To say that The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising is worse than the book on which it is based is faint praise, since I found the book to be a barely readable bore. The movie’s script, by the guy behind Trainspotting, believe it or not, at least has the kindness to include incidents; ie, stuff happens in the movie. And to be fair, the stuff that happens might have seemed really cool on the page – I am sure that when John Hodge wrote that the main kid and his sister would teleport back in time into the middle of a Viking battle, he imagined it to be more than handful of guys in rental costumes delivering painfully fake blows.
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising does have some things going for it, conceptually. It’s the first fantasy film in a while to really use the modern world; Harry Potter’s home life is so Dickensian that it feels just as non-modern as his time at Hogwarts, but the kid in The Seeker is surrounded by gadgets and devices and things. None of this means anything at all, of course, but I imagine that at one point in the development of the film it did.
And with that, I’m out of nice things to say about The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising. An annoying piece of claptrap, the film is among the worst directed this year: David L Cunningham never saw a scene that he didn’t think could be improved by Dutch angles or a sudden switch to slo-mo or some other bit of inane camera trickery. By the third act I was begging for him to just set the camera down and let me SEE something… although that probably would have been a headache in and of itself. Maybe it’s best that Cunningham kept all the inanity away from my sensitive eyes.
One credit the film gets is having a good cast – Ian McShane, Francis Conroy and Christopher Eccleston all play immortals on various sides of The Light and The Dark – but then there’s the debit of woefully wasting them. McShane seems to almost be able to make something of his mentor character, while Conroy has just about literally nothing to do. Eccleston, meanwhile, plays the evil The Rider, who comes across as slightly more menacing than a mild case of pink eye. One time he kicks the main kid, so that’s something – but it wasexhilarating for the audience, not scary.
It was exhilarating because the lead kid is played by Alexander Ludwig, the sort of actor who over-mugs in a supermarket commercial. The kid’s awful, and you think that he’s only in acting because his overbearing mother thinks that her child is too cute not to share with the world. He’s also not cute, by the way – his eyes are weird looking and his nose is shaped oddly. He’s unpleasant in every aspect. Also, he looks nothing like the rest of his film family; Cunningham managed to cast a mother, father and five other children who look plausibly like they’re related, and then plunked this kid into the middle of it. I think it’s supposed to reinforce the kid’s ‘otherness,’ but it just makes you wonder what the milk man looks like.
Stuff happens, swords get drawn in dramatic slow motion but never used, proclamations are made, powers are hinted at, blah blah blah, until the end when there’s a finale that stretches all credibility and reason. By the time the closing credits rolled, I was laughing gently to myself. Which beats weeping, which I think a couple of the other critics were doing.
I could see this movie appealing to a certain kind of indiscriminate 9 year old; I fear I might have been that kind of a kid where any movie with some magic or a sword would float my boat. But everyone else needs to stay away from this shambling hunk of junk – at just over an hour and a half this movie feels like it’s giving The Return of the King a run for its length, believe it or not. I sat through the movie mostly because I had visited the amazing sets in Romania earlier this year (and how’s this for weird: the sets that looked incredible and realistic in person looked like fakey stages on screen. That’s all cinematographer Joel Ransom, whose experience lies mostly in television shooting; for whatever reason he has done a hack job on this movie’s gorgeous sets, which should be a criminal offense.