Or is it the poor, un-charismatic acting by the youthful cast? Perhaps it is the cheap-o effects (I hesitate to call them “special”) that would have seemed awesome all the way back in 1984. Then again, maybe it’s the “surprise” plot twist that will be immediately visible to anyone with an IQ over 20. Yes, these things are all atrocious, but the choppy editing and the disjointed direction by David L. Cunningham do nothing to improve them, so maybe that’s the worst part.
No, I take that all back. I know exactly what the worst thing is about The Seeker: it’s the complete crappiness of the whole enterprise. It’s impossible to shake the feeling that the filmmakers simply didn’t have the money or resources to tell this story properly, so they cut corners instead. To retrieve the various clues, Will travels back to different time periods. This ought to be the heart of the movie, and it’s not. Because recreating different eras is expensive, The Seeker rushes through these segments. The camera spins to indicate that Will has time-traveled (no effects here!) and then he runs through a threadbare set populated with a scant few extras. He grabs the clue and heads back to present day.
Call me crazy, but watching him go back in time and figure out how to get the clues is the thing that would actually be, you know, interesting! This is where the action should be. This is where he should face danger. This is where he should use his magic skills to defeat those who stand in his way. There ought to be an epic quality to the situation, but the movie presents these adventures as being no more exciting than picking some spare change up off the street.
Lots of questions are left unanswered. Like how Will can blow up cars by screaming but he can’t melt a few icicles dangling from the ceiling. Or how the Rider gets anywhere considering his horse is always bucking back on two legs every time we see it. Or why one rescued character, introduced at the end, never speaks a word when logic dictates that he’d have a lot to say to everybody.
About a year ago, I panned the movie Eragon, calling it a rip-off, a bad story, and a flat out bore. Boy, did the hate mail pour in after that! Turned out my readers had a point: it sounded like I was ragging on the book as much as on the film, which wasn’t my intent. With that in mind, I will state for the record that I have not read Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” series, and I am certain that it is far, far better than this film would lead one to believe. I don’t review books, though; I review movies, and this movie is LAME. The dark may be rising, but the boredom is crushing.
( out of four)
The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is rated PG for fantasy action and some scary images. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
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