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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising

Illustration for article titled The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising

Traditionally in children's literature, something has to be done to take the adults out of the story, because if they aren't helpless, co-opted, ignorant, or just plain absent, they'd presumably deal with any emerging crises themselves, leaving little room for kid heroics. The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, the none-too-faithful film version of Susan Cooper's Newbery award-winning children's classic, somehow misses this crucial dynamic, and leaves its adult cast standing around stiffly with nothing to do for 90 minutes but spout silly exposition and try to look noble. It's just one sign of a film with serious conceptual and pacing problems, one that doesn't really know what to do with its plot, characters, or source material.

After an overlong introduction full of portentous storms and flocks of threatening rooks, a cadre of "Old Ones," including Deadwood's Ian McShane and Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy, inform budding teenager Alexander Ludwig that he's a typical fantasy chosen-one type called the Sign-Seeker. For completely unexplained reasons, The Dark (represented by black-clad baddie Christopher Eccleston) is getting stronger, and will destroy the world in five days unless Ludwig finds six magical McGuffins to turn the tide. Problem is, initiative doesn't play any part in Ludwig's search or the Dark/Light fight, so Eccleston and the Old Ones mostly just hang about uncomfortably, exhorting him with the same phrases over and over. ("Give me the signs!" "We only have three days left! Find the signs!") At intervals, Ludwig happens across signs in a process straight out of a programmatic item-collecting video game; between those events, he mopes around, fighting with his family (which has been pointlessly reconfigured to mirror the Harry Potter books' Weasley clan) and sulking over his fate.

In spite of the ticking clock and all the shouting, The Dark Is Rising lacks a sense of urgency, since most of the characters stand around inertly, and everything important happens only by clunky coincidence: In a typically clumsy sequence, Ludwig unknowingly buys his first magical sign from a shopping-mall kiosk, for no evident reason. Director David L. Cunningham compensates with urgent fantasy music, explosive special effects, and disorienting camera tilt-a-whirl action, but it's impossible to hide the thinness of the wish-fulfillment plot (which has Ludwig gaining the magical power to beat up his bullying older brothers and make things explode) or the narrative stalling techniques that keep this from being a half-hour after-school special. Final score: Book 1, Movie 0.