The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising
See if this sounds familiar: teenage boy in England is informed by wise British elders in robes that he is "special" and that he alone can stop the evil forces bent on conquering the world. Boy is reluctant hero, but ultimately accepts the challenge: balancing world-saving with girl problems and other teenage concerns. Harry Potter? No, a lesser-known literary antecedent: The Dark Is Rising. Unfortunately, the movie version is post-Potter, which is a bad place to be if you're a sub-par, adolescent boy-wonder fantasy film.
The film is based on (or "inspired by," as some diehards no doubt prefer) the 1974 Newberry award-winning book by Susan Cooper—part two of a five-book series of novels for children, originally published in the 60s and 70s. Following in the footsteps of Lewis or Tolkien-esque fantasy, the books feature youths on whimsical adventures, thrust into epic battles between good and evil, with colorful characters and creatures on both sides of the struggle.
I have not read the books, and came into the film with no knowledge of the story. Still, it was pretty easy to follow what was going on. The film takes place in England, where the American Stanton family resides in a shire-esque rural town with a mysterious Arthurian vibe (it's never really explained why they are there, but it's a fun setup nonetheless). The youngest son in a house of seven children, the precocious Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is just celebrating his fourteenth birthday as the movie opens. After his birthday, strange things start happening to him (and not puberty, as his teasing older brothers suggest). Before he knows it, Will is the centerpiece in an epic time-traveling quest to save the world.
Evidently, as a "seventh son of a seventh son," Will is the last in a line of something called "The Old Ones." These "old" ones—which include great British actors like Ian McShane, James Cosmo and Tim Piddock, as well as the formidable thespian, Francis Conroy—are immediately convened to tell Will who he is ("The Sign Seeker") and what he must do. "The dark is rising," we are told, "and Will must restore the light." To do so, he must first collect six "signs" that are hidden across time (Will has the ability to time-travel when he senses a sign). He must collect all the signs (which are small physical objects) in order to defeat the Dark, which is led by a black rider (decidedly Lord of the Rings-esque). As he gains more signs, the Dark feels increasingly threatened and becomes more aggressive. It should all sound very familiar to anyone who read the last three Harry Potter books (can anyone say horcruxes?).
Indeed, this film seems in some ways to be a "Christian alternative" to the Potter franchise. The changing of the title to The Seeker may even be a veiled attempt to trick youngsters into seeing a film that sounds like it will be all about Quidditch. Directed by David Cunningham (To End All Wars) and financed by Walden Media (the Narnia movies), it is clear that this film aims to be a harmless adventure story and little more. I suspect that the books have a slightly darker tinge to them, but the "evil" of the film version is—for the most part—pretty harmless. Embodied in the typical fantasy images (crows, black clouds, shrouded figures), the villainous "Dark" musters everything from snakes to snowstorms to crush the spirits of his enemies. But no one ever dies or is particularly violently injured. We all know good will triumph in the end; it's just a matter of getting through the 94 minutes of mid-level sorcery and horcrux/sign-seeking to get there.