The Seeker: Dark Is Rising

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We've seen the spawn of Satan in such films as "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Omen," and bad seeds have frequently tickled and terrified audiences. Child saviors haven't been as prevalent in the movies. But in "The Seeker," based on the popular children's novel "The Dark Is Rising," we have the story of a child chosen by the forces of light to battle evil spirits; the fate of the earth hangs in the balance. With some quasi-religious overtones, the film might have a built-in audience, though it's not going to make much of a dent in the "Harry Potter" franchise.

The opening cleverly thrusts us into an ultra-contemporary world of cell phones and high-tech malls where Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is not quite at home. The youngest of six sons in an American family transplanted to England, Will is not comfortable with his peers. To make matters worse, he keeps seeing flocks of ravens that want to claw his flesh. Eventually, he learns that he has a mission to save the world from dark forces that intend to wreak havoc. His nemesis is a threatening figure called the Rider (Christopher Eccleston), but he also has a group of allies known as the Old Ones who instruct him in his supernatural powers and guide him on his otherworldly quest.

"Seeker" is well cast with a mix of British and American actors. Ian McShane, who often is cast as a Satanic figure, here plays Will's spiritual guide, and he lends stature and dignity to the battle between good and evil. Eccleston exudes malevolent power, and he has fun playing the Rider's alter ego, a bumbling English doctor. The young actors who play Will's siblings have a natural ease on camera, and Ludwig is inherently likable, capturing the character's befuddlement as well as his innate decency.

Yet the film plods along without a lot of excitement or inspiration. There's one scary sequence with an army of snakes led by an albino cobra, but a lot of other scenes depend on elaborate CGI effects that aren't all that thrilling. Another problem is that the plot requires young Will to go through a series of trials to find the six signs that will enable him to save the world, and there simply isn't enough variety in these ordeals. The movie's one surprise twist will be pretty transparent to anyone above the age of 6.

Although the film is extremely well photographed by Joel Ransom, it fails to build a sense of mounting terror. The denouement is completely predictable, which might be satisfying to young viewers who haven't seen a lot of movies. For the rest of us, "Seeker" is a ho-hum exercise in mysticism and hocus-pocus.

THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING
20th Century Fox and Fox-Walden
Marc Platt Prods.
Credits:
Director: David L. Cunningham
Screenwriter: John Hodge
Based on the novel by: Susan Cooper
Producer: Marc Platt
Executive producers: Ron Schmidt, Adam Siegel
Director of photography: Joel Ransom
Production designer: David Lee
Music: Christophe Beck
Costume designer: Vin Burnham
Editors: Geoffrey Rowland, Eric A. Sears
Cast:
Will Stanton: Alexander Ludwig
The Rider: Christopher Eccleston
Merriman Lyon: Ian McShane
Miss Greythorne: Frances Conroy
Dawson: James Cosmo
Old George: Jim Piddock
Maggie Barnes: Amelia Warner
John Stanton: John Benjamin Hickey
Mary Stanton: Wendy Crewson
Gwen Stanton: Emma Lockhart
Max Stanton: Gregory Smith
Running time -- 99 minutes
MPAA rating: PG

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