The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising
Will Stanton's going through a particularly difficult adolescence—stuff not covered in Dr. James Dobson's parenting guide Bringing Up Boys. How many 14-year-old boys zap through time? Or set things on fire by just thinking about it? Or become the focal point in a winner-take-all duel between light and darkness?
"I'm no superhero!" Will exclaims. "I can't even figure out how to talk to a girl."
Alas, he has no choice in the matter. Turns out, he's the newest member of a group of "Old Ones"—ageless warriors who protect the world from the Dark, embodied by a particularly nasty fellow known only as the Rider. Masquerading at times as a genial English physician, the Rider causes all sorts of mayhem by manipulating the weather, creating human-looking avatars from birds and snakes, and once by possessing one of Will's brothers. And the Rider's power is growing by the hour.
Instead of fretting over midterms, Will must cram for an apocalyptic test of character—one that comes due in five short and storm-filled days. The boy must pocket six "signs"—magic talismans—in order to defeat the Dark and save all he loves from complete annihilation.
No pressure or anything.
Will is an average kid who's given what seems to be an impossible task—one that he initially tries to shrug off, but eventually embraces. He perseveres through all the tough times and, even when much of his family doesn't seem to have time for him, Will shows his own love for them again and again. He buys thoughtful presents for his little sister, Gwen, and later saves her from marauding warriors. He knocks—literally—some sense into a wayward brother, who becomes possessed by the Dark in part because he carries a shameful secret.
"You don't have to deal with it alone," Will tells his brother, referring to that secret. "Your family loves you."
By the final showdown, Will even appears to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice—his own life—to defeat the Dark.
Will's family, though chaotic, is at its heart a loving one. Will and Gwen display strong brother-sister bonds. Will's parents are harried and haunted by past guilt, but they care deeply about their children.
This movie isn't so much about individual relationships as it is about the sprawling, clearly defined backstory of good and evil, though. In The Seeker, there is no dillydallying about which is which: Evil is shown as being both subtle and savage—able to charm, willing to bribe and eager to harm if the Dark's end goals (that would be worldwide destruction, of course) will be furthered.
The Old Ones are the antithesis of all that. When diabolically bad weather hits Will's small English village, Old One Miss Greythorne invites Will, his family and the entire town to ride out the storm at her mansion. She and the other Old Ones selflessly guard and protect Will, even when they think he might be bungling the job. And they consistently attempt to build him up with encouraging words. "I believe in you," he's told. "You're special. You will gain the power of the Light. You are the Seeker."
Magic oozes from every cinematic pore, though The Seeker rarely calls it such. Will, as the seventh son of a seventh son and the last of the Old Ones, can start fires, exercise telekinesis, travel through time and sometimes wield superhuman strength. The Rider is a fearsome conglomeration of enchantments: He can prevent his minions from aging—for centuries—then race them through middle age, senior citizen status and death within seconds if they displease him. He brings down massive storms from the heavens, and he conjures fearsome, smoke-like darkness. He controls shape-shifting beings and he has the power to posses humans. Masquerading as a doctor, the Rider touches an ankle Will sprained to demonstrate that he can either heal it or make it far worse.
The source of power for either the Old Ones or the Rider is never revealed, nor is it even discussed. Good is at odds with Evil. Light resists Darkness. That's just the way the world is. When Will questions whether he's capable of saving the world, he's flatly told, "Trust that you can." But in whom does he ultimately have to place his trust? Himself.
The Seeker does take place around Christmastime, so you have a sense of the dark and cold of winter getting a sudden spark of hope. The main characters gather at the ancient neighborhood church for a service and sing "Joy to the World."
Will has a crush on a slightly older girl named Maggie. She starts dating one of Will's brothers, but she still apparently has eyes for Will, too. She uses magical seduction to attract him at one point, enticingly blowing salt into a suspended spiral shape to get his attention. The camera lingers on her lips as she does so.
Will's brothers tease him about the size of his underwear and the "funny changes" his body is going through at age 14.
The Seeker is filled with tension, menace and some violent confrontations. Blood and guts, however, are not on the PG menu.
Menacing birds—minions of the Rider—are everywhere, lurking in trees, smashing into windows, swirling in the sky. Thousands of them sweep through town, transforming sometimes into snowstorms or floods. Scores of them attack two Old Ones in a deserted pub, blanketing the characters like a malevolent, flapping quilt. That's as much as we see in this showdown, though one of the Old Ones apparently dies in the encounter, and the other's coat is shown later full of holes—presumably from those sharp little beaks.
