If I were going to pitch Susan Cooper's kid-lit fantasy series, The Dark is Rising, to a room full of studio execs, I'd proceed as follows: "Listen, guys. I'm not gonna lie. This is gonna be a real challenge. These books are not only noticeably dated from a sci-fi/fantasy fan's perspective, but also remarkably insular and plotty, and not even the good kind of plotty. They aren't 'every chapter is a new adventure' plotty, but more like a catalog of meaningless busywork-tasks the hero has to perform. The books remind me of a third-rate Atari 2600 game, in which the hero has some Arthurian pedigree that's spelled out in the booklet, but on-screen he's just a bland avatar who has to collect six out of nine sacred talismans and place them in the right spots on the map, in order to thwart the 'forces of darkness.' That's all this series amounts to, but I wouldn't be pitching this to you if I didn't see some ways we can get around that stuff. So allow me to proceed.
We're going to adapt the second book in the series, for two reasons: first, because it's called The Dark is Rising, which will make a cool title, but also because it contains an intriguing substrata. The main character, Will Stanton, is a 14 year-old wizard who is struggling with puberty just as he's discovering his wizarding ways. The bad guys know this, so they send a witch to tempt him, in the form of a hot, older girl. In the book, this is hardly more than a footnote and most of the plot is given over to the young wizard learning his craft from an old wizard, but that's just bo-ring. We're going to downsize that angle considerably and make the witch subplot the A-story. I'm envisioning a tragic first-love saga between this kid who doesn't know any better, and this more experienced girl who is allied with the forces of evil, but isn't totally evil to the core. There's a sort of Anakin Skywalker quality to her, which a good script will heighten. With me so far? Good.
Now, there are other sinkholes in the book we'll have to avoid, such as the fact that this is an 'anything goes' fantasy book. These warring wizards can travel through time on a whim, shoot fire and ice, cause great eruptions in the weather, and more. None of those actions ever really add up to a story, though. They just sort of happen, and no one seems to have limits on their power, which as you can imagine, makes for an annoying read. We're going to fix that. We're going to reduce the scale and focus on the time-shifting element, which we think has the most potential. Yeah, I know, time-travel has been done to death, but we see some potential in having these Lord of the Ring-style characters getting jerked back and forth between their world and modern day London. That's not the way it happens in the book -- the characters in the book seem to time-shift from one boring time and place to another -- but as I've tried to convey, relying on the book is suicide.
Our story will basically be about a modern American teenage boy who moves to London with his family -- dad has business there -- and meets this hot, older British girl who takes an inexplicable shine to him. When some local yokels in the British town start to talk to him about his powers and the existence of wizards -- think American Werewolf in London, as a tonal reference -- he blows them off, but he eventually comes to realize that he does have powers, and this hot British girl is intent on steering him towards the dark side right out of the gate. Before you know it, they've sort of cast their lot together against the dark (although she might be faking) and time-travel fighting these guys for control of a talisman (one, not seven million, like in the books) and of course the final showdown will revolve around whether or not the girl is truly allied with the dark or with Will. It's a big departure from The Dark is Rising book, but not so much that it's unrecognizable. What do you think?"
Sadly, I did not get to make my pitch to any studio exec, but David Cunningham got to make his. His poorly-scripted, aggressively family-oriented and stupidly re-titled film, The Seeker:The Dark is Rising has the feel of one of those Disney Channel original movies where the writing is purposefully static and bland and there's no way to conceal that every decision made along the way was subservient to maintaining the PG rating. The basic plot of the book has been retained: Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) moves to England with his family and learns that he's a wizard, caught between the forces of the light and the dark. The book's two fatal flaws, mentor-porn and quest-porn, have also sadly been retained. At least half the film is given over to Will being lectured on wizarding by an older wizard, played here by Ian McShane, and the lecturing is on the level of McShane's character telling Will that he is destined to save the world because "you're the seventh son of a seventh son" and "you are the last of our kind." Snore.
When Will isn't inhaling this nonsense, he's on his talisman hunt, searching for trinkets that have to be aggregated together at the right place, in order to stop a guy who wears a bandit kerchief over his mouth and rides a horse -- he's called The Rider! -- from destroying the world with bad weather. And believe me, this character, played by Christopher Eccleston, is just as ridiculous as he sounds. And the girl I referenced in my pitch? Her character, played here by Amelia Warner, is not only a footnote, but also terribly mismanaged. There are scenes where Warner has to speak embarrassingly bad dialogue and act in such an unnatural way that she probably wanted to crawl under a rock after the day's filming. There could have been a good movie made out of Cooper's lame series, but Fox was clearly more interested in kicking over the most accessible fantasy-lit rock and sending what they found through their creakiest and most unsupervised assembly line. The movie they've produced is dead on arrival.