Movie News & Reviews

The schmaltz is rising

The dictionary defines "hack" as one who works hard at boring tasks or at cutting or chopping with repeated and irregular blows. The first could be a fitting moniker for director David L. Cunningham, and the second for what he has done to the first book in the popular young adult series by Susan Cooper.

That same handy dictionary defines "stew" (noun) as a mixture of ingredients simmering slowly or (verb) to bear a grudge and harbor ill will. The first could apply to the mess that is "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising," and the second could describe the way you might feel as you leave the theater.

Unfortunately, this new film is a hack stew of pseudo epic proportions.

The film's tagline, "Even the smallest of lights can shine in the darkness," is only a harbinger for the schmaltz ahead.

The story revolves around a young American boy named Will Stanton who has moved to England with his family because of his father's job. Apparently they weren't hiring physicists in the U.S.

As puberty and the cosmos collide, Will is approached by a group of immortal time-hopping warriors who inform him that he is the last of the breed, the seventh son of the seventh son, you know, the usual. He has five days to gather six hidden signs or the world will be engulfed in darkness courtesy of an evil being known as "The Rider."

Cue the blackbirds and ominous music. The signs are of different materials and are hidden in different times and only Will, the predestined Seeker, can find them.

This may sound like an interesting setup, but it's not.

Aside from a few stunning visuals, it is as if the producers threw bits and pieces of better fantasy films against the wall to see what would stick.

The quests are short and unexciting, and the evocation of the different time periods are slapdash and lackluster. For example, the Viking era is represented by a few hairy guys with axes and one with a woman slung over his shoulder. When the story starts to lag -- and it lags often -- it's time to (you guessed it) cue the blackbirds and the ominous music! Over and over.

So where to lay blame? Director Cunningham, the small-screen artiste who gave us such ham-fisted miniseries as the ill-conceived "The Path to 9/11" and the "Little House on the Prairie" re-imagining, could be the major culprit. Apparently he refused to consult with Susan Cooper and excised all the references to Arthurian legends that gave the books their richness.

Supposedly he wanted to capture a more Christian vibe like that of "The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe."

I suspect the screenwriter, David Hodge ("Trainspotting," "A Life Less Ordinary") may be an innocent bystander, given the horrible stilted dialogue and lame jokes.

The cast is equally problematic. Young Alexander Ludwig as Will shows that he has not taken even one class since he starred in "Air Bud: World Pup" seven years ago. Zero charisma and Disney Channel acting chops.

The quality supporting actors are also ill-fatedly miscast. Ian McShane collects a post-"Deadwood" paycheck as one of the immortals who wakes up long enough to bellow, "Will, you are the Seeker!" once or twice. Christopher Eccleston as The Rider is far too goofy to ever be menacing.

Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under") turns in a distracted performance as an immortal, looking as if she is straining to hear a phone ringing with a better job.

The ultimate blame, however, must lie with the producers who slapped this project together with little regard for quality, hoping to fool the unwary fantasy fan and dreaming of another Harry Potter franchise. At this very moment, they are probably working on a second film and shouting, "Aw, heck, just cue the blackbirds and the ominous music!"