Monday, February 9, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Seventh Son

The January/February Film Dumping Ground Season is still in full effect! Yes, it's that magical time of year in which studios burn off all the celluloid dogs they didn't dare release during the all-important and lucrative summer and Xmas blockbusters seasons. Brace yourselves for an onslaught of watered-down PG-13 horror films, romcoms, dance-off movies and fart comedies. It's a great time to be a film fan.

Seventh Son was written by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight, and directed by Sergei Bodrov. 

Believe it or not, Bodrov is an award winning Russian filmmaker. He directed Mongol and Prisoner Of The Mountains, both of which won Oscars® for Best Foreign Film along with the Nika Award (the Russian equivalent of the Acadamy Award) for best picture and director. Which all makes one wonder what the hell he was thinking when he agreed to direct this movie.

It's based on the book The Spook's Apprenticewhich tells you everything you need to know about why the film is called Seventh Son. It's the first in The Wardstone Chronicles series by Joseph Delaney. Given the poor box office reception the film's received, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a sequel.

Seventh Son was originally scheduled for a February 2013 release, but was moved back to October 2013 in order to complete the effects (and I suspect for post 3D conversion). It was then moved to January 2014, but a squabble between Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures delayed it yet again, this time to February 2015.

I'm sure these constant delays didn't do the film any favors, as that's generally a strong sign the studio has a turkey on their hands.

Seventh Son isn't a particularly good film, but it's not as bad as most critics are making it out to be. It's a typical unoriginal pastiche of fantasy tropes that looks exactly like every other effects-heavy epic that Hollywood's churned out in the past few years. If you've seen The Brothers Grimm, The Chronicles Of Narnia, Eragon, Clash Of The Titans, the Percy Jackson films, Snow White And The Huntsman, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and especially Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, you've already seen everything on display here. It has little new to offer and demands absolutely nothing from its audience.


The Plot:
In some sort of vague medieval fantasy world, Master Gregory (played by Jeff Bridges), a "Spook" who hunts supernatural beings, imprisons the witch Mother Malkin (played by Julianne Moore) in an underground chamber. Decades later she escapes through the power of a rare Blood Moon. She possesses a young girl in order to draw out Gregory. He successfully exorcises Malkin, but she transforms into a dragon, which I didn't know witches could do. She kills Gregory's apprentice Billy (played very briefly by Kit Harrington) and escapes.

Gregory then has only ten days (before the Blood Moon becomes full) to find a new apprentice who's a seventh son of a seventh son, in order to stop Malkin from taking over the world or covering it in darkness or something. He finds a young man named Tom Ward who has the proper resume. He buys Tom from his parents (!) and begins his tutoring him in the fine art of monster killing. Before he leaves, Tom's mother gives him her necklace for luck.

On the way to Gregory's headquarters, Tom meets a young woman named Alice who's about to be burned as a witch. Before you can say "Monty Python" he decides he's in love and rescues her. She ditches him, but says they'll meet again. Mother Malkin returns to her stronghold and begins gathering her allies and servants in order to conquer the world. Tom learns to be a Spook through the power of a training montage.

Malkin's sister Bony Lizzie (!) attempts to cut out Tom's heart, but she's thwarted by the necklace his mother gave him, which just happens to be some kind of super powerful witchy talisman. Malkin finds out about it and orders Alice to use her womanly charms to steal the talisman from Tom, which she does.

Now in possession of the talisman, Malkin seduces Gregory into joining her. This turns out to be surprisingly easy, as we find out the two of them were an item years ago, until Gregory found out about the whole "turning into a dragon" thing and tried to burn her. Awkward! Alice has a change of heart, steals the talisman from Malkin and gives it back to Tom. 

There's lot of cgi monster battles before Tom finally throws a dagger at Malkin, killing her. Tom becomes the new Spookmaster General as Gregory retires.

• As the film opens, a younger Master Gregory imprisons Mother Malkin in a buried chamber. During this scene, we catch a very brief glimpse of a much younger Jeff Bridges. This is the second time Bridges has been de-aged through the magic of cgi— the first time was when he played young Flynn/CLU a couple years ago in TRON: Legacy.

• Jeff Bridges portrays Master Gregory here as a very, very poor man's Gandalf. Unfortunately his ersatz Ian McKellan impression sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles, which makes it tough to understand what the hell he's saying. This is especially problematic when he's rattling off unfamiliar names of various characters and monsters.

