Thursday, July 05, 2007

Movie: The Dark is Rising

Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series was one of the first children's book series I read as an adult. It was BC (before children) and this novel made me want to sleep with the lights on for several nights.

I am also interested in the book-to-film progress of The Dark is Rising because this series was one of Entling No. 1's favorite reads of all time. Her copy of Silver on the Tree was a sight to behold: cover hanging by a thread and then gone all together, pages softened from innumerable turnings. These books "fit her just right" to quote a fan's letter to Susan Cooper.

J.L. Bell always writes thoughtfully about the subjects he takes up so I sent his "The Hype is Rising" post to my No. 1 and asked for her take.

For the record my daughter is a twenty something young professional. She said I could share her thoughts that I received over a course of several emails. They were arriving fast and furious.

First take:
I'm only half way through, but if Will has a twin I'll throw up.

And another thing:
Ok, first of all Will has to come from a big family. One of the important themes is that he's the 7th son of a 7th son (or 11th or some number). That's why he's important. And he doesn't ever complain about it - his brothers and sisters do.

That's what makes Will different. He gets along with everyone, has patience and understanding and is more grown up than many of his older siblings. He worries about what he's getting everyone for Christmas because he loves his big family so much he wants to get all the right presents. He understands and accepts what he has to do at such a young age because he wants to protect his family - there's actually a scene where he wants to leave and give up but then sees The Rider with his sister and it propels him into doing what's right for the cause.

The Walker having a love interest is ridiculous - he's actually one of the semi-enemies in the book, and he's not THAT big a character so it doesn't make ANY sense that they would change that. He used to work for the Old Ones, specifically Merriman, but betrayed them and was cursed.

He learns the hard way that an immortal life is not a blessing, and it drives him mad so he actually works for the Dark until Will and Merriman work to bring him back to the Light.
Making him younger, as this post seemed to suggest, is beyond dumb because it takes away the reason for his suffering - he's lived too long and aged too much, but he can't die. He's mad. Adding a love interest makes no sense.
At all.

Will being an American is not that big a deal, though it seems more like a casting cop-out than an actual plot addition. Of course the reason he's British in the books means he has a physical connection to important people and places from King Arthur's time.

But, oh wait, they don't need that (see next paragraph). I don't know why they made him 14 or 13 instead of 11 - the whole deal in the book is that he's not even a teenager yet - that's why it's so hard for him.

Getting rid of the Arthurian themes is unbelievable. First of all Merriman, as we learn in the later books, is also MERLIN. It also means they won't be making The Grey King or Silver on the Tree, since those all involve KING ARTHUR'S SON!! (brought to our modern times by Guenevere with Merrimen's help.)

And Bran has to be King Arthur's son or nothing else makes sense - for example, that's why he can use King Arthur's sword. He's important because he's King Arthur's son - he's the Pendragon and it gives him more abilities and powers than other people. If you take this away and make him just an ordinary kid, why is Bran more special than Will? Why does it have to be him who has to do everything in The Grey King and Silver on the Tree - just cuz he's Welsh??

That's all I can think of in 10 minutes. I'll ponder more if you want.

And another thing:
As a side note - [Ian MacShane's] whine about Cooper's books being too hard to read obviously never tried to read the Narnia series. Cooper's books are not dense or hard to get through, they are not boring, have plenty of action in them already and don't need any random changes to make them more exciting.

It's not a Die Hard type fight with huge action sequences. The Light and the Dark don't use bombs or guns or plastic explosives or snipers to fight each other. It's a more subtle kind of fight, fought in the old ways with cunning and faith. There are rules each side has to follow, including keeping the fight on the down-lo, or risk getting cast out of the universe or something.

In Silver on the Tree, each of the good guys (Simon, Jane, Barney from Over Sea Under Stone and Greenwitch, Will, Bran and Merriman) take one of the Signs (found by Will in Dark is Rising) and they all stand around the most important tree in the world (not actually named the Tree of Life by Cooper, but the symbolism is there.) And all around them they see the other warriors of the Light and the Dark fighting - King Arthur, etc. And the point is that the Light prevented the Dark from taking control of the tree, which exists out of time. Thus they saved the past, present and future.
Or in other words, the fight is never ending and a lot more complicated than just a random good-guy bad-guy fight.That's why it's a quest - you're supposed to have to think about it - it's not supposed to be easy.

