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Dustin Putman

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The Seeker:
The Dark Is Rising
1 Stars
Directed by David L. Cunningham
Cast: Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McShane, Frances Conroy, James Cosmo, Jim Piddock, Amelia Warner, John Benjamin Hickey, Wendy Crewson, Gregory Smith, Emma Lockhart, Drew Tyler Bell, Edmund Entin, Gary Entin.
2007 – 94 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for action and some scary images).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 6, 2007.
Following in the cinematic footsteps of such auspicious flights of fantasy as the ongoing "Harry Potter" series and 2005's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the lumberingly-titled "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising" simply comes off as inconsequential and chintzy. Clearly made on a limited budget, the film is passable when it sticks to portraying 14-year-old Will Stanton's (Alexander Ludwig) familial issues and real-world domesticity, but nosedives whenever the hokey special effects and claptrap of a story take over.

Having not read the book it is based upon—"The Dark Is Rising" by Susan Cooper—this big-screen adaptation cannot be fairly compared to its source material except to wager that a fair amount of its nuance and depth probably were sacrificed. Indeed, the screenplay by John Hodge (2000's "The Beach") is pretty dreadful, the dialogue liberally covered in a layer of cheesiness and the plot overly reliant on coincidences and paper-thin "Fantasy for Dummies" supporting characters. The sorry action set-pieces are no help, the few of them that there are only proving to be afterthoughts lacking in scope and elegance. With the camera often jammed too close to the subject, perhaps as a way of shielding the underwhelming production values, the film is claustrophobic at the precise times when it should be building up a sense of grandeur.

Recently relocated from America to England, Will Stanton is an average teen struggling to carve out a space for himself in his large family of six siblings and two parents. On his fourteenth birthday, he begins noticing changes about himself—i.e. an increase in physical strength; hallucinations reminiscent of a bad acid trip; the ability to travel back in time (but not space)—and is promptly informed by Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy) that he is the final chosen one in a line of warriors dedicated to fighting the forces of darkness. With the evil Rider (Christopher Eccleston) preparing an end of days, Will has just five days to locate six Signs before the world's light is indefinitely replaced by darkness and death.

Blandly directed by David L. Cunningham, "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising" resembles 2006's "Eragon" in quality, if not in story. Both pictures are messy inferior pastiches of better fantasy-laden efforts, and both are tacky and cornball enough to feel right at home in the 1980s. In the twenty-first century, however, they are stylistically and creatively unsophisticated and lackluster. A tale of a young boy on a quest to retrieve a series of so-called "Signs" is well and good, but nothing of interest is done with it. Will too easily tracks most of them down and, without explanation, all happen to be hidden within a radius of what must be less than a mile. This was the one area when some excitement might have been gleaned from the material, but that possibility is rendered moot as Will practically stumbles onto the Signs rather than fights for them. Pitted against Will is the villainous Rider, and he is as forgettable as they come, showing up long enough to prance around on his horse and snarl.

For the role of unlikely hero Will Stanton, Alexander Ludwig has been miscast. Ludwig gives it his all, bless him, but whatever his acting abilities are they are poorly showcased here. The climactic speech he gives is particularly uncomfortable to watch because the writing and acting are so stilted. As elder guides Merriman Lyon and Miss Greythorne, Ian McShane (2007's "Hot Rod") barely registers, while Frances Conroy (2006's "The Wicker Man") is notable only for drifting through the film looking like a lesbian straight out of a 1930s-era speakeasy. And as The Rider, Christopher Eccleston (2003's "28 Days Later") does the bare minimum required to still be labeled as acceptable.

When the dynamic between Will and his family members is centered on, "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising" isn't half-bad. It is nice to see siblings on film, for example, who act like siblings; they are far from angels, but it is clear that there is real love between them. Likewise, Will's relationship with his workaholic father (John Benjamin Hickey) hits a solid note or two. The remainder of "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising" is a dreary, frequently nonsensical ordeal—expendable fodder that has none of the demographic-defying relevance or prestige required to please viewers beyond about Will's age. Even then, there will probably be few takers.
© 2007 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman