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The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising
Reviewed by Navin Vembar, © 2007

Format: Movie
By:   John Cunningham (director)
Genre:   Fantasy
Review Date:   October 12, 2007
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

I love The Wind Waker, that underrated, cel-shaded gem of the Zelda series. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but it had its style, its fun gameplay, and kept me entertained for hours. Except at some point late in the game you're forced to go island to island, finding one stupid piece of the Triforce after another. It's a bit of filler thrown into an otherwise great game. I think that David L. Cunningham, the director of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, really loved that part of Wind Waker. And really hated the Dark Is Rising books by Susan Cooper on which this movie is based.

The titular protagonist seeks six signs to ward off the rising dark. Will Stanton, played by Alexander Ludwig (and more on him later) is informed of his birthright by a stable of actors of quality (Ian McShane and Frances Conroy, seeking paychecks) on his fourteenth birthday. He is the seventh son of a seventh son and an Old One, a defender of the Light, and the savior of Viking-era kittens. Really.

He has five days to find the signs or The Rider (Christopher Eccleston) will consume the world in darkness. It's all very dramatic. We know it's dramatic because the camera twirls and the music is loud. Because Ludwig couldn't convey "shocked" or "stunned" unless actually hit with a taser.

The plot could work in able hands. We would get a sense of who Will is, his fears, his loves. The quest to find each of the signs would have a real sense of danger and excitement. After all, many thrillers are built from a string of MacGuffins, that lead our sympathetic main character from one point to the next. However, most thrillers have a sense of the rules they are playing by. And have leads whose face does not demand a punch.

The world presented to us in The Seeker: Fetch Quest is arbitrary and inconsistent. It's unclear how much power anyone has. The Rider can't get near the house owned by Conroy's Miss Greythorne but he can freeze it, flood it, and send his crow minions into it. Will's greatest power is that he can jump through time, but there's no sense of either cost, effort, or consequence to go with it. The idiot, in a brilliant move that even Homer Simpson knew better than to do, trades a digital watch to a Viking warrior for one of the signs. I wanted him to come back to a current-era London that was overrun with superskyscrapers and flying cars. Piloted by dinosaurs.

Instead, the movie just has him find clues that indicate the sign is somewhere in time nearby where Will is. And thirty quick cuts and spinning moves later, easily replicated by throwing the camera down a steep flight of stairs after force-feeding it a fifth of vodka, he hops to the right time.

He completes some minor task during which not one denizen of these past centuries says something like "Hey, how'd you get here? And why are you wearing those weird clothes? And is that girl with you wearing pants? WITCH!" -- with "doth"s and "ye"s and "pantaloons" in the appropriate places, of course. Then, poof, he's back home.

The plot here has some relation to the books by Susan Cooper, specifically The Dark Is Rising, the second in the sequence, but only superficially. The book probably could fall to some of these same complaints, but it manages to rise above them simply by providing interesting characters and a real sense of wonder and imagination.

Here, we're stuck with Will and his family who seem just as capable of killing each other as caring for each other. Seriously. After Will discovers his powers of telepathy, he throws a knife at one of his brothers and knocks another two into walls and off of stairs. And all those great indie flicks about middle-class repression and dysfunction could learn a thing or two from a movie which has a whole family of seven siblings never mention to the youngest that, oh yeah, he had a brother that was kidnapped.

Further, the writers felt they had to involve all of the family in random, tenuous ways that make almost no sense. Especially bad was shoehorning the father into the plot by making him a physicist who has studied "Light and Dark". As his thesis. His Ph.D. thesis. Supposedly completed at a university.

(As an aside: can anyone think of any reason why, despite the fact the movie is set outside of London, the Stantons are suddenly no longer British? The most plausible one is, of course, that the studio thinks that Americans are so dumb and self-centered that they couldn't possibly empathize with someone who adds unnecessary "u"s to words. I was severely insulted.)

And, as I've alluded, Alexander Ludwig sucks. There was not a moment in which I did not want him to lose this battle, even if it did mean that CGI crows would eventually eat everyone's eyes. Even during his triumph, he came across as smirking, smarmy and totally unlikable. He fits in exactly one Hollywood role: the kid who beats up our protagonist at the beginning of the film and then gets his humiliating comeuppance -- preferably something involving him being covered in mud -- in the final shot after our hero gains his confidence during his long journey of self-discovery.

The rest of the actors do as well as they can with what they are given, especially considering the floor appears to be tilted at 20 degrees at all times (also known as the Battlefield: Earth Camera Syndrome).

I am left only with questions, but I'll leave you with the non-existential ones: Why do none of the Stantons comment on the weirdness that seems to surround Will, even after a few of them are taken through time? How do you file an insurance claim for a windmill that is blown up by a pyrokinetic kid (our hero!) during a whiny temper tantrum? What idiot thinks that repeating a pattern six times makes something a fractal? Can roosters really be preserved for more than 300 years?

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