May 24, 2019
Column

‘The Seeker’ a convoluted, soulless mess

In theaters

THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING, directed by David L. Cunningham, written by John Hodge, 98 minutes, rated PG.

“The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” is based on the second in Susan Cooper’s award-winning series of books, all unread by me, though given their longevity and popularity (the first appeared in 1965), one assumes the books have a linear quality that hooks and captivates those who come to them.

Too bad those elements are missing from the movie.

Director David L. Cunningham based his film on John Hodge’s frenetic, uneven screen adaptation and what he has on his hands is a soulless mess, though you sense while watching it that it could have been tweaked into something more promising had it not been twisted into something so convoluted.

Several things are at work against it, from Geoffrey Rowland and Eric Sears’ scattershot editing, which feels as if they cut the movie by tossing it into a Cuisinart, and Hodge’s script, which disappoints in how many plot points it either glosses over or leaves unanswered.

The film stars Alexander Ludwig as Will Stanton, a pouty, 14-year-old American boy living in a small British nowhere with a large family of little flavor. When into his life come the Light and the Dark – otherwise known as good and evil – Will is pressed into action to keep the dark from rising. Otherwise, you know, evil will reign.

Guiding him through his journey are the Old Ones, with Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane, wasted) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy, ditto) informing Will that he has special powers (which he rarely chooses to use) and encouraging him to seek out the six signs of light. To do so, he must travel through time, find the signs in bouts of chaos, and collect them so he can build a defense against the dark side, which is personified by the Rider (Christopher Eccleston).

Trouble is, since Will is the seventh son of a seventh son, with all that implies, pulling away from the dark side proves something of a challenge – just not a very entertaining one.

Sure, he comes up against any number of battles as he secures each amulet of light, but it’s never a compelling struggle or, for that matter, a believable one. The movie makes it all too easy for him. You never once fear for Will’s life or question whether he’ll come through. He just does. And then he just does so again.

Worse is the film’s timing. Cooper’s books may have been conceived long before the “Harry Potter” franchise took root, but the comparisons can’t be helped – they might as well be a cowbell clanging in the theater – and as such, they unhinge the movie, ironically shedding light on just how dim this film about light and dark really is.

Grade: C-

On DVD

The week’s best new DVD release is “The Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland Collection: Ultimate Collector’s Edition,” a terrific set of four films that helped to galvanize the duo as one of the screen’s best pairings.

Together, Rooney and Garland starred in 10 movies, four of which are collected here, all directed by Busby Berkeley during the war years, with Rooney, Garland and Berkeley going all out in an effort to give audiences a necessary diversion. They did so, too, in 1939’s “Babes in Arms,” 1940’s “Strike Up the Band,” 1941’s “Babes on Broadway” and 1943’s “Girl Crazy,” which, incidentally, found director Norman Taurog replacing Berkeley after Berkeley busted the budget on an elaborate dance sequence.

Released on five discs, it’s the fifth disc that is filled with the noteworthy special features, two of which deserve mention here – Robert Osborne’s interview with Rooney in “Private Screenings with Mickey Rooney,” which offers insight into his collaboration with the emotionally fragile Garland, and “The Judy Garland Songbook,” which collects 21 full-length Garland movie musical numbers. Not enough? The set also comes with a hardbound collector’s book and studio stills.

From Universal is the seventh season of “Murder, She Wrote,” with Angela Lansbury back as Jessica Fletcher, who must have had some sort of voodoo curse put on her given the sheer number of dead bodies that wind up at her feet. By this seventh season of the show, so many people had been bumped off in the fictionalized Maine town of Cabot Cove, you have to wonder how anyone, at this point in the series, could be left in that town.

Still, we’re better for it. While the series never nailed the elusive Maine accent (somebody in Hollywood should teach a course in it), Lansbury is a charm, cheerfully seeking out those behind the most genial of murders, and helping to put them away.

Finally, from Koch Vision is the release of the 1981 miniseries “Masada,” with director Boris Sagal helming a nearly seven-hour film shot on location in the Israeli desert. It’s a gripping story, as big and as sprawling as the desert itself, with Peter O’Toole rising to full power as the Roman warrior Cornelius Flavius Silva, who in the first century A.D. was charged with ridding a stronghold of Jews from the mountains of Masada.

He met his match in Eleazar ben Yair (an excellent Peter Strauss), leader of the Jews, with each man gradually coming to realize in the other something of an equal. The movie was a massive undertaking and it shows, particularly when Rome decides it no longer will wait for anything as trivial as negotiations.

So, yes, the present-day echoes abound.

Grades: “Rooney-Garland”: A; “Murder”: B; “Masada”: A-

Visit www.weekinrewind.com, the archive of Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s reviews, which appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

The Video-DVD Corner

Renting a video or a DVD? BDN film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases in video stores. Those in bold print are new to video stores this week.

Akeelah and the Bee – B+

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Three – A-

Apocalypto – C

Because I Said So – C

Black Book – B+

Blades of Glory – B+

Blood Diamond – C+

Breach – B+

Breaking and Entering – C-

Bridge to Terabithia – B+

Casino Royale – A

Charlotte’s Web – B+

Children of Men – A

The Condemned – D

The Dead Girl – A-

Dead Silence – F

Death Proof – B+

Deja Vu – C+

The Departed – A

The Devil Wears Prada – B+

Disturbia – B

Dreamgirls – B

Entourage: Season 3, Part 2 – A-

Eragon – C

Evan Almighty – C

Everyone’s Hero – C+

Evening – C+

Fail Safe – A-

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – D+

Flags of Our Fathers – B+

Flushed Away – B+

The Fountain – D

1408 – B

Fracture – C

Georgia Rule – D+

Ghost Rider – C-

The Good German – C

The Good Shepherd – B-

Hannibal Rising – C

Happy Feet – A-

The Hills Have Eyes II – D

The History Boys – B+

The Holiday – C+

Hollywoodland – C

The Illusionist – B+

Infamous – B+

Invincible – B

Ironside: Season 2 – B+

Knocked Up – A

The Last King of Scotland – B+

Letters from Iwo Jima – B+

Little Children – A-

The Lives of Others – A

Lucky You – C+

The Marine – C+

A Mighty Heart – A-

Music and Lyrics – B

Next – D

Night at the Museum – C+

Notes on a Scandal – B+

The Number 23 – D

The Painted Veil – B+

Pan’s Labyrinth – A

Perfect Stranger – C-

Premonition – C-

The Prestige – B+

Primeval – D

The Queen – A-

The Reaping – D

Reign Over Me – C-

Rocky Balboa – B+

A Scanner Darkly – B+

Sherrybaby – B+

Shooter – C+

Surf’s Up – B+

TMNT – C

300 – C-

Transformers – B+

28 Days Later: Blu-ray – A-

28 Weeks Later – B

Unaccompanied Minors – C

Vacancy – C+

Venus – B+

We Are Marshall – D

Zodiac – C


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