And another thing:
Sorry it's kind of a stream of consciousness. But I LOVE these books and the thought of someone messing them up actually makes me want to cry.

And another thing:
Also, please clean up my typos and grammar errors. That post got me so riled up I just started pounding the keyboard.

And another thing:
Merriman is the only character who appears in all 5 books. If the actor hasn't even tried to read them how true will his performance be?


Anonymous said...

You sent me that post like 3 hours ago, and I'm still thinking of ways that dopey director is going to mess it up. Crickey!! - Entling No. 1.

Anonymous said...

WORD! Or, if you prefer, "what SHE said."

I was so distressed by all the news coming from The Dark is Rising movie and its minions that I threw up a little in my mouth.

lazy cow said...

THAT right THERE, is the reason I loathe, and despise movie versions of films. I'm so angry reading these changes I can't see straight. The books are all very fresh in my mind as I read them all for the first time this year, as a 40 year old. It makes me sick to my stomach. Sigh.

Unknown said...

I am SO with Entling No. 1. It makes me want to cry, too.

Stomper Girl said...

Oh I'm glad I read this, I will file it under movies I'm never going to watch, because I loved those books!

--Deb said...

Now I'm scared--I didn't even know this was going to BE a movie, an it sure sounds like they're going to ruin it (shudder).

Oh, but of course Will has to be American . . . all the British child actors are tied up with Harry Potter.... (grin)

Lady S. said...

We've been deep in denial in this house - fingers in ears and humming 'La la la' all the time - since reading about the butchering job being done for this film. But I managed to come out of it long enough to read your daughter's thoughts, and am glad I did. Clearly her brain has been turned too, to great effect! Only thing I'd love her to have added is why she thought setting it in the US wasn't a big deal (or wouldn't have been if not for the Arthurian element removal).

Kidlitjunkie said...

I read that post you linked to, and I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

What is really the point of making a Dark Is Rising movie if it has so little resemblence to everything that make those books wonderful? If you're going to make Will 13 and American and disliking his family - and with a twin! - if you're going to take out the Arthurian bits - if you're going to twist and change it so much that it's practically a different story altogether - why not make a new story and call it something original and different?

I am a big believer in sitting out movies till the end, no matter how bad they are, but if Will really does have a secret twin, I will almost certainly walk out of the theatre right then and there.

Camille said...

kidlitjunkie: Our family is a stay-until-the-last-credit-line rolls family too. Directors are rewarding us with little treats at the end for our trouble which is gratifying.

lady s.: I can't speak for Entling no. 1, perhaps she will weigh in here, but I interpreted her comment as: ok, whatever, Will is an American but his family has moved to England. Maybe she was thinking if that was the ONLY change they were going to make in the story (since apparently screenwriters don't think Americans will tolerate a British hero--ever hear of Harry Potter chum?) that would have been one of those moments to sigh heavily but move on.
There was a whole other spate of furious emails from her about them filming in Romania. She was bemoaning the loss of the English countryside and villages and Windsor Forest.

Lady S. said...

Oh yes, that makes sense - and if it had been the only change, and they'd still managed to keep the British mythology in which the books are so steeped, then a heavy sigh would have taken care of it. Quite agree about the idiocy of film companies ignoring the HP success in assuming all the kids have to be American! But then, this whole thing is so full of idiocy from start to finish that that one hardly surprises.

tanita✿davis said...


This completely ruins the series, and all the deeply spooky bits are taken out with stupidity like love interests and teen angst and the like. My biggest bewildered "Eh?" is cutting the Arthurian connection. I am ... I don't know where else they can go with this, I truly don't.

And I so love how articulate Entling No. 1 is when infuriated... all I could screech was NO! No, no NOOOO! for quite some time.

Unknown said...

Yes, removing the Arthurian connection has me deeply bewildered, as well. I mean, it's one of the underpinnings of the whole series!

Michele said...

Joining in the bafflement here... Sometimes, you just want to go and kick a Director in the rear for being such an utter MORON !

Anonymous said...

Honestly, the movement to present-day and the lack of the arthurian themes is going to kill the movie. Why is Will all of a sudden a generic teenager? What is with the tacky love interest?

Worse, why is everybody suddenly American? And worse still, the best actor of the lot gets to be the villain. Bah. Cliche, uninteresting, and a waste of a great actor.

We're faced with a cinematic flop that will destroy the reputation of any of the actors/actresses, as well as screw over any hope for a sequel.

