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Monday, October 08, 2007

The Dark Is Rising A.K.A. The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising A.K.A. The Seeker A.K.A. Self-Indulgent Crap

I was just over at Ain't It Cool News, reading up on a children's fantasy movie that, honestly, I had wanted to see up until about 2 months ago - if only because Christopher Eccleston is in it. I got through the review, which was pretty much what I expected (after reading the book, that is... but more on that later), and got into reading the comments. I know, I know: reading an AICN Talkback is about as fruitful a pursuit as using YouTube comments as primary academic sources, but, sometimes, you do find that odd gleaming gem buried in the pile of shit, written in desperation by that one lone reader with half a brain in his ass. I didn't find any gems today, but I did find out that, surprisingly, people actually liked reading The Dark is Rising, a fantasy novella by Susan Cooper. And I cannot possibly see why.

First, I saw the comment by the dick who calls Massawyrm (who wrote the review) an asshole for having the audacity, the impudence, the gall, to say that a film version of the Dark is Rising was trying to take advantage of the popularity of Harry Potter. In his defense, he cites the fact that The Dark is Rising was written in the sixties, and therefore a movie version couldn't possibly be trying to lure a few Potterites into the theaters. Naturally, he must feel the same way about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which totally wasn't trying to ride the sci-fi wave started by Star Wars in the late seventies. After all, Trek came out first. Ditto for Flash Gordon.

Further down the page, however, I ran into even more people that were simply belligerent over the fact that Massawyrm was daring to call the movie dull, lifeless, boring, et al. I've gotta tell you the sad, simple truth, folks: the book is exactly the same. When Ian McShane (starring in the film as Merriman) related to a reporter that he couldn't get through the "complexity" of the book, he was being polite: he really meant that he couldn't get through all the bromidic bullcrap.

Over at David Brin's website (he's the author of The Postman, and a contributor to Star Wars on Trial), he describes, in an article entitled "Leaving the Matrix," the kind of fiction that The Dark is Rising represents. It's not a tale of an individual hero, fighting against the odds and earning his victory, but of a demi-god, an elite who was chosen by shadowy rules that give him the right to meddle in the affairs of the world at his whim - because he's not just another person, he is the seeker, and he knows best.

This is indeed what Harry Potter is: a self-indulgent story whereby the reader (or author) can fantasize that they aren't just another person, but are secretly better than everyone else. And they don't have to work for it in the slightest: an old man or wizard visits them, usually around their birthday, tells them that they are descended from great powers, and then, *poof!*, off to save the world they go. You can see it in Harry Potter, you can see it in Star Wars, and you can most definitely see it in The Dark is Rising.

In fact, the book takes the "I'm special just because I'm me" theme even further than Harry or Anakin or Neo. In The Dark is Rising, most of the action is actually inaction. SPOILER WARNING: "The Seeker's" (11-year-old Will Stanton) goal is to find a series of six signs, small symbols made out of different materials that are shaped like a quartered circle. Of course, he doesn't really need to find them - they find him. He never has to venture into dark caves, or misty mountains, or dense forests to find the signs, they just kind of... show up. He's even given one at a party by the same people that want him to find them. There's no adventure, and there's no real suspense or threat of danger, because we're dealing with a kid who can light things on fire and move objects using only his mind. Hell, there's even a scene where he opens a book and instantly gains all of the knowledge of the Old Ones, all without any studying required. It's self-indulgent pap. Even the ending, in which the "Dark Rider" might finally get back at Will by killing one of sisters, is ruined by the deus ex machina to end all deus ex machinas: an actual god, not just the representation of one, but an actual god, helps vanquish the forces of the dark.

Essentially, Will is an automaton who is simply destined to win - he's where he needs to be when he needs to be, and he's forced to say the right words at the right time (no fucking kidding, he says things against his will). That's not fun. That's not adventure. That's lazy wish-fulfillment.

Ian McShane knows. That's why he said this:

No, I never heard of them. I did try to read the book, but they were a little...I think...I don't know how...There's four of them apparently. Or five. Oh, god. That means I might have to do a sequel.

Oh god, indeed, my friend.

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