Directed by: David L. Cunningham
Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McShane, Frances Conroy, James Cosmo
No, The Seeker has nothing to do with the Who song, nor does it appear on the soundtrack, which is perhaps a pity, since it might have enlivened this low-rent outburst of ersatz Harry Pottering around. The best I can say about the film is that it’s not as bad as I feared it would be: With the combination of ultra-conservative Walden Media and a director closely tied to fundamentalist Christianity, I had thought it would be nothing more than a preachy movie about magic that would have to conclude that its own topic was evil.
The film is, however, not good—and it might well be worse if you’re a fan of the books by Susan Cooper on which it’s loosely based. Judging by the outlines of these books—which I’ve never read—this adaptation can only be called loose. Judging by the outpouring of venom directed at the film’s makers by persons outraged by the changes, it’s more like a travesty. On its own merits, The Seeker is mostly a mediocre time filler designed to hold fantasy fans over till the release of Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass later this year.
The movie stars a relative unknown, Alexander Ludwig, whose credits consist mostly of straight-to-video offerings, a smattering of TV work and a single obscure theatrical film called Eve and the Fire Horse (2005), which contrary to what its title suggests is not specialized porn. There’s nothing especially wrong with his performance here, but he lacks the natural appeal needed to overcome the shortcomings of the screenplay.
Departing from the source material, Ludwig’s character, Will Stanton, and his family are Americans transplanted to a small town in England. Worse, they’re an American movie family à la Spielberg, meaning they’re sort of lovably dysfunctional, affording much room for annoyingly good-natured sibling rivalry that has little to do with the story. The movie opens just as Will is about to turn 14—an event that stirs more than hormones in the lad, since he is the “seeker” of the title. It’s Will’s lot in life to join forces with the “Old Ones” (no relation to anything out of Lovecraft) in their fight to keep the “Dark” (evil) from overtaking the world.
Seems that centuries ago these Old Ones vanquished the Dark, whereupon the forces of Light were divided up into six parts and hidden. I’m not quite sure why this was done except that the idea drives the plot, since these six parts are what the Seeker is seeking when he seeks. But as the film’s subtitle indicates, the Dark is rising, and it happens to be rising in the person of “The Rider” (Christopher Eccleston, 28 Days Later ...). The Rider, too, wants to get his evil mitts on these six parts in order to defeat the forces of Light. Yes, it’s pretty much Harry Potter vs. Voldemort—on a severely hampered expense account.
On the plus side, there’s not only Eccleston in the villain’s seat, but Ian McShane (Scoop) and Frances Conroy (TV’s Six Feet Under) as the brains behind the Old Ones. Eccleston occasionally reaches levels of extreme creepiness—not in his generic Voldemort mode, but in the scenes where he pretends to be a normal human being. McShane and Conroy—the latter looking like a cross between an old hippie and Vincent Price in Tomb of Ligeia (1964)—give the film a degree of gravity and provide it with a sense of humor it otherwise lacks.
Unfortunately, director Cunningham does his level best to sink the entire enterprise with an overdose of fake stylishness. The man never met a weird camera angle he didn’t like, and he shoots dialogue scenes with endless claustrophobic close-ups where everyone seems to be acting in separate movies. The amusement value of the camera angles wears out its welcome very quickly. After the fifth or sixth scene that makes you tilt your head to try to determine just what you’re looking at, it feels less like creativity than desperation. Ultimately, The Seeker is nothing more than a barely passable time killer that you’re unlikely to remember a few hours later. Rated PG for fantasy action and some scary images.