We went and checked out the competition the other day. By which I mean to say, we went to see the Seventh Son movie that was released last week, which, just to reiterate, has nothing to do with my Seventh Son novel, beyond the concept that the seventh son of a seventh son has special magical abilities.
I was, quite frankly, a little apprehensive about going to that movie. You see, I read the book it’s based on, Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice, or rather, The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (that’s the American title). That book has the potential for a SCARY movie. Plus, the film is rated 14A around here, and that alone would make me, usually, stay away from it. I don’t do scary.
But as it turns out, the movie has very little to do with Delaney’s novel, either. Oh, they retain the basic premise, and the names of the characters. But other than that they’ve taken a quite innovative storyline, and pounded it flat into a stereotypical, run-of-the-mill fantasy movie plot, which might have been okay as a made-for-TV story, but on the big screen is a waste of money, special effects and great acting talent.
Speaking of acting talent, as I mentioned before, one of the reasons I made myself go see the movie is that it has the daughter of a friend of mine in it, Lilah Fitzgerald. But that, too, was a disappointment – Lilah gets hardly any screen time; apparently most of her scenes were cut. And that’s too bad, because Lilah’s character, Tom’s little sister, had the potential to carry one of the major themes of the story, that of Tom having to give up his family in order to do the work he is called to do.
But then, most of the key themes of the book were simply left out of the movie. Just to give you a brief synopsis, what the story is about is Tom Ward, a farm boy, the seventh son of a seventh son. He becomes apprentice to the Spook, whose job it is to deal with spirits or creatures of magic. Their greatest antagonist is Mother Malkin, an evil witch, who is out for revenge for the Spook’s having locked her up in a hole for the last however-many decades (or centuries, or something). There’s also a young witch named Alice, with whom Tom gets involved, who throws all kinds of wrenches into the works.
Incidentally, none of that is a spoiler; it’s no more than what you get from watching the movie trailers. And because the trailers hit those major plot points, which are also the main points of the book, I fully expected the film to live up to the book – hence my apprehension about going to see it. But as it turns out, the things that would have made the movie really bothersome to watch were left out. Yes, the film is still scary; I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids or other sensitive souls. But it doesn’t warrant the 14A label it got here in BC; I think the PG13 it was given in the US is closer to the mark in comparison with other fantasy movies out there, say, Harry Potter or The Hobbit, which have equally scary scenes (albeit with better narrative reasons).
Seventh Son is bristling with fire-breathing movie monsters; however, they’re rather stereotypical as far as movie monsters go – again, if you watch the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen it all. And even the most hideously scary character from the book, the witch herself, is stereotyped to such an extent she loses in translation. Mother Malkin, in print, is creepy; her evil is profoundly frightening. Julianne Moore’s screen version is just another nasty character with a grudge against an old guy in a white beard – as a matter of fact, Moore is more antagonistic as Mrs Cheveley in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, where she’s playing a mean Victorian lady trying to blackmail an honourable man, than she is as a shape-shifting witch.
Another character that is completely changed from the book is Tom’s mother. I don’t want to give anything away here, but the film version of the mother is turned into, again, a stereotype, the Fantasy Hero’s Mother who wrings her hands at her boy’s departure into war and danger and wants to keep him safe at home – which is the exact opposite of the character in the book, who has been planning for this very thing since Tom’s birth. One minor beef I have with the casting here is that Tom’s mother is played by Olivia Williams, who is no more than thirteen years older than Ben Barnes (Tom), and it shows. He is supposed to be her seventh son – when did she start having kids, at three years of age? It’s just one of those inconsistencies that made me scratch my head. Ditto for all the changes of clothing that Tom seems to have at his disposal, without a suitcase in sight or anything.
Well, I’ll stop grousing now. All told, the film isn’t really all that bad. I went into it with fairly strong expectations, most of which were disappointed. But it’s not like I hated it, and the fact that it wasn’t as scary as I’d feared is a good thing (for me – I hate getting nightmares). I did spend a couple of rather enjoyable hours in the theatre; there are some definite good points about this movie.
The actors are one – Ben Barnes is excellent (and oh-so-handsome); Julianne Moore is good, of course; and even though Lilah Fitzgerald didn’t get nearly as much screen time as she deserved, I did get to see her in a movie, so that’s great. Another fun aspect for me was that the movie was shot in and around Vancouver; the outdoor scenes are recognisably West Coast with its majestic scenery. The visuals are good; in fact, if we weren’t so utterly spoiled nowadays by over-the-top-fantastic special effects, they would probably be utterly mindblowing. My favourite CG scene (it’s in the trailer) is the one where the wizard transforms himself into a dragon, trailing chains turning into wings. Pretty nifty, that. And even the ‘simple’ visuals, like costuming, were enjoyable – I kept looking really closely at Tom’s knitted sweater, trying to figure out what kind of yarn this is meant to be (at some point in the movie it even changes into looking almost like knitted wire – chain mail stitchery?).
So, bottom line: I’d give this movie a three out of five. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible either. If you’ve got a couple hours to spend on a Tuesday evening when movies are cheap, you could do worse than to watch this one. Or, alternatively, just wait until it comes out on Netflix, and put the money you’d spend on tickets towards buying a copy of my book instead – I picked the title first (better yet, buy several copies, and give some to your friends).
Life, the Universe, and Seventh Son. Just go read my novel.