October 8, 2007

The Seeker: Movie vs. Book (Spoilers)

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I have my copy of The Dark Is Rising (both a first edition paper back and a SF book club edition with all five volumes bound together) out and I am watching The Seeker (if you search for it, you’ll find a video of the movie on Google Video). The Seeker is a recently-released adaptation of Susan Cooper’s 1974 Newberry Award-winning book, The Dark Is Rising, the second book of five in The Dark Is Rising series.

I know this book like the back of my hand. I’ve read The Dark Is Rising (#2), The Grey King (#4), and Silver on the Tree (#5) more than 20-30 times. Mom bought The Grey King and Silver on the Tree for my sister and I when we were little. My sister and I were also given copies of Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet series: A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. These books were formative for me. They inspired me to be a writer and encourage an intense interest in mythology… which also tied into an interest in history and archaeology. Science and mythology woven together to create something fascinating, captivating.

About two months ago, I saw the trailer for the Dark is Rising in the movie theatre. I knew which movie it was immediately. When it was announced at the end of the trailer, I was incredibly excited. Someone had produced a movie based around a book I’ve always loved. Would they do it justice or butcher it?

Some times a director will take a book and work miracles with it — staying true to the spirit of the work even if the core story has to be modified. Peter Jackson modified some aspects of the Lord of the Rings trilogy but did a fabulous job with the movies. He kept the spirit of the movies even when he had to change sections of the story. Unfortunately the director of The Dark Is Rising did no such thing.

The Dark Is Rising series is held together by a six verse prophecy, the first two verses of which are key items to the story line in the Dark is Rising. The prophecy from the front of “The Dark is Rising”, which appears on the inside cover of the book:

When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back:
Three from the circle, three from the track;
wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six Signs the burning, and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

I’m 3/4ths of the way through the movie and the prophecy isn’t even mentioned. There is one point when the Old Ones bring Will into the Great Hall and show him a book supposedly only readable by the Seeker (maybe this is supposed to be the Book of Gramarye?). This book contains a list of five Signs with a sixth that is in plain sight. This text is not in the form of the prophecy listed above.

The Great Hall is barely glanced over. It’s briefly introduced in the scene where the book is handed to Will. After that, it’s assumed that people will recognize the great wooden doors.

Will is never introduced to who the Light is and who the Dark is. Instead of having a discussion of Light and Dark, they have Will lamely use Google to come up with a physics question and ask his father (who is a physics professor in this movie). His father tells him not to worry about it (and acts really distracted). Will leaves the room saying that his father never told him not to be afraid of the dark. (oooo ominous!)

So far they have added some strange stuff. Like a romantic interest for Will in the form of a lady named Maggie — this love interest for Will was never in the book (and feels contrived, honestly). In the book, Maggie was a friend of Will’s older brother, Max, who is teased relentlessly about it by Paul. Maggie has a crush on Max, but Max has a girlfriend who is constantly sending him letters.

Oh, and the book that they give Will to read supposedly can only be read by Will. This is incorrect. In the Dark is Rising, this tome is the Book of Gramarye, written in the Old Speech and readable only by Old Ones. It is the book that imparts and awakens the part of Will that is an Old One. It opens the knowledge and the starts to give him the wisdom to use the knowledge and power he has been given.

The movie Will has no opportunity to have any training. He goes to Merriman once to talk to him about what is happening to him, and Merriman blows him off (which seems completely alien to the character Merriman in the book). The audience is asked to believe that a 14 year old boy would develop the knowledge and wisdom to use these new-found powers. Without training. Without help. In five days. Um… right.

In the movie, Will “expresses” his anger and anxiety by setting trees on fire and blowing up cars (which is over seen by his younger sister). Merriman watches from a distance wondering what he is doing — and makes a comment about doesn’t he know he will exhaust his powers (this is also not in the books).

In the book, he is in a back alley walking home and sets a branch on fire. Playing around, not in anger or anything. The Will in the book has more sense than that. At that point is when the Walker, an older man who used to be Merriman’s servant Hawkin, came out and watched. He corners Will, and Will demands the Sign from him. The Walker has carried the Sign for decades… and is finally released of his burden.

In the movie, it’s Will’s younger sister instead of several Old Ones travelling two or three quests with them) and then several by himself. In the movie, Will and his sister step through time (which doesn’t happen in the book). It’s a Viking raid or something that he is dealing with to get the sign from a shield. He trades a modern day watch for a shield containing the sign to distract the viking warrior from attacking his sister. Sigh. He tells his sister not to mention any of it when he returns. And she over hears a discussion Will has with Merriman. (In the book, the Sign is found on the burial boat of a part-Viking king when Will is out with Merriman.)

Merriman is a middle-aged man instead of what I envisioned (think Gandalf — some one with a shock of white hair and an eagle-beak nose).

