The Dark Is Rising
- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by David Medsker
t’s tempting for movie critics to unfurl the claws on a movie like “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” – indeed, I’m betting a good percentage of my colleagues will do just that – but there really are times when the people who rate a movie’s artistic worth have to take into account that certain movies are simply not made with them in mind. This is not to say that people who make movies targeted at children or teenagers have carte blanche to dumb things down to a level that would insult, say, my six-month-old son. Rather, what it means is that movie critics would be wise to fondly acknowledge the movies that made them love going to the movies in the first place, no matter how respectable they may or may not be. Ask Bill Clark of Fromthebalcony.com what his favorite movie is. He’ll smile from ear to ear and say, without a trace of irony, “Commando.”
And that’s my point. We all develop better taste as we see more movies, and so will the kids that love “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising.” Is it guilty of coming late to the fantasy party? Absolutely, but it makes a favorable impression just the same, which is why I’m cutting it some slack. The kids could be seeing far, far worse things than this.
Alexander Ludwig stars as Will Stanton, an awkward American teen whose father has taken a job in England and moved the entire family with him. As he’s buying a Christmas present for his little sister Gwen (Emma Lockhart), he is accosted by two guards who pester him for “signs.” Will has no idea what they mean, and just barely escapes their capture with his life. Knowing no one will believe what had just happened, he keeps mum and sulks around the Christmas party later that day, only to learn that family friends Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) and Lady Greythorne (Frances Conroy) are Old Ones, protectors of The Light who believe Will is the savior of, well, mankind. Unfortunately, this information comes only after meeting The Rider (Christopher Eccleston), a powerful servant of the Dark that plans on using these signs to enslave the world in darkness forever.
Fans of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” series will surely flip out when they discover that the events spring into motion on Will’s fourteenth birthday. In the books, you see, this happened on Will’s eleventh birthday, but if the filmmakers stuck with that detail, they’d be accused of stealing from the “Harry Potter” books, despite the fact that the “Dark Is Rising” series predates “Potter” by nearly 30 years. But such is the life of living in the shadow of Harry: even if you came first, you will invariably be compared to The Boy Who Lived.
And rightly so, to be honest. Let’s not mince words here: the sole purpose of the film adaptation of “The Seeker,” much like “Eragon,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Bridge to Terabithia” before it, is to lap up the sloppy seconds of Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins. That epic shot of a lone horseman riding the luscious countryside, leaving a trail of death in his wake, was not a coincidence. Director David L. Cunningham knows full well that he’s living in a “Harry Potter”/”Lord of the Rings” world, and he frames the action accordingly. The problem is that a lot of it comes off like Michael Bay with a severe case of vertigo. Do some of the action shots really need to be upside-down? Not really, but to Cunningham’s credit, that actually helps the movie stand out over the lesser Potter wannabes (ahem, “Eragon”). It may be over stylized, yes, but at least it has style.
It’s tough to say whether “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” will find an audience in a crowded fantasy market (another fantasy movie, “The Golden Compass,” comes out later this year), especially after the wonderful “Stardust” crashed and burned two months ago. And that would be a shame, really. No, the movie is not great, but it’s reasonably intelligent, and its success could mark the end of brainless kiddie drivel like “Zoom.” Now there’s a cause a movie critic could get behind.