Judge Daniel MacDonald still hasn't found what he's looking for.
Even the smallest of light…shines in the darkness.
Any film based on a beloved children's novel risks alienating purist fans through the necessary thinning of the narrative: sourced from Susan Cooper's 1973 novel, The Seeker is no exception. Fortunately, I haven't read the book.
Written by Oscar nominee John Hodge (Trainspotting), The Seeker concerns itself with young Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig, Eve and the Fire Horse), a 14-year-old American living with his expansive family in England. Will's got a lot going on: it's Christmas break, his big brother is home from college, he's just starting to notice girls…and, oh yes, it turns out he's a time-traveling warrior who must find six "signs" before The Rider (Christopher Eccleston, Elizabeth) overwhelms the Earth with the forces of darkness. It's all a bit much for the poor boy, but fortunately Will has kindly Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane, We Are Marshall) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy, The Aviator) to help him out.
Much action and self-discovery ensues as Will learns to control his powers, seeks out the six signs, and unveils a surprising family secret.
As I said, I haven't read the book upon which The Seeker is based; if I had, I'm sure I would be able to recount the legion of travesties Hollywood has wrought against the impeccable source materials. However, taken as a work unto itself and completely divorced from its heritage, The Seeker is actually a pretty good family-friendly tale. In a similar—if somewhat less ambitious—vein to The Neverending Story, The Seeker efficiently establishes the main characters in the real world before getting too fantastic, grounding the leaps of logic to come. By the time Will's destiny is revealed, we have already seen him operating as a normal teenager, harassed by his many brothers and idolized by his younger sister, feeling that familiar sense of invisibility. The story that follows finds Will coming into his own as both a young adult and the savior of the world, with believable family dynamics nicely woven into bombastic battle sequences.
Will's power allows him to see clues, hidden to everyone else, about where the signs can be found; the search often takes him hundreds of years into the past. Yet, despite the obvious opportunity to lay on the CGI scenery in recreating these time shifts, we actually see relatively little period detail. Whether this was due to artistic or budgetary reasons, I can't be sure, but the result is suitably lean storytelling.
And lean it is: at 94 minutes, The Seeker is a good deal shorter than many of the epic children's fantasies that seem to be en vogue these days. Rather than feeling like a highlight reel, though, the brisk pace keeps us from thinking to hard about the boatloads of information Will is tasked with processing, leaving us to just enjoy the ride.
Ludwig is quite good as Will through most of The Seeker, effectively underplaying the internal tribulations playing out in his young mind. It's not until he fully realizes his powers and starts to take a more aggressive stance that he begins to overact, and even this is not too egregious. Eccleston seems to be having a ball as The Rider, and as odd as it is to watch Ian McShane without the liberal peppering of profanity that marks his iconic character in Deadwood, he anchors the proceedings with a quiet dignity.
The Seeker is not a perfect film by any means. There are a few rough bits of dialogue, and a major plot point involving a baby is laid out rather sketchily, perhaps to keep us from thinking too hard about the logic of it all. Intentional or not, the time travel sequences do occasionally come off pretty low-rent, especially a sequence where Will must grab the shield of a poorly made-up medieval warrior—the whole sequence felt like a straight-to-video remake of Richard Donner's time-travel travesty Timeline.
None of these problems detract greatly from the enjoyment of the picture as a whole, though. Despite being aimed at the 9-15-year-old set, The Seeker doesn't pander, doesn't insert scenes of grating slapstick, and doesn't shy away from frightening imagery. I was pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately, Fox has drastically altered the types of screeners sent to us untrustworthy critics: the disc we received for review purposes is heinously compressed, resulting in shameful picture quality for a current release, and sub-par Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, neither of which says anything about what you'll find in the stores. The video has been re-formatted to 1.78:1 from its theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. There is not even a menu on our disc, much less any bonus features, so I can only comment on the film itself and not its presentation.
The Seeker is certainly an above-average family movie, confident in the type of story it is telling and the depth with which it is told. Rather than striving to be another The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Seeker succeeds at maintaining a fast pace, keeping the visual effects secondary to the characters themselves, and wrapping things up nicely by the end with no definitive sign of a sequel. Some sequences may be too scary for the very young, but kids and adults alike should find much to enjoy about The Seeker.
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