The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising

From what I gather, “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” is not very faithful to the Susan Cooper fantasy novel on which it is based. I certainly hope this is true. I would hate to think that Ms. Cooper had written a book as vague, halfhearted, and uninteresting as this. Surely the film causes her to roll over in her grave, unless she is not dead, in which case surely it causes her to rue the day she sold the movie rights.

This is a slapdash story told hastily, without whimsy or wit. It’s about a boy named Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) who learns on his 14th birthday that he is destined to play a role in helping the Light defeat the Dark. He and his large family are Americans living in a small English village, where local strange old people Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy) fill him in on his magical powers and what he’s supposed to be doing to help their ancient organization.

I know the book predates Harry Potter, but sweet Merlin’s underpants does this ever sound like Harry Potter.

Anyway, it seems the Dark — represented by a guy on a horse (Christopher Eccleston) — is going to be regaining its power in a few days, and the only way to stop it is for the Seeker — that’ll be Will — to gather up six special objects that the Light hid all over the place centuries ago. Once he has all the objects, well, then … I don’t know. The movie is pretty noncommittal on what he has to do with them and how they will help him and the others defeat the Dark. He just has to GET them, you know?

Many of the film’s fantasy elements seem arbitrarily assigned. For example, Will has the power to travel through time in order to collect the tokens. But it’s never explained why this is necessary, since they’ve all been hidden in this very village (convenient!) and are presumably still there now, in the present. He also has the power of sudden, useless strength. Oh, and one of those six tokens is actually somebody’s soul. Oh, and he can make fire, but that power wears out if he uses it too much.

More randomness: A supporting character is seduced to the Dark side by Guy on a Horse. Another supporting character turns out to have been evil along (which scores a big fat “duh” when it’s revealed). Neither of these people actually accomplishes anything. The eventual battle between Light and Dark consists mostly of people yelling instructions and falling down. I don’t recall any actual weapons (swords, guns, etc.) being used to any great effect. The objects Will went to all that trouble to collect are more or less disregarded.

What it feels like is that an awful lot of mythology has been crammed into a very tight space. I haven’t even mentioned Will’s parents and their many children and their secret from years ago and the older brother who’s in the Navy and the other one who’s a college dropout. I don’t know why dogs growl at Will or why large groups of ravens gather ominously in the village. It’s all window dressing, and then when you peek inside, the place is empty.

C- (1 hr., 40 min.; PG, mild fantasy violence and very tame scary elements.)