Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Dark is Rising

Last night, I finally got around to seeing The Seeker, a film adaptation of Susan Cooper's young adult fantasy novel, The Dark is Rising. I am a longtime Cooper fan, and highly recommend the books. The Dark is Rising is part of a series that also includes Over Sea and Under Stone, Greenwitch, The Grey King and Silver on the Tree, based on British folklore and Arthurian legends.

The Seeker is not bad at all. I was worried when I learned the protagonist was now American rather than English, but the movie itself is set in England, and I think the change was made simply to accomodate the star's own accent. I enjoyed it a lot, and can see why it was made now. I imagine that this might be an appealing storyline for Harry Potter fans, and hopefully it got some of them interested in the books.

Some Pros:

1. It looks beautiful. The English countryside is used to good effect. The film is visually very lovely.

2. Since much of the plot revolves around Will, the Seeker, being the seventh son of a seventh son, he has a large and rather interesting family.

3. The Old Ones, the semi-immortal Druidic order Will was born into, are hilarious as a series of odd older English village folk.

4. In the original series, Will's powers manifest when he turns eleven, in the movie this has been rolled forward to fourteen. I think this make the character's behavior and abilities seem far more realistic.

A few quibbles:

1. OK, OK, I get it. He's going through puberty. The telekinetically dancing butter knife between two salt shakers was still a bit over the top, symbolically speaking.

2. The addition of a seductive older girl who's in league with the Dark Rider adds nothing (except to point out the puberty bit), and is so cliched it makes your teeth hurt. It should be illegal for a sinister fantasy bad guy to have a minion with no back story who he addresses contemptuously as 'Witch!'. It should also be illegal for the temptation he offers this minion to be eternal youth--and of course, when she fails to seduce Will, and take the movie's magical McGuffin from him, she is immediately punished by becoming old, and claw-y and un-hot. There is no excuse for this nonsense.

3. The addition of a complex back-story about the mysterious disappearance of a twin brother adds nothing. In the book, the child simply died young, which complicates the plot much less, and adds a touch of real tragedy.

4. Similarly, after one of the Old Ones has apparently died, to his friend's obvious deep sorrow, and their leader solemnly tells Will 'our enemy is merciless', he just sort of pops up again after the final battle. Great. The stakes are so incredibly high, that...no one can actually die fighting for them? Undercuts a good plot point.

Other than that, very good, and extremely creepy in a feel-good, happily ever after way.

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