Instead of swirly-shaped magical signs, the Seeker should go looking for a better plot and adequate special effects.
“The Seeker: The Dark is Rising” is Walden Media’s latest, and by far most feeble, stab at the “fantasy for kids” genre (after “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “A Bridge to Terabithia”). David Cunningham’s latest movie faithfully continues the tradition of trying to cash in on a critically acclaimed novel — in this case Susan Cooper’s — only to butcher it mercilessly in the process. Fans of the book, beware: the only touching moment in this film occurs about ten minutes in, once you realize the tragic implications of spending ten bucks so unwisely.
In case you didn’t read the title, the Dark is, at the moment, rising (literally, since it’s mostly represented by grayish smoke). The Seeker (Alexander Ludwig), also known as Will Stanton, must stop Evil’s ascent by finding six randomly scattered (through space and time) signs that only he can see. There is only one major problem: the Chosen One is fourteen and at the height of puberty-driven awkwardness. Fortunately, he has a team of equally able-bodied warriors — called “The Old Ones” for reasons that become immediately apparent once you see them — to guide and protect him.
You don’t need to be a seeker to spot out the movie’s numerous issues. First of all, “Seeker” fails as a fantasy film. The special effects are not only insufficient but also utterly lame. The Dark’s main weapons include a flock of ravens (which looked more menacing in “The Birds,” sorry), the aforementioned smoke of unclear origin, and, when all else fails, water and ice. Its army consists of loud mouth bad-guy-in-chief called The Rider (Christopher Eccleston), his white horse and a rather incompetent witch. Recalling the state of the Light’s army (Old Ones + Confused Teenage One), the battle lineup doesn’t exactly suggest epic confrontations. Indeed, the climactic clash between the Rider and the Seeker is as spectacular as a scene of Harry and Ron playing croquet in the backyard.
It’s no wonder little Will never learns to fight, since he must barely lift a finger to retrieve the signs, and what few superpowers he possesses, he keeps forgetting to use. In the end, his “difficult mission” boils down to time-traveling, trading a watch, punching his big brother in the face and getting his puny ass saved by the Old Ones or the occasional helpful skeleton. Thus, clearly lacking in action potential and true fantasy flamboyance, the movie finds itself forced to pull tricks in order to at least appear dynamic and magical. As a result, chase sequences are sometimes abruptly and inexplicably interrupted by slow motion, while otherwise completely ordinary shots are depicted from baffling camera angles. Instead of lending the much-needed mysticism to “The Seeker,” though, these attempts at eerie cinematography only succeed at suggesting that even the cameramen were bored out of their wits.
And for good reason, given Will’s absolute lack of character development. The film tries to suggest that Will undergoes an awe-inspiring transformation from complete loser to glorious warrior, but he remains the former. Granted, it’s difficult to show growth in a character who doesn’t have much depth to begin with, but it would be helpful to see him pass through visible stages on his way up.
If there’s anything worth it about “The Seeker,” it must be the scenery. The movie is set in winter-time England, which ensures a delightfully misty, foggy and, at times, creepy countryside that perfectly reflects the atmosphere of a quietly approaching, yet inevitable doom. The Stantons’ village, along with the mansion of the Old Ones and the surrounding woods, possesses an uncanny air suggestive of buried secrets and hidden dangers. As far as mood goes, the choice of setting is dead-on, and the pretty pictures might even temporarily distract from the poor plot development.
The Seeker might need six signs, but there is only one this film makes you long for: “Exit.”