A joke among the journalists covering The Dark Is Rising set visit in Bucharest over the last couple of days was that the movie has only changed three things from the Newberry-winning novel on which it’s based: they’ve changed the lead kid’s nationality from English to American, they’ve changed the lead kid’s age from 11 to 14, and they’ve changed everything that happens in the story.

This, by the way, is not a bad thing. While flying to Romania I read The Dark Is Rising, which happens to be the second (but best known) book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, and found it quite a slog. Susan Cooper’s book is a dramatic nightmare in that it features the most passive protagonist since Terry Schiavo, endless prophesizing of events that take place pages and sometimes paragraphs later, and lots and lots of internal action and almost nothing external. Reading the book I didn’t wonder how on Earth Fox-Walden would make a movie out of it, but rather how they’d ever make an interesting movie out of it.

The answer seems to be to keep the concepts and ideas from Cooper’s novel and throw much else out, creating a story that feels contemporary and a lead who feels real (Cooper’s book was published in the early 70s but the lead kid comes across like he’s from a hundred years earlier). And creating more opportunities for action and thrills. Director David Cunningham showed us a quick reel of footage from the movie, and there wasn’t a moment that I could recognize from The Dark Is Rising the book… but there was a ton of moments that looked like they could sell an audience on an exciting fantasy movie.

Some of the details remain the same – Will Stanton (now an American living in England) discovers that he’s the last of the Old Ones, a magical and immortal group who serve the Light, and who are engaged in eternal battle with the Dark. In this story, the main manifestation of the Dark is The Rider, an evil horseman (and then some, apparently) played by Christopher Eccleston. On the side of the Light is Merriman, played by Ian McShane, the Obi Wan figure to Will, and Miss Greythorne, a powerful Old One who also happens to wield a sword cane. Then there’s The Walker, a once mortal man cursed to walk the Earth for centuries because he once betrayed the Light. Will is tasked to recover six ancient Signs, within which lurks the power of the Light, the only thing that can turn back the Dark tide that threatens to engulf the world. But within those broad story strokes are major changes, including much more action than Cooper ever imagined, changed relationships and motivations, including the addition of a love interest for The Walker (who is much younger in the movie) and a new reason for him to betray the Light, a very different take on Merriman (in the books he’s essentially Merlin; screenwriter John Hodge told me they dropped all the Arthurian stuff from the film), new abilities for The Rider, and plenty of adventure elements – the impression that I got from what we saw was Indiana Jones meets Harry Potter.

Over the next couple of days I’ll be bringing you my travelogue of Bucharest (summary: don’t go there) and the details of the set visit, which ranks among my favorite ever in terms of what we saw and how impressive the sets are. In the meantime, here are pictures from The Dark Is Rising, and pencil October 5th onto your calendars now – The Dark Is Rising is shaping up to be a very interesting film.