a.k.a. The Dark Is Rising: The Seeker
Director: David Cunningham
No score soundtrack released, although an 18 track album titled 'The Seeker (Music from the Motion Picture)' is on iTunes.
Best bit of the film (and the score): the mall security scene. Menace, claustrophobia, corner-of-eye scare fx, then one nasty shocker of a chase. All vividly captured in Beck's orchestral palette.
As a childhood admirer of Susan Cooper's awe-inspiring novel, I correctly anticipated the great amount of tampering required to adapt it for the American multiplexes. The family is American living in England, and the subplots are updated and reworked for a modern age and viewers' expectations of fantasy, family life and scares. I disagree with the generally negative feeling of this adaptation - the book, I felt, was unfilmable. It was set in a different time with different family values and ideals. It was also a novel whose power lay 95% in its atmosphere, and 5% in a vast flooded/mythological ending which would have tested the best visual effects teams and biggest budgets. Cunningham's film did not have the budget and neither (probably wisely) did it have the confidence to leave so much to the imagination. On the up-side, there are a number of scenes which are genuinely creepy, especially those that use such simple devices as using wrong camera angles and distortion to disorient the viewer; he also has a decent and mostly believable group of actors in both the American family (esp. Gregory Smith as the older brother) and the weird English villagers (at the very least interesting casting of Heroes' Christopher Eccleston (UKers see Doctor Who), Deadwood's Ian McShane (older UKers see Lovejoy!), and Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy (UKers will probably know her, but might not notice her disguise of ill-fitting tinted pince-nez)). On the downside, Will Stanton, the Seeker of the story is shoehorned into his teens, with superhero expectations, moods and lust all falling largely flat, where the novel's creepy half-child-half-Old One 11-year-old boy would have shifted the film to unchallenged fantasy territory (no Potter or Rings associations there). However, not every director can call upon Haley Joel Osment (Nanny McPhee's Thomas Sangster would have been disturbing enough, though by now too old), and Alexander Ludwig does fine as the everyman sensitive family runt. I've seen films with more adult appeal, and I've seen better kids' fantasy, but as an adaptation of Cooper's novel, what it jettisons isn't always to its detriment, and it will most likely make a decent Christmas telly movie for years to come. The problem for Cooper fans must be that it just wasn't mythological enough - the winter isn't bleak, the Walker and Hern the Hunter are missing, and both Old Ones and evil characters lack gravitas. That Cooper's novel now feels like old hat now is purely because her characters and storytelling have dated and others have souped up the same myths since with an eye to the adult reader and the modern cinema-goer.
So presumably the lack of a concurrent soundtrack CD is the poor critical reception? Beck's score for The Seeker, much like that for Elektra, goes deliberately against the grain of received wisdom for is genre. Rather than delivering big tunes out of the bag (of which he has been shown capable in the past), he appears to aim for subtle harmonic colour - pairs of shifting chords - and short but with-potential motifs. His is very much the subservient underscore in the mix of the film rather than the bombastic fantasy feast, which is off because away from the movie, this score is filled with nuance and thrills.
THE CD SOUNDTRACK
01. Will's theme (0'55") [clip]
02. At the mall (3'29") [clip]
03. Walk to party (1'21")
04. The Rider (5'12") [clip]
05. Seventh son (2'05")
06. Will is the Seeker (5'52")
07. Church lady (2'23")
08. Thomas Stanton (3'26")
09. Salt fractal (2'28") [clip]
10. Knife dance (2'28")
11. Venting (2'29")
12. Three signs (2'40")
13. Sign of iron (1'51")
14. Huntercombe Manor (3'26")
15. Sign of water (1'21")
16. Apocalypse (3'54")
17. Demise of the Rider (2'00")
18. Reunited (3'04")
Total time: 49'04"
Something of Elektra's menace resides in this score despite the greater tendency towards a thematic approach: while Beck's themes are more prevalent here, they are shorter (normally 3-4 notes, extendable when required in whatever form the scene calls for) and more malleable in the underscore. There is clear indication that Beck has formed a tight leit motif structure which is artfully obscured by the variety in development and orchestration. In the latter he glides between almost invisible underscore and willful fantasy-horror flamboyancy which strangely renders his score almost totally invisible to the film's audience (except in this reviewer's nigglesome opinion for the occasional intrusive contemporary drumbeat which occasionally spoils the effect) due to the precise correlation with the action and sound effects/dialogue. It is therefore a pleasure to uncover missed detail and magic when the orchestral score is laid bare. And there is much to uncover in the absence of pop songs. The commercial soundtrack contains a number of shorter cues but only the first is below one minute, and although as ever a little extra time and attention could have created a thrilling suite superior to the guts-and-all approach, it is well worth the purchase, although currently only available as a download.
Beck eschews big melodies in favour of tiny malleable motifs which generally represent good, evil and magic elements in the film. Here are a few to watch out for:
Ex.1. Will's theme (which stretches from gentle or romantic
to thunderously heroic):
might become or
Ex.2. The Rider's theme:
related to and perhaps even...
In addition, Beck roots his scores in a variety of atypical chordal progressions or alternations, nothing dissonant or too ear-catching, but interesting enough to stand repetition in pairs, used as unassuming but meaningful underscore, accompaniment or as part of a magical or heroic swell. Here are a few examples:
... and you will notice how some of the earlier examples also follow this askew harmonic flavour, chromatic but warm.
Finally for much of his darker music, Beck is not afraid to create dissonance for its own sake, normally in a build rather than for sudden shocks, but his greatest asset is orchestration. The battling brass and pounding drums of 'The Rider' (see clip)and the archaic off-tune brass and swell of orchestra in the film's scariest moment: 'The Mall.' (again, see clip).
Degrees of Beck:
None found (yet).
Full music credits
Only caught a few from the film:
Composed by Christophe Beck
Conducted by Mike Novak
Orchestrated by Kevin Kleisch
Mixed by Casey Stone
Songs were mostly or all traditional songs and carols used for diagetic purposes (shopping centre music, church hymns, etc.).