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The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising

With the exception of an always stellar Ian McShane, everything in The Seeker reeks of a B-movie Harry Potter—as in "budget" version and second-rate.


Having recently moved to England from America with his large family, young Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is finding it difficult to adapt. But it isn't so much the culture shock or calling his mom "mum" that's giving him trouble—it's the fact that he is a warrior and doesn't yet know it. He is tipped off to the weirdness after witnessing two policemen, hot on his trail for purchasing what he thought was a pendant for his sister (Emma Lockhart), morph into black crows. That pendant turns out to be one of six crucial "signs" in need of finding, and Will turns out to be the last of the Old Ones fit for the job—as he is informed by fellow Old Ones Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy). Will's success is mankind's only hope of warding off the evil Dark, whose goal is to defeat the Light and steal their free will; it's your classic battle of Dark vs. Light. With each passing day, Will becomes more adept at sensing new signs, but he only has five days to do so before the nefarious Rider's (Christopher Eccleston) skills reach their peak, which will be bad news for everyone.


If there were never a Daniel Radcliffe, by whom all fantasy-protagonist performances are now measured, youngster Alexander Ludwig (of The Sandlot 3 fame) might not seem so stiff—fine, inept. But in The Seeker, Ludwig struggles with the already tenuous special-effects sequences, let alone with trying to carry the movie to franchise-dom. While it's rare to find the young actor whose charisma trumps his inexperience—a la Radcliffe or even Macaulay Culkin circa 1990—Ludwig comes off more like a kid in a candy store than on a movie set, and no editing-room fixes can help. Elsewhere, the actors' stakes are lower and the results mixed. McShane, utterly incapable of a bad performance, is leaps and bounds above all of his numerous costars. It's too bad the former Deadwood actor, starring as the most vocal of the Old Ones, didn't rub off on any of his younger costars; it's also too bad he accepted a role well beneath him, much like August's Hot Rod was. McShane's fellow Old One and HBO casualty Conroy (Six Feet Under) shares a similar venerability, but she ditches it the second she wields a sword in a vain attempt to go medieval on our collective heiny. We could've used more of Eccleston (28 Days Later) as his wry alter-ego doctor, but he spends most of his scenes obscured as the villainous Rider.


In most modern fantasy flicks, the grand-scale action scenes are where the magic's at, with their bank-breaking special effects and/or productions; in The Seeker, such scenes expose the movie as a thrift-shop version of its more deep-pocketed genre brethren (i.e., Narnia, Potter, Lord of the Rings). It's not only that the look of the action is less imaginative, but also its conception: Each time Will must retrieve one of the signs, there is seemingly no difficulty in doing so and thus zero suspense—like a bad video game. That could be because director David L. Cunningham (TV movie The Path to 9/11) seemingly wants the movie to play out like a video game instead of like Susan Cooper's beloved novel The Dark Is Rising, whose story was somewhat tweaked by screenwriter John Hodge (Trainspotting). On the bright side, the lush, snow-covered English village in which the movie is set is rich and evocative. In fact, everything looks great and will keep viewers' attention throughout the early part of The Seeker. But unlike its aforementioned contemporaries, the movie takes a nosedive when it's supposed to most enthrall us.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.