The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
Wow. I'm going to find it hard to write about this film and just how bad it is. Then again I might find the words after all.
There doesn't seem to be a lot right with it that's for sure, and as I drove back home I was racking my brains trying to think of anything that could be considered good, and I did manage, I really did.
There was one thing that showed some glimmer of something that could be close to good, and that's Ian McShane. His performance was natural, warm and at times rather amusing, he definitely had both of the good lines in the film, yes I did mean both.
However I really can't find anything else that vaguely touches on the good. Oh I could stretch out something about the cool effects of the darkness sweeping across the town, country and the world, something that is used in two scenes, but that really is a push and puts the rest of the film into perspective.
The Seeker: The Dark is Rising is the film adaptation of Susan Cooper's novel (Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com) of the same name which tells the story of a boy called Will Stanton who learns that he is one of a band of warriors who fight for the side of light against the side of darkness. As soon as he discovers this his fellow warriors tell him that he is the key to defeating the darkness, a darkness which is rising in a matter of days to consume the world.
Well, that's how the story is supposed to be, but all in all it was a collection of scenes without any character or story progression, a film overpowered by camera work and a distinct lack of scale or tension.
From the opening scene I, and the person I was with, were confused. The scene seems to show the ending of term for an American school, and sits in front of a group of older boys who are poking fun at him. They ask if he was learning any English, and you're suddenly wondering what they are talking about, especially when the bus appears to drop them off in the middle of an old English village.
Now the thing is this isn't done as a reveal, from the first moment that English is mentioned you are confused as to what they mean, and the moment they get off the bus is a complete “what's going on?” moment rather than a “oh, they're in England” moment.
It's not only the location which the film confuses you about, but it is also the relationship between the boys. Although it is said at some point that these are brothers, and a later scene shows you the whole family, there's no real emotional connection made between them, and this means that you can identify that they are family visually, but there's nothing more than that. So when there is conflict set-up between them you don't feel drawn to it, there's no suspense added and it just plays out in front of your eyes as an emotionally dead scene.
Another aspect of the film that hits you from the beginning is the camera work. For a large portion of the first half of the film the camera sweeps in some bizarrely strange ways and from very odd angles. It tries to add tension and suspense into scenes where there seems to be none, it over does scenes and really takes your eye off what is actually happening into what the camera is doing.
There is also a tremendous reliance on pushing the camera into the scene which results in just about everything being filmed close up. Now this isn't quite Bourne territory of camera work, although there is some tremendously bad shaky cam early on that does die away, but the big problem throughout is the reliance on keeping the camera close to the action.
As a result during the bigger scenes everything seems so small and insignificant, as well as often seeming confusing and the moment being lost. Take the scene where Will travels back in time and we see him appear in what could be the middle of a fight in a village – it actually turns out to be a Viking attack on a town, but the visual clues for this are hard to find. There's two or three people fighting about with animal pelts on, women screaming, and one of them pushes a screaming woman onto a mid sized wooden boat, which might be the shape of a longboat, just a lot shorter.
That's about all we get, and it's hard enough to realise that we've gone back in time never mind that there's a Viking raid going on.
This is something that seems to affect all the time travelling portions of the film, you really don't get the scale of what is happening, and more often than not you just feel you've changed seasons rather than headed back through time.
The story feels really badly handled. There's no real progression to it or the characters other than steps such as “he's got powers”, “he's saved the world” type of statement scenes, but there's no depth, no emotional involvement.
Characters aren't developed at all, they just are, and the closest we come to this is the relationship with the father where a slow plot reveal (something that is lacking from this film) tells us he's being doing a thesis that might have some bearing on what's going on.
It doesn't, and the plot line is just dropped inexplicably, shown to really mean something and then ripped from the film. I honestly can't even remember how the scene with father and son talking about it ended, I was that disengaged at that point.
The best example of this lack of progression is the fact that Will is told he has powers. He's simply told he has them after we see him push people with tremendous force twice. When he's told they tell him he has great strength, power of light and fire, and we move on. Later he hears a voice reminding him of his powers, both of which he uses in quick succession, fire and light.
Later he sends some fire up into the air and blows up a car when he's feeling slightly annoyed and frustrated with life, and that's it. That's all we see of the powers. He's told he has them, he uses them in a scene, and that's it, never needs them again, there's not even any training or coming to terms with them. Why bother?
Another big plot device that feels like a why bother moment is the whole collection of the signs. You see Will is a seeker and he must seek the hidden signs. Signs that just happen to be hidden pretty damn easily, I know a couple he has to go through time to find, but since we really don't feel like we've moved in time it's not much of a journey, most of them seem to be right in his village, some right under the noses of the warriors.
So he is collecting these signs which glow when he has them. The big question is so what? He puts them on a belt and then that's it until the final battle which we can only deduce helps him find his big closing power. Well, I say big, it's really a let down and there's no battle as such.
Another aspect of the story which was gone as soon as it came and hardly felt like anything important was the traitor scene. I can't tell you too much on it, suffice to say it is equally as badly handled. It is also so clear from the outset who are the two traitors because a common failing of the film is the continual emphasis of key points, things to remember for later on in the film, and really it only ever seems to be only a scene or two away and so doesn't divert your attention that much.
As for the acting, well there are a fair few actors in it, but the thing is everything seems to be a bit part, nothing seems to be a lead. The closest we have are Ian McShane and Christopher Eccleston both of whom are utterly wasted in the film, well to be fair everybody is and Alexander Ludwig does do an okay job.
McShane is the clear leader though, his natural charm and the two semi-amusing lines he has are the only two strong moments of the film for any of the characters, although Eccleston's repeated cool slow motion moments do look good.
His time does try and come at the end of the film where he lays siege to a house, however the terrors he unleashes on the house are poorly down, don't seem half as dangerous on screen, and come to nothing. It's hear that you are really questioning just why Will isn't using any of his powers.
Overall I would say that this was a film that had potential which has been totally ruined. The plot leaps around, is nonsensical, without character progression and the direction really cramps the film.