'The Seeker: The Dark is Rising'


"The Seeker: The Dark is Rising" would be more potent if the filmmakers were more patient.

Loosely based on Susan Cooper's acclaimed middle-school bestseller of the same name, it's hardly got a difficult plot -- it really is about Light versus Dark, white magic pitted against black magic. The hero, Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig), an adolescent in a large American family in England, discovers he's the youngest in a line of immortals who must defend the Light against the forces of the Dark, especially the fearsome Rider (Christopher Eccleston).

The narrative comes with clearly stated goals and a fixed deadline: the hero has to find and gather together six dispersed and magical signs of Light within five days, or the Dark will blight the earth. But director Daniel L. Cunningham is so intent on selling the supernatural with eerie portents, swooping camera moves, swirling weather and extravagant pyrotechnics that he mucks up the mechanics of the storytelling, which involve leaps in time and elaborate alternate realities.

In one conceptually glorious scene, Will, unable to find words to engage a pretty girl (Amelia Warner, of "Quills"), acts out his shame and rage by setting a windmill aflame and sending a car flying through the air.

When his loving sister Gwen (Emma Lockhart) tries to calm him, the staging and editing are so clumsy it's impossible to tell whether she sees his destruction or merely his upset. Two other virtuous immortals, Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy), witness Will's shenanigans and discuss them. But there are no real-world repercussions, so you have to wonder whether the sequence took place in a suburban Britain of the mind, like a previous one in which soldiers of the Dark pose as security officers in a shopping mall.

The movie has a lot going for it, including wonderful sets and locations that create a heightened-reality English hamlet with pub, church, manor and shops (make that shoppes!). And the lead actor, Ludwig, registers the growth spurts of the stripling hero with the sensitivity and precision of an emotional seismograph.

But as characters get trapped or "die" and spring back into action without much preparation or explanation, the wonder leaks out of the fairy tale. At one point, the Rider, posing as a doctor, proves he can heal the hero's bruised ligaments with the touch of his hand. In this movie the presentation of the story is what really needed massaging. The computer-graphic imagery is impressive, but "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising" demonstrates once again that when it comes to movie magic, TLC means more than CGI.

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