The Dark Is Rising

The Dark Is Rising


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Children’s fantasy books are particularly difficult to adapt into films given that most usually require quite a bit of background information to set up their ‘mythology’ and involve several, detailed quests. This is why books such as The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, The Phoenix And The Carpet and The Box Of Delights have all proved so successful as BBC TV series – where their component parts can be picked apart and explored carefully over a longer runtime.

The Dark Is Rising (the words “The Seeker” were used in the US but have been dropped from the English release of the title – too close to Harry Potter’s Quidditch position, perhaps?) is based on the second book in Susan Cooper’s five-book series about the battle between the forces of darkness and light. And although writer John Hodge’s screenplay ultimately suffers from trying to cram an entire novel’s worth of mythology into its 94 minutes he makes a brave fist of it. It also, rather alarmingly, given that we’re still in October, marks the first Christmas movie of the year.

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Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is a teenage American who has been plucked from his homeland thanks to his professor dad’s job, which has seen he, mum and the rest of his siblings – four elder brothers (a fifth, as per the current American preoccupation with all things war, is serving in the Navy) and a little sister – move to what appears to be the most twee village in middle England. On his 14th birthday he discovers, after a rather unfortunate brush with evil at a local shopping centre, that he is in fact “the seeker” – a chosen one whose duty is to find six signs that will stop evil in the form of Christopher Eccleston from taking over the world and banishing the light forever.

Helping him in his quest are the residents of twee central, the local manor house. Lady of the manor Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy ditching her American tones for English vowels), gruff butler Merriman (Ian McShane) and groundsmen types Dawson (James Cosmo) and Old George (Jim Piddock) are all ‘old ones’, basically protectors of the light, who’ve been waiting for Will to come along and score a home run for the team. They also tell him the reason for his greatness – he is the seventh son of a seventh son, but a quick count reveals that he only knows about five of his brothers - leading to a rather unnecessary sub-plot about the sixth.

This is barely scratching the surface of the story that is crammed into the film, which is a big part of the problem. On the one hand, things feel as though they have been edited down to the bone so much in places that meaning is almost lost and yet, on the other, one feels the entire seventh son plotline should really have been ditched to make room for more action. And the action is most definitely where it is at when it comes to the film’s strengths. Hodge (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave) is a veteran when it comes to finding the sinister in the everyday and his script holds plenty of juvenile menace.

Every time director David L Cunningham gets to unleash the special effects, they also work well. From the initial scenes of a murder of crows sitting ominously in a tree to a gripping sequence later involving more snakes than Indiana Jones could shake a stick at, they are all sufficiently scary to justify the film’s 12A rating. In fact, parents of kids younger than 10 will probably want to think twice about sneaking them in to see this, if they are of a delicate disposition. The camerawork too, though a little overblown in places – you really can spin a camera once too often - is, for the most part, on the right side of innovative and the wintry colour palette put to good use. The trouble is that for each gripping set piece, we have to suffer an unwieldy chunk of exposition – usually courtesy of McShane, who though accomplished, can’t stop the pace from flagging as he tries to explain yet another huge batch of mythology.

Eccleston turns in a suitably menacing performance as The Rider – although his galloping horse recalls Tolkein’s Wraith Riders a little too much. He is the type of proper villain who lays out his plans in full, a la James Bond, so we get a grip of the timeline early on. It’s good to see him back on the big screen, though I am slightly concerned by how much his earlobes seem to flap in the wind these days.

It's important, when criticising some of the more clichéd elements here - the dark versus the light, the Tolkein parallels, the quests - to bear in mind that this film is aimed at older children, not your average jaded film critic. Taken on its own terms as a kids’ fantasy, special-effects romp in the adventure mode, it has its moments, packs some chills and will doubtless keep the youngsters happy for an hour or two over half term.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2007
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The Dark Is Rising packshot
A teenager discovers he is the earth's last hope in the battle between darkness and light.
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Director: David L Cunningham

Writer: John Hodge, based on the novel by Susan Cooper

Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Christopher Eccleston, Ian McShane, Frances Conroy, James Cosmo, Jim Piddock, Amelia Warner, John Benjamin Hickey, Wendy Crewson, Emma Lockhart, Drew Tyler Bell

Year: 2007

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, UK


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