“The Seeker” places the world’s fate where fantasy adventures so often do — in the hands of an American boy who is “chosen,” but must learn to believe in himself. Slick, good-looking, cluttered pic won’t please fans of novelist Susan Cooper’s original “The Dark Is Rising” sequence. But then, they are mostly grown-ups by now, and this very Hollywood-style adaptation of a very English book is aimed squarely at tweens. Release amid fall doldrums, away from competing fantasy pics, could help the starless, low-brand-recognition effort reach decent B.O. numbers, with ancillary biz boosting sequel prospects.
Cooper wrote the series’ official first installment, “Over Sea, Under Stone,” in the mid-’60s. But that was a stand-alone tale, written in a plainer style than the four books that followed, starting with 1973’s “The Dark Is Rising” itself (pic’s title has been changed to “The Seeker”). First of many liberties taken by John Hodge’s screenplay — and most likely to gall purists — is that protag is no longer a mild-mannered English 11-year-old. Now he’s a Yank transplant of 14 who gets crushes on girls, and doesn’t take long to accept he’s special, a la Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter.
Specifically, Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig), whose dad has just relocated the family to an ultra-quaint Brit shire, learns that he is the final warrior in the battle between Light and Dark. This bit of news is sprung on his birthday, amid various strange occurrences including ominous raven flocks and a creepsome interrogation by shopping mall security guards. Accosted by a scary pursuing horseman known as the Rider (Christopher Eccleston), Will is saved by four of the English hamlet’s elder citizens, Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy), Merriman (Ian McShane), Dawson (James Cosmo) and George (Jim Piddock).
They announce they are among the Old Ones, ancient guardians of the Light, and Will must realize his destiny as an Old One, too. His skepticism is soon assuaged by the discovery of telepathic, telekinetic and other powers.
Alas, his coming of age also means the Rider and his confederates in the Dark will try any means to stop Will from acquiring six signs, by which he can prevent global apocalypse or something of the like. To summarize: Dark bad. Light good.
Cooper presented this rather basic good/evil mythos in more low-key, atmospheric form than the film allows, leaving thesps (particularly McShane) having to poker-face their way through lines like, “The future of the human race rests on you!” Cued in the conventional current mode toward escalating, overblown, nearly nonstop action and fantasy f/x, pic ends up bearing little resemblance to the book.Which is not to say it doesn’t work on its own terms, as a colorful juvenile adventure whose cliches and silliness will be acceptable to younger viewers because they’re typical of the genre. “Seeker” would work better overall, however, if its first couple reels took their time building mood, rather than jumping straight into rushed narrative and editing rhythms.
Director David L. Cunningham (of last year’s controversial ABC mini “The Path to 9/11”) does a polished, workmanlike job, assembling a package attractive in its visual elements. David Lee’s production design and Joel Ransom’s lensing are quite handsome, even if the latter goes a bit overboard with distortive lensing, tilty camera angling and slow-mo. CGI and other effects are well handled; Christophe Beck’s score reps a pro retread of familiar orchestral terrain.
Ludwig has a struggle holding the film together, though, as with Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker in the recent “Star Wars” chapters, neither material nor execution makes his thesping task enviable. Other juve turns are OK; vet actors turn in acceptable paycheck-cashing perfs, though letting them demonstrate more humor a la the “Harry Potter” pics wouldn’t have hurt. Romania stands in ably for the English countryside.
Title was presented as “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” on print caught.