New-Release Tuesday: The Seeker

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

I’ve been pretty pleased with the trend of films that respect the intelligence of younger audiences, and The Seeker was another good step in that direction. Originally released in the wake of the first three Harry Potter movies and Bridge to Terabithia, The Seeker takes an enormously popular children’s-lit title and gives it the Hollywood treatment without dumbing things down overly. Yes, there are still simplifications of story, character, and plot—but they are of the sort you would find in most adaptations of adult novels, not the kind which presume children have the attention spans of gnats.

In this case, the hero of the story is Will Stanton, a thirteen-year-old American boy whose family has been uprooted and plunked down in the middle of England on the eve of his fourteenth birthday. Will’s dad has some unexplained trauma that has limited his ability to work, but he’s now doing okay for his wife, six sons, and daughter. Will is the youngest of the six lads, and his older siblings come across to the audience almost like strangers—almost as if Will were adopted. A virtual outcast within the family, he spends most of his time hanging out with little sister Gwen.

Naturally, of course, this stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling proves justified. It turns out that a brotherhood of local “immortal warriors” immediately spots Will as one of their own—and in fact as the long-foretold “Seeker” who can read the Book of Prophecy in the Great Hall and deliver the world from the threatening Rider of the Dark. “It is you,” they tell Will, “who must restore the power of the light.” Along the way, Will must also repair his relationship with his distant physicist father. “When I was little,” Will foreshadows, “you never told me not to be afraid of the dark.” Sounding kind of familiar? I thought so.

The twist here is that The Seeker has the ability to propel himself through time to retrieve six “signs” that hold the power of light. Five of the signs are clearly identified in the sacred book; but the sixth is only vaguely described as the sacrifice of a willing and pure soul. Very early on, we get the sense that the first five signs are really kind of a foregone conclusion; it’s the sixth one that will be the most elusive and crucial, and will be the basis of the Big Showdown between Will and the Rider.

So given that the basic premise is such a familiar riff on the eternally-revisited myth of the battle between good and evil, how does The Seeker manage to respect the intelligence of its target audience?

Director David Cunningham opts for storytelling more through rhythm and gesture, in the early going, than through words. As a result, we are as disoriented as Will, not merely sitting back as passive observers in full possession of the facts. So in addition to sharing Will’s sense of strangeness, we are also, like the entire Stanton fish-out-of-water family, not entirely sure about Will’s surroundings; we’re unclear who all these shadowy figures are lurking about the rural town; we don’t quite get the animosity that Will’s oldest brother Alex seems to project. And that’s okay. Things will become clear later, and Cunningham is sharp enough to know that kids are really better at ferreting these things out than are adults who have become too dependent on cinematic shorthand.

That’s a pretty cool approach.

Finally, though, the big set piece that precedes the final confrontation seems overdone and far too detailed—like it was inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia (also produced in a literally over-wrought fashion by Walden Media). Nonetheless, The Seeker manages to succeed pretty much at what it attempts—and with some subtle suggestions that symbols really do have significance in this world.

The Seeker is being re-released in stores today in a 4-film DVD package along with Percy Jackson, City of Ember, and Eragon. It’s also available to rent on Amazon and YouTube.