This is just the latest in a series of high concept fantasy box office flops for Bridges, coming on the heels of TRON: Legacy, R.I.P.D. and The Giver. I'm thinking he needs to either fire his agent or start choosing his projects more carefully.

By the way, Jeff Bridges' plan to morph into Kris Kristofferson is now about 95% complete.

• Julianne Moore reunites here with her Big Lebowski co-star Jeff Bridges, and actually manages to give her Mother Malkin character a sense of seductive menace. 

• Ben Barnes, who plays Tom, is no stranger to fantasy films, as he starred in The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. He's playing the audience surrogate here, and as such is appropriately bland and uninteresting.

• Kit Harrington— Jon Snow of HBO's Game Of Thrones— plays Billy Bradley, Master Gregory's ill-fated earlier apprentice. Harrington previously starred in Pompeii and How To Train Your Dragon 2. Poor Kit. Maybe someday he'll get a chance to trade in his sword and star in a movie set in modern times.

• Billy was Master Gregory's apprentice and trained with him for ten long years. Despite this he was still easily fried by Mother Malkin. Gregory then has ten days to somehow train Tom to that same level of expertise. 

At the end of the film, Gregory tells Tom that his training is complete and he's now a full-fledged Spook, as he rides off to retirement.

So if it was really was possible to complete Spook Training 101 in ten days, then why the hell did it take Billy a decade? I guess Jon Snow really does now nothing.

• Apparently the film diverges quite a bit from the book, most notably in the age of the hero. In the book Tom is thirteen when he becomes Master Gregory's apprentice; in the movie he appears to be twenty five at least. This totally changes the dynamic between the two characters, going from Master and Student to something more like Master and Arrogant Whiny Douche. Adult Thomas' hubris even comes close to destroying the world a couple of times. 

I've got a pretty good idea why they upped his age— it's so he could fall in love with Alice and take a tumble or three with her, injecting a little bit of sex into the film.

• As I mentioned earlier, the film is a pastiche of many other fantasy movies, but it apes Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters with particular gusto. Both films feature a powerful head witch who's slinky and seductive, but can transform into a monstrous creature at will. Both feature a hero who's immune to the witches, jittery townspeople who hire the heroes to rid their village of monsters, a witchy love interest, steampunk monster-killing weapons, and a gathering of witches from nearby lands. Most amazing of all, they both include an apocalyptic countdown to a Blood Moon!

But that's not all! Gregory has an assistant named Tusk, who's a real life troll. Tusk is an old school prosthetic makeup creation, and looks amazingly like Edward from Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersJesus, Seventh Son, why don't you just marry Hansel & Gretel already?

• Speaking of Alice, Tom first meets her as she's about to be burned at the stake as a witch. I defy anyone to watch this scene and not thing of the witch burning in Monty Python And The Holy Grail. The two scenes are remarkably similar. I'm honestly surprised no one claimed Alice turned them into a newt, and then said they got better.

• In most "Hero's Journey" films, the protagonist has everything handed to him on a silver platter and doesn't have to work for his success. Think Harry Potter finding out he's a wizard and receiving an invisibility cloak and magic map to help him in his quest, and you'll have the right idea. Or Luke Skywalker just happening to find Obi-Wan, being given a lightsaber and learning he's full of the Force.

That particular trope works overtime here. Tom is the seventh son of a seventh son, a special position he landed as the result of a genetic lottery rather than through any effort. This seventh son status also grants him abnormal strength, without lifting a single weight. 

If that wasn't enough, he's also just happens to be the son of a witch! This gives him a kind of second sight, letting him see limited glimpses of the future. And if that's still not enough, his mother, a good witch, also gives him some super powerful amulet that protects him from harm. Oy! All he's missing now is a magic ring that turns him invisible.

• During Tom's "training," Master Gregory ominously mentions boggarts. When Tom asks what those are, Gregory intones, "You do not want to know." 

I think he most definitely would want to know! This is supposed to be a humorous line (I think), but I'm beginning to understand why Gregory burns through apprentices so quickly— he doesn't teach them anything!

Of course right after this Tom encounters a boggart. Not to worry though— despite his lack of knowledge and training, he knows exactly what to do and how to kill it.

• If you've seen the trailer, then you've seen pretty much every monster and FX sequence in the entire movie. Leaving no surprises for the actual movie is usually another sign that you're in for a bad time.

Seventh Son isn't as bad as critics would have you to believe, but it's not particularly good either, wasting a top notch cast and offering absolutely nothing new. I give it a C+.

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