Not that anybody would hope for a sequel to this rubbish.

Anonymous said...

I was so excited when I heard they were making a movie - after all I had been waiting for 23 years! Better than JK better than His Dark Materials - now just ruined - it's tantamount to blasphemy.

Camille said...

Amen, brothers and sisters!

Anonymous said...

Saw poster in cinema, haveing just seem Transformers (which was cheesetastic) with son, though 'naa it can't be' horse is the wrong colour, came home, did search, found site with short trailer...I feel violated! These books are my favorate and my sons, Will NOT be going to see this travisty of cinimatogrophy, the whole cast, crew and financiers should be throughly ashamed of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Just joining my voice to the rest of you. I've loved these books for over a decade. I have a quartered circle hanging up on my wall. I chose the screenname of Pendragon because of her stories. I'm so annoyed at this sham of a movie.

Anonymous said...

Had to add my ranting. I agree with everything everyone else has said. The only hope I have is that this travesty will quickly fade from memory, enough that some enterprising independent film company will revisit it in 15 years or so and actually make a movie that begins to compare to the books. This reminds me horrendously of Ella Enchanted and its accompanying horrible movie. I know Ella isn't "high" fantasy in the truest sense, but the book was still ripped apart in the movie, all because the stupid writers couldn't create an original movie, and warped some poor, unsuspecting, upstanding book author's work.

scott said...

Let's face it....This movie is NOT an attempt at a faithful adaptation of "TDIR" like "Lord Of The Rings" or "Lion, Witch, Wardrode"!!! It is one very loosely based upon that novel. So if you see it, DO NOT expect any resemblence at all. Unfortunately, this means the odds of actually ever making a movie based upon the book for real are now severely diminished. I, too, upon hearing the name "Will Stanton" in the theater before the Harry Potter movie could not believe my ears. Then, sadly, I couldn't believe my eyes, as the trailer proved to be a sham of a mockery of anything decent. Had NOONE involved read the book at all? There was a South Park episode where a commentator follows Stan around and turns his life into a stupid movie trailer. This "The Seeker" trailer was just like that episode, only pathetically it was real. "Will Stanton thought he was an ordinary boy. But he's gonnna find, being the Seeker, isn't what he thought!" DUUUUUUUUHH. But nothing will every sully my memories and love for that series, no matter what dung is flung onto the screen.

Anonymous said...

Have just seen the trailer for "The Seeker"- and was halfway through it before I realised what it was supposed to be! What a tragedy. My son was named Will after this series, but he won't be going to see this film. BBC Sunday Teatime series would have been preferable to this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Cooper's epic fantasy has traditionally been grouped with The Lord of the Rings and Narnia as an examble of great British fantasy. While it never attained the popularity of these serries, its poetic prose and haunting pre-Christian imagery weave a tale of terror and beauty. Cooper also relies on lesser-known myths, like the tale of Hern the Hunter to add an exotic flair to the familiar mythology of the English countryside.
These books certainly have faults - the plots are sometimes dense and confusing, and some of Cooper's characters, especially Will and his family, are too wholesome and flat to be believable. Cooper tries to correct these mistakes in later volumes, but they are certainly present in her second book, The Dark is Rising. As for most of the characters that ally with the Dark, no effort is made at any point to flesh them out beyond a cartoonish image of a debonair villain.
However, none of these faults justify the most glaring changes that were made to the script. By making Will an American, Hodge denies the deeply English soul of the stories. In her most poetic passages, Cooper is writing a paen to English myth and magic. By relying on cliches like missing twins, Hodge denies the otherwordly quality that Cooper invokes by using lesser-known myths like the tale of Hern the Hunter. Not to mention that making Will a whinny, self-centered teenager, Hodge denies the painful loss of innocensce that makes the tale poignant despite it's somewhat flat character development.
Some of the changes were needed - its unlikely such a small studio will make sequals - where are the promised Narnia sequals? - so its acceptable to remove the some of the Arthurian plotline - the plot needed to be prunned considerably to fit into a theatre-friendly format. However the changes went too far to preserve the aspects of The Dark is Rising that made it a fantasy classic.

Wow that was long! But these were my favorite books when I was growing up!

Camille said...

Well said, scott, vertisflame and cecilia. We could not be in more agreement about the given need for changes when a book is translated to the big screen. The Potter films have had their high and low points as did the Narnia movie, all succeeding in some ways and falling short in others.

