Sunday, October 14, 2007

"It’s just a bad movie, where there’s no crying" --Okkervil River

I just had the misfortune of watching The Seeker:The Dark is Rising.

As I have mentioned many times Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series is probably my favorite children's literature of all time. It blends together so many great aspects of being a child and that weird time when you turn 10 or 11 and how everything changes in your life.

The story is about a boy who is the last of the Old Ones, who are servants of the Light. They battle against the Dark. I am rereading the books now, because I wanted to be up on it when I went to the movie.

Now before I begin my review of this movie it is really important to point out that I am completely capable of separating a movie and a book. The Bourne series of movies and books are great examples of how you can take a book, deconstruct it, and then reconstruct it so that you have the essence of the book. The guys responsible for Bourne did a superb job of this. They managed to keep the angst and the fear of waking up and not knowing who you are and translate it into something that is a little more relevant. (The Bourne novels deal with the hunting of an assassin name Carlos the Jackal, who was active during the 1970's.)

The Seeker, managed to completely butcher my favorite book to the point where it was almost unwatchable.

First they took the primary characters and made them American, but living in Britain. BOO! Bad form guys. The charm of the story was that this was a normal boy who had been in the community for ages. His father was normal, a jeweler, and he came from a large family. The Seeker added a new element to the story and that was the strange folks in a strange land aspect of it.

Now I am going to lay out the things that aggravated me the most in no particular order.

1. Will Stanton. In the movie Will is 14, in the book he is 11. There is a difference; it may seem like a small difference but the difference in me when I was 10 and 14 was HUGE! At 14 I had a little more self confidence, a lot more knowledge about the world at large and I was befuddled by girls (which I will bring up later). At 10 I was... innocent I suppose. This story is about innocence. The fact that he is American versus British is something else entirely.

2. Merriman Lyon. I love Ian McShane. I think he is a wonderful actor. I am questioning the selection of his agent on this one. The portrayal of Merriman was abusive. In the book you get the sense that he is the most powerful person on the planet, wise beyond comprehension, and caring to the point of detriment. But he is not a push-over. He is the leader, in some capacity, of the Old Ones and to that end has to make tough decisions. One of the most heart-breaking scenes in the book involves the betrayal of his leige man. What the movie did was completely marginalize him. They made him one of four good fighters. But the movie clearly had Lady Greythorne as the figure head of the party, she was the stately, composed, wise one, who at one point has to make Merriman understand about the angst of young Will. It stripped the character of his nobility.

3. Maggie Barnes. In the book Maggie is not some mystery girl that Will idolizes. She is a villain from the start. I don't know if they needed a token pretty girl in the movie to appeal to people but it was pretty unnecessary.

4. The Rider. Bravo to Chris Ecclestone for bringing The Rider to life. What an incredible actor who pulls of creepy and disarming at the same time.

5. Family. This is a big one. In the book Will is the youngest of the family. He doesn't have a ridiculous foil of a twin brother. It is true that there was a brother named Tom, but the story line is that he was the first of the children and died after three days. Not some bull crap about a twin brother... blech... sorry I had to throw up in my mouth. The movie has this running subplot where Will's father is a physicist who was once writing a paper on the battles of Light and Dark. And then whoops, one of my babies got kidnapped and we never found him. It makes for an interesting plot device later in the movie; but also one that is contrived and poorly executed.

6. Americana. I don't know why Hollywood felt compelled to Americanize this movie but it killed it for me. When I read these books I was 13 or 14 and traveling cross country for my great-grandmothers 90th birthday. These books built a vision of the British Isles that I have carried in my head since then. Names like Cornwall and Wales still make me think of faeries, magic and mysticism. The book took a story about a young british boy and made him approachable to me. It helped globalize the world for me. With a young American Will, they have taken this movie into an us against them world. The villains and assistant heros are now both British and the noble American stands alone. I know I am reaching on this, but The Dark is Rising didn't need it.

7. Last I am curious and nervous to see how they come up with the incorporate the last of the books into movies, if they do that. They have changed the anchor of the story so drastically that I am afraid it will require more radical departure.

Anyway. The movie itself wasn't actually that bad, but my advice is that if you loved the stories, don't see the movie. If you go to the movie and see it and love it, maybe you will like the books I don't know? but I know that I find it impossible to separate the two and it is a giant black mark against an otherwise three star movie.

Final rating. Two stars. And they do nothing, they just sit there pissed off that they have to rate this movie.

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