2 Jan 2012

Page vs Screen: The Dark is Rising vs. The Seeker

The things I do for this Blog... like watching a movie I swore to myself I would never see again! I couldn't remember the details of why, but I did remember that I definitely did NOT like the movie version of one of my favourite young adult books: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. Well. I guess writing this post will help me remember in the future why I disliked it so much... (other than the fact that it was just, well, a bad movie!).

Thing is, I've been wanting to write another Page vs Screen post for a while, plus I wanted something in a Christmas vein, and a family member mentioned on Facebook that she was about to embark on one of her yearly traditions, reading The Dark Is Rising at Christmas. It made me realise I haven't read it in years, and it does seem the perfect time of year to read it since the story takes place between the Winter Solstice and 12th Night (night before the Epiphany or Three Kings Day). So I pulled the book off its shelf and got hold of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (which by the way makes no mention of the significance of the dates Midwinter, Twelfth Night etc.). And here we are!


Being the devil's advocate for a moment, I can understand why they would want to modernise the story... bringing it forward to the 21st century (kids with ear buds constantly in their ears, modern language etc.) Plus making the main character Will Stanton an American and older (turns 14 instead of 11). I guess older makes his actions more believable? (It was tough believing an 11 year-old -in the book- would be out Christmas shopping on his own, but we had no problem watching Harry Potter and his friends off on their own adventures and they were only 11 in the first film) Plus it allows for a romantic interest. They'd have expected all this to help promote it and boost ticket sales in the biggest market: the U.S. But you know what I say? If it ain't broke, don't fix it!!! Making him older takes away from who he is as the youngest sibling in a large family (and combining his sisters into one younger one, ugh!). Plus there's always been something magical in turning 11, the double one thing... I like the way those numbers look!

In trying to modernise things, they've actually managed to gut the story of most of its heart and soul and magic. In this film we never really connect with Will as a character, watching him throw a temper tantrum and lighting a tree on fire doesn't help me understand what he's going through with his new found status as an Old One as much as his mature conversations with his older brothers or his weighing the consequences of his actions did in the book. In fact, most of the time he's just an annoying sulky teenager. The equivalent scene in the book, lighting a tree on fire, felt truer to form: a child has just discovered he has magical powers (again, Potter anyone?) and just lets himself experience the joy, the amazement of this fact for a moment.

Then there's the whole premise: Will is the first -and last- of the Old Ones (a circle of people defending the Light and the world from the attack of the Dark, basic good vs evil stuff) to be born for 500 years and his arrival completes the Circle of the Old Ones. He starts seeing things differently the day before his birthday with animals acting aggressive around him and technology going wonky. And then he wakes up on his 11th birthday (on the magical Midwinter Day) to find himself drawn towards the great Gates through which he meets Merriman and a woman simply known as "the Lady" (who doesn't appear in the film, or is melded into Miss Greythorne) and who inform him and begin to teach him about being an Old One. (in the film they don't "bring him in" until several days later!)

Merriman and Miss Greythorne - wielding a sword?!-

His task is to find the 6 signs that were created for the light and which, when joined, will be a powerful weapon against the rising Dark. Will is the Sign Seeker (the fact that they kept calling him just the "Seeker" in the film kept reminding me of the TV series Legend of the Seeker, lol!). It is a task that must be completed in his own time (and in 2 weeks, not 6 days), no hopping in and out of time like in the movie (except to read the book of Gramarye), even less so taking family members with him! Each of the Signs is earned after having surmounted a challenge, whereas in the film he just spots spiral patterns (the film does get brownie points for the mention of fractals and making physics sound cool!) that tell him where the signs are, no real merit. There's also no mention of what the Signs are made of (wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, stone), which is closely related to how and where they are found.

I took a whole bunch of notes while watching the film, but if I went into all the details of how the book and film are different we'd still be here tomorrow! I've already mentioned his age, and the fact they combined his two older sisters (who picked on him) into one younger one who kind of adores him. He doesn't seem to be as close to his brother James as in the book, and the twins don't feel right. Figures Stephen would be in the US Navy instead of the Royal Navy, and Hawaii would be an equivalent tropical stop to Jamaica, but that means we miss out on the all important Carnaval mask!!! But since they've decided to skip the story of Herne the Hunter I guess the gift of the belt makes sense... More: the Dad's a physicist instead of a jeweller, so the Rider can't come in as a collegue, instead he appears as a doctor. Speaking of the Rider... when I read that it was Christopher Eccleston I thought "cool!", but no way! Totally unconvincing, didn't seem threatening to me at all and his dialogue seemed very forced (and where's his cool BLACK horse?).

a totally unthreatening Rider

Oh, and don't get me started on Tom! SERIOUSLY?!?!?! They expect us to believe the family would accept his just showing up in England after having disappeared in the States?! Plus this whole twin business... I can get his parents' not talking about it, but most of the older siblings would have known and remembered Tom so there's no way the topic wouldn't have been mentioned to Will before! Makes much more sense in the book to have Tom be the eldest son who died shortly after birth so no one else knew him! In the same eye-rolling vein I find the whole idea of the 6th Sign being carried in the essence of a human soul... pffffffft!

I think I'm going to stop now... I can't really say anything good about the film which annoyed me to no end because I had high hopes for it! (and apparently I'm in agreement with most reviewers, it's considered "rotten" with only 14% approval at Rotten Tomatoes) These five novels form a wonderful series, and done properly could make a great film series! *sigh*  Now I think I just might have to go and re-read the other four books. I love the Drew siblings and Bran is great too! Anything that ties in to King Arthur usually tickles my fancy. ;o)

Plus, I really missed this:
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 circle, 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 greenwitch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.


  1. I'm writing children's book reviews on my blog quietcornerreading.wordpress.com and am recommending The Dark is Rising because, of course, it's a wonderful book. I agree with you about the making of really bad movies from really outstanding books. My philosophy...ALWAYS read the book first!

  2. Hi Unknown!

    I've often pondered the question of whether to read the book or watch the movie first (if I haven't already read the book a new movie is based on). I almost always think the books are better which means if I read the book first I'm pretty sure to be disappointed by the movie! Although I'll admit there have been some movies which did a good job of adapting the book. But since they always leave things out in the adaptation, if I read the book second then there's always something new to discover in the book (compared to the movie)! On the other hand... reading the book after having seen the movie kind of limits my imagination since I'm kind of pre-conditioned by the film-maker's vision of things...

    *sigh* No perfect solution!

  3. Hello! (**hello**...mine turtle!) okay, now, if you don't think i'm completely crazy after that...then you're gonna hate me now...
    I just watched this movie, and I haven't read the book. Normally, yes, i do read the book first, but this time, i didn't...i guess maybe 'cause i forgot that it was based on a book until i started watching. But i do pretty much agree with you. It wasn't all that great. The story seemed kinda rushed, with nothing really explained. And making the characters older is just a thing that movie makers tend to do quite often, like in Eragon, too.
    I thought The Rider was pretty good, actually. (Maybe he's not compared to the book, but i don't know...) And when Eccelston came in ass a doctor... ROFL!-literally. I almost fell off my couch. I was not expecting the Doctor to be playing a doctor. And he referenced Doctor Who, too!
    But all in all, not the best movie by far. And if I read the book, i'm sure i would like it even less. I really don't like it when they change the story so much.

    Sooo...enough of my talking...If you want to check out my blogs... http://need2read9.blogspot.com is the main one about books, movies and random awesome stuff. Then i also have one for Star Wars and one for Doctor Who.


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