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Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising

My perfect hubby asked me what I was going to see when I headed out the door on Friday for my usual weekly pilgrimage to the Essex Cinemas. “Some crappy British movie” was all I told him, and, truly, that was about all I could gather from having seen the trailer for The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. It looked like a real stinker. There was absolutely no buzz on this film anywhere, so the movie stood alone on the basis of its trailer, which did little to sell the movie as any more than a cheesy knock-off of Harry Potter. The preview dwelt on shots of a young British youth looking amazed as the elders around him, in some dark and dank dwelling, encouraged him with words that indicated that he had magical powers and could command the light and the fire; just then we cut to a shot of the boy raising his hand and the room around him burst into flame. Oh Mary, I thought! I don’t want to have to sit through a whole two hours of this moldy fruitcake.

Apparently most of the Champlain Valley agreed with me, at least on Friday afternoon. I was the only one in the theater, so I got a private screening. Maybe it is just as well because when it was over I left with a great sense of shame for pre-judging the film the way I did. This is a terrific movie, a real adventure, full of scares and silly mumbo-jumbo that is different enough from that of Harry and his friends to make you forget all about the obvious comparisons within five minutes or so after the film begins.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is based on one of a series of five children’s novels written in the 1970s by British author Susan Cooper, who has since gone on to write for television and the movies. Perhaps it is thanks to Harry Potter that The Seeker: The Dark is Rising was resurrected from obscurity, but it stands by itself as a film. That said, I have read that Cooper herself absolutely hates the film, and, so too, do many of those who are dedicated to the books themselves. Apparently severe changes to the book have been made and much of what endeared the series to its devotees has been excised or simply rewritten and is now much different. Well, I’ve not read any of the books, so I can only go by what I saw on the screen and I had a great time with this version of The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, but I want to let readers of the original books to beware. Don’t expect to see a faithful adaptation.

The movie begins with an average day for 13-year-old Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig; The Sandlot 3), an American kid living in rural England with his huge family because their father is teaching physics at a nearby university. As the youngest of six brothers he is often run over, pushed around, and generally shunted aside (but lovingly) ,leaving him with only younger sister Gwen (Emma Lockhart; Canvas) as an understanding ally.

In due time Will begins to notice odd occurrences around him ~ a menacing gathering of dozens of ravens taking post across the road from where he is waits for the school bus is one thing, but then when the wrapping on a gift necklace he purchases for Gwen seems to swirl and move on its own, well, he really does start to wonder just what is up. And that is before two bullying security guards at the local mall nab him on a phony charge of shoplifting and then drag him down a long dark hall to an interrogation room where they start demanding he give them “the signs”.

This resulted in a “Holy-Cow-I’m-glad-nobody-was-in-the-theater-because-this-old-gal-jumped-right-out-of-her-seat” moment that I won’t spoil for you, but I can tell you, it is a rare moment when I am surprised or spooked by anything in a movie anymore. So much is trite and derivative in the formula of fantasy and horror films that I can usually see plot points coming from three scenes away, but my eyes were opened wide after Will’s trip to the mall. Even more so when he becomes the focus of conversation of dowager Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy; tv’s “Six Feet Under”) and Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane; Hot Rod), both of whom seem to be up to something sneaky enough to have Chris Hansen of “Dateline’s ‘To Catch a Predator’” wondering why they are just so enamored of this young man.

Naturally, there are secrets to be unveiled, and each one is revealed only to lead to another, bigger, or at least more emotionally devastating, truth. Will does, indeed, find he has remarkable magical powers, but they don’t come without a huge responsibility. He learns that whether he likes it or not he is the one who is destined as a result of a fight from a thousand years ago to do battle in this time against Darkness, represented by The Rider (Christopher Eccleston; formerly tv’s “Dr. Who”). The Old Ones, as Merriman, Greythorne and a few others in their group call themselves, are there to coach and encourage Will, but he must decide on his own to do battle with The Rider and also find the six signs, which his predecessor from the Middle Ages hid in plain sight. These signs are physical pieces of a puzzle that when bound together will banish Darkness for another thousand years; if Will fails to gather the signs within the week and or is slain by The Rider, then the world ends. The planet and all of us on it will die. It’s a big responsibility for a kid celebrating his fourteenth birthday this same week and who still can’t get up the nerve to ask a girl out on a date.

There’s an interesting mixture of adolescent upset and parental misunderstanding that provides some laughs in an otherwise fairly serious movie. When Will tries to talk to his father about what is going on Dad (John Benjamin Hickey; Freedom Writers) brushes him off as he is too busy with his work but assures the boy that he should expect to “experience strange feelings and changes when you are about to be fourteen,” blaming the onset of Will’s connection to the mystical world as a hormonal flare-up.

The fact that Will’s challenges take place in our world rather than a place like Hogwart’s School somehow helps make the urgency of Will’s mission seem more real. That’s not to say there are not problems with the movie as a whole. I never did quite understand the significance of the signs and how they held power over Darkness, and occasionally there were accents amongst the children that seem to wander from British to American and back again, confusing me as to which was a Stanton and which was a friend of the family. The house was always full of teenagers. I thought maybe they should have been color-coded or something. I suppose some of the younger actors are actually British and playing American. The only one I recognized was Drew Tyler Bell (tv’s “The Bold and the Beautiful”), although twins Edmund and Gary Entin (both of Color Me Olsen) as Will’s brothers Robin and Paul were delicious to look at as well as wildly testosteronic in nature. Yummy!

I‘d give the old Bronx cheer to those who are pooh-poohing The Seeker: The Dark is Rising and just go. It may not be a faithful recreation of the book, but it is a fast-moving journey towards manhood and world salvation all in one memorable week, packed with doses of time travel, Barbarian fights, floods, blizzards, pagan rituals, exploding cars, burning windmills, and the cutest kitten you’ll ever see in the middle of a village pillaging. Trust me. It might be too much for the younger kids, but anyone over ten is going to have one heck of a great time. I sure did.

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