The funniest scene I saw is where The Rider plays a medical doctor. Heh. The former Doctor as a doctor. Christopher Eccleston’s lines as the Rider are bad. I know he is a good actor, but the lines they have chosen for him are very stilted. He’s not a convincing Rider, but I don’t think he is given an opportunity to be.

Also the Storm, that provides the reason for everyone to move to the Manor for safety just comes up in a scene. No warnings about it, like there were in the book. No people dropping by to say “Hey you need to come to the manor…”

Whole sections of the storyline have been dropped (not just the ones above, but lots more). Key things that provide characterization and depth. You never have a sense that Merriman is more than just some lady’s butler. You don’t have a feeling of the great sense and awe that Merriman has for the Lady in the book. He didn’t translate well as a character.

Max, Will’s older brother, confronts Will in the book. Oh this is stupid. He time travels twice with family members.

They did keep Maggie as a betrayer and agent of the Dark inside the manor. But again, character development … what’s that?

So in the middle of the Storm, many of the villagers are huddled in the Manorhouse. The entire mansion gets flooded by water. Which is crazy. And Merriman has a sword battle with the Rider (again crazy). All of the Old One’s are swept away into an ominous black cloud that sucks them up and away. Will then discovers that the Sixth Sign is his soul (GROAN) and that he has the power to send the darkness away.

And Will supposedly has a twin brother (who reappears at the end of the movie — rescued). In the book, Will is a 7th son because his mother’s first son died from a lung disease when he was a few days old (Tom). In the movie, Will has a twin (Tom, older by a few minutes) who is taken away when he is only two weeks old. So Will gets to bring Tom home.

Happy Happy. Joy Joy.

The Wild Hunt? Gone. The scene of the joining of the signs with Wayland Smith? Gone. The subtle hints about who these characters all were throughout the mythology of the British Isles, especially of the Thames? Not even mentioned. The significance of the Old Way and finding the Way? (double-entendre of both a Way as a road and a Way as a path towards learning or enlightenment). He does not ride the Grey Mare through the forest. No torment of watching the Rider control his sister Mary.

Absolutely no sense of place in this movie. The book is full of it: the past and the present are intertwined in a flowing way so the scenes move from past to present. In the movie, the time jaunts are hammered back and forth in scenes reminiscent of when the Stargate crew jumps through the gate.

The Walker does not even play a part. The entire story line of the Walker and Merriman’s relationship is missing. Just like much of the actual character development.

OH ARG. They really butchered a good story. Really and truly butchered it.

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6 Comments

  • I was pretty sure that Maggie Barnes did indeed appear in the Dark is Rising. She was a hired hand that helped the farmer…For the life of me, I can’t remember his name. But he and the blacksmith were Old ones. She did have a crush on Max, I thought. But it’s very possible I’m misremembering it….although I haven’t seen the movie, I’ve heard it’s terrible.

  • Quite belatedly – wow, you only wrote this much on how much they bollocksed up this film? One could quite easily write a dissertation-length piece on this topic. I was pretty horrified. Will is American, Will’s family is dysfunctional (so that American audiences will relate, perhaps!), Will is older and has a love interest (because, of course, that’s how we reel in the teenage demographic wanting a good ‘date’ movie), Will is not quite the round little chap that its implied he is in the books. Merriman isn’t mentioned by name until quite late in the film, and because he looks nothing like what I envisioned (I, too, thought of Gandalf), I thought they’d omitted him entirely for a bit, until I recalled that Merriman did pose as the butler. Oh, and your above commentor is right – Maggie does appear in the books, but not as a love interest, merely as an agent of the Dark, iirc. I saw this movie while in the RMI. I paid full theatre price to see it, which is rougly the equivalent of an hour and a half’s minimum wage in the local community. Fortunately, it’s a developing nation with a crap minimum wage, so that only translated to me paying $3 to see it. It was still overpriced and I nearly walked out. Very sad.

  • Kittles: You are correct. Maggie is indeed in the book. I had completely forgotten that she worked with Wayland Smith! She has a crush on Max, Will’s older brother. Max already has a girlfriend who constantly sends him letters. I’ve (hopefully) clarified that paragraph in the post.

  • You really could write a book length piece on why the movie was a sorry waste of celluloid. The most important thing missing to me was the actual character development. Will seems like a spoiled little child. Merriman isn’t present at all, much less in his avuncular role that he has in the books. He’s a bigger-than-life character who brings Will along almost as an apprentice. In the movie, you couldn’t care less about Merriman (who seems awfully young — what happened to the shock of white hair?).

    You’re definitely right about the dysfunctional family. Stephen was someone that Will looked up to big time. And now Stephen is more like an annoyance than a big brother.

    The sense of history is completely missing.
    I watched this movie on Google Video because I couldn’t stand the fact that the movie title had been changed from The Dark Is Rising to The Seeker. (LAME!) I was really glad that I didn’t pay admission fees for it.

    Doesn’t it make you furious when a book you care so much about is butchered — bollocksed is a much better term. 🙂

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