How not to adapt a book: The Dark is Rising and the Film (#SFWApro)

210329THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper (all rights to cover with current holder) was the second in the eponymous same-book series, though not a direct sequel to the first. Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son discovers on his 11th birthday that he’s the last of the Old Ones, a legion of immortal wizards who can move through time and work wonders, and who struggle to keep the Dark from swallowing the world. And it’s December, the darkest part of the year, when the dark is strongest and its agents want very much to stop Will from his mission … This is a very good book, with a real sense of place and community (a small English village), a good handling of Will’s large and rowdy family and a nice use of folklore. And while Boy Wizard is obviously more of a cliche post-Harry Potter, Will comes off much more of an ordinary boy with an ordinary life than Harry did (noteworthy because the film’s writer justified the changes by the need to make this not look like it was knocking off the Potter films).

THE SEEKER: The Dark Is Rising (2007) ages Will to 13 (for some reason this was supposed to make him less like Harry) and changes him from a Brit to a Yank, which screenwriter John Hodge says was to make him an outsider (except Hodge does nothing with that aspect after the opening scene). The folkloric aspects are gone (the Guardian speculates the production company, which also made the recent crop of Narnia films, didn’t think Old Magic fit with a Christian-friendly film offering), there’s little of the community and the time-travel scenes are pointless (so at least this goes in the appendix). There are also pointless changes such as Will’s new powers including super-strength and throwing in generic family conflicts (and a really forced happy ending to one of them).

And beyond that, it’s just … flat. Will’s quest for the Six Signs lacks any power or drama and for all Hodge’s complaints that Will in the novel never does anything, he does even less here, except argue with Merriman (Ian McShane). The only entertainment actor is Christopher Eccleston as the Dark Rider, rising effortless above his material.  Hodge’s efforts to explain why his writing decisions were right only remind me of Siskel and Ebert’s old observation, if something doesn’t work there’s no point in the creator explaining why it had to be written that way.

“Dad, when I was little … you never told me not to be afraid of the dark.”

5 Comments

Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel, Reading

5 responses to “How not to adapt a book: The Dark is Rising and the Film (#SFWApro)

  1. Yet another case of a screenwriter and director not liking or understanding the source material and thinking they can “do better” while being clearly incompetent. Reminds me of the Sci-Fi Channel’s Earthsea adaptation in that regard (though in that case, I don’t think the filmmakers even read the two books it was ostensibly based on all the way through).

    • Yes indeed. Or the adaptation of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story where the screenwriter specifically said he didn’t like the book and wanted to do something more original (if so, he failed abysmally).

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