Will is constantly in peril. The Rider, aided by two fearsome dogs, chases down the boy in the forest. Will falls and looks like he's a goner before the Old Ones come to his defense. Will and his sister find themselves in the midst of an ancient battle, where warriors are swinging swords and axes. One drags a woman away—booty, apparently—by her hair. Will is tossed out of a boat. And he and his brother, Max, get into a rolling brawl, during which Max (possessed by the Dark) holds a knife to Will's throat. Part of their clash takes place in the past during a cockfight. (We see the roosters, but not them actually fighting.)
The Old Ones bear weapons: One carries what looks like a crossbow/Uzi-type gadget; another wields a mace. Miss Greythorne carries a cane with a sword hidden inside, using it to slice through an attacking bird which dissolves into shards of glass-like darkness.
Will and the Old Ones have a prolonged run-in with thousands of snakes, which burst forth from an old, grandmotherly lady. The Rider also sends other torments. Icicles, which form on the roof of Greythorne's mansion, crash to the floor with the intent to impale. Water works its way uphill, exploding into the house, threatening to drown those inside.
[Spoiler Warning] In a scene that evokes images from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Maggie ages rapidly, her body and face shriveling and decomposing before she plunges into watery depths. But the film's most startling scene arguably occurs when a pair of mall security guards haul Will in (unfairly) for shoplifting. Incredulous and scared out of his wits, Will watches these guards morph into ... birds—who proceed to attack him. (He gets away with a scratch.)
Will evidently never saw the Spider-Man movies because he doesn't always exercise "great responsibility" with his "great power." Reacting to their teasing, he uses his super-strength to fling two of his brothers off the stairs and onto the family couch. He uses his mental powers to hurl a table knife at a brother. And during a temper tantrum of sorts, he sets part of the Greythorne property ablaze, even exploding a car.
Continuing the Spidey comparison, the Old Ones aren't nearly as wise in how they deal with Will as Aunt May is with Peter Parker. "What's he doing?" asks an Old One when he sees the fire outside. "Expressing himself," Miss Greythorne says dismissively.
Crude or Profane Language
Two exclamations of "oh my god."
Drug and Alcohol Content
During a family dinner, Will's parents are shown sipping wine. Two of the Old Ones bet a flagon of ale on what kind of monster they're up against: They mean to collect on that bet by breaking into a deserted tavern. (They're interrupted by the birds.)
Other Negative Elements
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising has an interesting pedigree. It's made by Walden Media, the same production company that brought C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the big screen. And its director, David Cunningham, is the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission, one of the world's largest, most respected Christian ministries. But the tale is based on a book from Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence—a book and series filled with Celtic, pre-Christian myth.
Some fans of the original books have fretted that, because of Walden's reputation and the director's faith, The Seeker was being "Christianized." And there are indeed some Christian-like themes and elements found throughout. But many of those themes were organic to the book, too. So those who are tempted to overlay a Christian ethos onto—let's be honest—this lightweight swords-and-sorcery adventure tale will find the resulting (forced) allegory murky at best.
David Cunningham says that while he has no problem with being open about his faith, he had no intention of injecting his own personal beliefs into someone else's story. He told Plugged In Online that it wasn't Christian allegory or evangelism that drove him to direct. Rather, it was the movie's moral—which is all about choices.
"Will must choose to make the right choice," Cunningham said. "And the implications of his choices are massive. I think that's a wonderful message—that when you make a choice, whether it's right or wrong, the implications go far beyond you. And you impact many, many people. That's for me the moral tale at the core of this film, and hopefully people have fun with it and enjoy the adventure of it as well."
"We serve the Light," the Old Ones tell Will. "The Rider serves the Dark." Good is good. Bad is bad. Stop smudging the line in between, cries the script. And my conclusion about the movie is similarly spare:
Will turns 14 as the film opens, and boys exactly his age—along with dads who still feel 14—are most certainly the target audience of it. It's a good-hearted, highly stylized, atmospheric adventure yarn that's proof Hollywood can make a kid-pleasing movie without resorting to sex jokes and sex scenes, bad language and gross-out gags.
But The Seeker is also filled with lots and lots of magic. And it's scary—the sequence with the security guards will make sensitive souls avoid malls for life.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Alexander Ludwig as Will Stanton; Christopher Eccleston as The Rider; Ian McShane as Merriman Lyon; Frances Conroy as Miss Greythorne; Amelia Warner as Maggie Barnes
David Cunningham ( )
20th Century Fox