If you know the name Susan Cooper, or the title of her Newbery prize-winning novel "The Dark is Rising", then prepare for concentrated textual pain here. It's the kind of pain that a fan feels when something dear to them is severely mangled.
Ever since my first reading of Cooper's fantasy tale of Will Stanton, the 11-year old boy with mythical powers, I always felt that it would translate to the silver screen flawlessly. The music, the magic, and the pure wispy essence of the dark vs. light tale just screamed fluid adaptation onto celluloid. There's one part in particular where magic floods about a room while the enchanting tune "Greensleeves" flickers in the background through a wind instrument. It's nuanced to such a sumptuous degree that the details stick with me even today. Ahhh, it's all the stuff good stories are meant to have. "The Dark is Rising" is a narrative that can really pack a punch, symbolically and ethereally. Sure, it's a young adult's novel, but in my humblest of opinions it still stands above some of the other magic-infused series out there. I may have read a few more pieces from Cooper's "Sequence" fortnights afterwards, but none of them stuck with me like "The Dark is Rising".
When scanning on a whim online, I stumbled across some info about a film adaptation of Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising". My heart stopped for a moment. A modern day telling that, hopefully, uses Hollywood's modern gravitas to really tell this magical story? I don't get "giddy" very often, but the little kid in me that remembered the story - that remembered the little guy that found a book he liked as a child during a phase of apathy towards reading - blushed with excitement. Then, after months of little to no information, the title changed as the marketing poured in: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. Alright, I can live with the title as a subtext. Usually that means the material is whittled down too much for the benefit of cinematic pacing, but it's still coming!
Shortly after, the trailer started to spread. It featured a very light-hearted, overdone, and overall "childish" tone that silently screamed "no adults allowed". However, Walden's Bridge to Terabithia film seemed to say the same at first glance, and it was quite an enjoyable and heartwarming little adaptation that Disney threw together. Let's not completely dismiss this, I thought. I mean, c'mon, this is Susan Cooper's story we're talking about here. It can't be that bad.
Unfortunately, it can. The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is a mound of misaligned, uninspired rubbish void of the novel's magic or, quite frankly, any real magic at all. It's not because the performances are bad or even that the special effects are poorly done, which they aren't; it's just that the film itself is excruciatingly bland for a tale about how the effervescent struggle between Light and Dark becomes ensnared in the hands of an unaware youngster. 90 minutes of CG effects loosely roped together by the skinned remnants of a fantastic tale doesn't nearly cut the mustard in the cinema's fantasy world governed by the likes of Potter and Narnia.
The Seeker tells the story of Will Stanton, a teenage American boy who has moved to England with his family for his father's job as a physics professor. Walking down a school hallway with iPod in ear and fellow students sending cellphone text messages left and right at the beginning of Christmas break, the saturated level of technology clearly falls into focus during director David L. Cunningham's adaptation. It's not a bad mechanic to set up for the rustic world that young William would soon seep into.
Our young protagonist begins to see things through this technological sheen glossed over the world. Spirals in patterns fire into movement for Will's eyes, while the shadows surrounding him also jump to life in not so appealing ways. While his family chalks these "changes" up to adolescence, another interested party right off the street offers Will an address to go to that will explain these curiosities. When Will steps into the house at that address, he recognizes many faces - the faces of people that have been watching him for quite a while, the Old Ones. It's at this time that they tell William about his extraordinary lineage as a young boy invoked with the power to zip through time and thrust the elements at his enemies. He is a seeker, the "seventh son of a seventh son", that must find several relics, called Signs, before the Dark forces claim the earth, one in particular called the Rider (Christopher Eccleston).
What follows is an exercise in utter reliance on the source material's drive to give The Seeker even meager glimmers of energy. The cast looks the part and even acts the part here and there, especially in Eccleston's case as the (Black) Rider. Ian McShane and Alexander Ludwig play Merriman and Will, respectfully, with just enough energy to coast their characters along. However, even with a line-up of solid actors doing their part, the whole shebang feels like a paint-by-numbers youth epic that pales in comparison to any of the modern magic tales that we've come to expect. It becomes a solid string of huffy, unfocused one-liners that merely fill the gaps between lackluster displays of supernatural hoopla. Much of the problem lies in the film's identity crisis, one in which jumps from brusque blurs and cuts through time to expanses without anything more than a spark of chemistry or connection between the characters or the audience. Alternately to the gripped jubilance this story promises, it inertly spirals in place like the stone and wood that Will eyes from afar in search for his Signs.
Instead of a film rife with imagery and compelling majesty that could surface through discussions of mandalas, mysticism, and spirituality, The Seeker almost seems to lazily hypnotize its audience with those same whirling spirals. It simplifies and streamlines the narrative to such uninteresting levels that it becomes a draining suspension of investment that is also void of involving eye candy. Now, that very well could be the Susan Cooper enthusiast in me speaking, but as a fantasy film The Seeker sacrifices majesty for this rudimentary execution that fails to deliver as one of both the shortest, and longest, epics I've encountered. Even when a lot of material gets chopped and mangled from its source, such as in the Harry Potter films, suspending awareness for narrative enjoyment isn't usually difficult for me. Here, Cooper's material is rearranged in lieu of complicated themes to make way for a dizzying array of razzle-dazzle firecrackers without a fuse.
Sporting a melancholy heart and an insipid hunger after The Seeker, I still wait for a proper cinematic telling of Cooper's Newbery-winning yarn.
Fox has now sent over the retail product for The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. It comes as a flipper disc presentation, which holds both widescreen and fullframe presentations on either side, in a standard keepcase with a shiny slipcover atop it.
The Seeker's aspect ratio comes in its proper 2.35:1 here instead of the 1.78:1 image that the initial Fox screener came to us in. Unfortunately, I think I enjoyed the taller framing better than this, because now the wacky editing feels much too claustrophobic. At any rate, the image looks rather competent. Digital noise and grain keeps details from coming out as much as I would've liked, but the wide range of black levels hold their own levels of detail quite well. What looks really solid, though, is the saturation of color in the print. It gets a bit bold here and there, but it feels wholly justified with the kind of film The Seeker is. It's a adequately detailed and colorful transfer that shows off the drastic fluctuations of shading and saturation that the film uses in its visual style.
One tangibly great thing about this DVD is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which boasts a healthy level of multidimensionality and expansiveness. Lots of little sound effects, from the rattling of stepping stone and trickling of water to the musical accompaniment, pour through the speakers in highly resonant fashion. The LFE thumps and rumbles with a lot of the effects, as well. During some dialogue scenes, the track does feel a little top heavy, but overall it's a nice mix. Spanish and French surround tracks are also available, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles
Thankfully, no extras were included in this package. Sure, seeing where the filmmakers got their crazy ideas for their adaptation would've been insightful, but it probably would've personally also bugged me even more to see how they mangled the great narrative. You've got a Scene Selection, and that's it.
Children might find the nifty twist between technology and mystic adventure somewhat interesting, but The Seeker in itself doesn't provide enough magic to lift its audience above a stasis of boredom. Those with children exasperatingly eager to delve into something akin to a Harry Potter film might want to give this a Rent, while fans of Cooper's "The Dark is Rising Sequence" will want to stay far, far away from this soggy towel. Though it's not an atrocious exercise in cinema, The Seeker doesn't offer anything especially noteworthy that would make you want to do anything but Skip It.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site