In this case, I think the casual, disrespectful and callous handling of Cooper's book(s) is what is causing the outcry and dismay.

In the case of the Potter films, Narnia and most splendidly, the Lord of the Rings, the directors/producers all addressed the "book to film" issue with comments or at least a nod to the origins of the stories they are telling and expressed a hope that they could bring the author's, Rowling/Lewis/Tolkien, visions to life on the screen.

Rowling had terms and conditions about the movie rights to HP so none of the HP directors said, "well, Rowling's story is so...British. We have improved it and made Harry an American and he attends Hogwarts High School in Santa Barbara, California where he and his pals suffer in Chemistry class with a mean and cranky teacher, Mr. Snape. Hijinks ensue including a fruit cart scene!"

The interviews with The Seeker/DiR people all seem to be saying, Cooper's book was an ok springboard for their own reinvention and improvements. "We will make up our own story." There does not seem to be even an echo of interest in the elements of the story as cecilia so eloquently described them and that is what has upset the folks who love these books.

I do not think the Walden/Fox people ever understood why the books have such a following. They have stepped in it and are now stymied to find the "fans" they were counting on to support the movie in an uproar.

Anonymous said...

What really irks me about this is that Waldem Media markets their movies to librarians (like myself) as true to the original books. I was so excited about this movie and now I want to go picket Susan Cooper's house.

Camille said...

Poor Susan Cooper sold the rights to the book to the Jim Henson folks years ago (if I am remembering correctly) and then years later, they got picked up by Walden et al. Authors must have to emotionally distance themselves from the movies since they usually have no control over what happens but it must be irksome and disappointing to see the way the book is being handled.

Anonymous said...

Am 62 y.o. and have read the "Dark is Rising" sequence about 20 times since I first discovered it many years past. As much as I love H.P. I so often commented "if only someone would make TDiR as a series of films". Well, I certainly take that back!! Having seen the trailer I am totally horrified. They have cut the heart and soul from the story and trivialized it into not much of anything. How sad....

Camille said...

anonymouse, You have expressed the fans feelins perfectly.

Anonymous said...

How to epitomize how wrong this movie is: Will and dark-Max, traveling through time, engaging in karate fights on top of market place carts full of vegetables....And most damning? A whole helluva lot of SNAKES!(??) I've read a lot of comments all over the board, and I've suddenly realized that there just hasn't been enough comment regarding the friggin' SNAKES. Holy Moses -- friggin' snakes.

Camille said...

"I hate snakes" -- Indiana Will

Anonymous said...

I recently saw the trailer for this movie and was very excited. The Dark Is Rising book was the very 1st book I can ever remember reading as a young child and since then I have read and re-read the series lots of times. However, having researched a little more into the movie and reading all of your comments I shall most certainly NOT be going to see it! I was shocked that Will was an american when watching the trailor and to discover that they have removed the arthurian connection, Merlin and so much more is heart-breaking! I was very much hoping that by taking my nieces and nephews to see this film and then encouraging them to read the later books would entice them to read more but now I shan't bother with taking them to the cinema but shall simply stick to the books. Susan Cooper is a brilliant author (along with J. K. Rowling - with the exception of her last book!) who wrote an outstanding series and the makers of this movie should be ashamed of themselves!

Anonymous said...

I can only echo what others have said - this was for me a magical series that I first read when I was 11. I absolutely loved it - the sense of the magic behind everyday things, the way music was so important in all the enchantments, the poetic language, the overwhelming sense of place (an English village at Christmas, a fishing village in Cornwall, a hot summer's day in Bucks, the Welsh mountains). It was beautiful, subtle and original fantasy. When I was doing my A-level music composition, I even tried to write a piece of music for a possible film adaptation of Silver On The Tree.

A friend who I'd lent my copy of the series to told me last week that they were making it into a film. I was so excited that it made my day. Looking at the official site and reading the posts, plus the fact that Susan Cooper is not happy with the adaptation, I am dreadfully disappointed.

I can only echo another poster's hope that at some point in twenty years an independent film-maker will pick this up and make a film that captures the subtlety of Cooper's epic.

Thank you for giving me somewhere to post my thoughts.

Camille said...

I love your insight into the music. It would be so interesting to hear your composition.

My only consolation about all this has been that the movie did not do well at the box office so not many people saw it. We have all been so fearful that the movie would turn people off the books. Hopefully, this has not occured.